Textiles: a word that is thought as thread, text re-sculpted to texture. I love it when things are embedded in things and words carry multiple meanings. This week I started research for my second book of poetry and I am already overwhelmed with my discoveries. I started with the Kente cloth. I’d already written a poem related to the cloth in my manuscript “ A Hemmed Remnant” but I felt I hadn’t looked close enough at how the patterns in the Kente spoke stories. My father’s name is Emad, عماد meaning pillar, support in Arabic. My mother often jokingly referred to family members acting like my father as “Emmada”. Today I learned of a Kente cloth called the Emmada which means “what we have not heard or seen before”. With over 300 Kente designs, each Kente’s name is associated with proverbs and stories which also determine the pattern and yarn. The Kente patterns have multiple meanings and I can’t help but think of writing poems that mimic the Kente practice.
The Kente names are not just randomly created. No, they are given by weavers who obtain them through dreams or contemplative moments with the spiritual world. My father was born in Ghana to Lebanese parents and to a long history with manufacturing textiles. I suppose it is perfect that his name would coincidentally echo a symbol of Ghana.
I have to say, in entering each gate of Jane Hirshfield’s collected essays, I was immediately immersed into an exploration of the complexity of poetry, and discovering through the process a reverence for the mysterious workings of poetry. Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, is a logical, business-like approach though it is peppered with a Zen Buddhist mind-set. It is designed to help any writer at any stage in their career answer the questions of poetry: What it is, why analyze it, why write it, what is it for and so on. Hirshfield, in her collection of essays written over ten years in a series of free-standing lectures, attempts to convey how a poem has an inner and outer meaning that come together to form itself as a thing of beauty. But I’m not sure if we can ever claim to set configurations on location of meaning. I did enjoy how over several sections in Nine Gates she explores the richness of classical Japanese verse in which she discusses the nuances of translation from Japanese to English. It seems that through her concise description of the nature of poetry in our lives, Hirshfield hopes that readers will move from ordinary conceptions of identity embedded in language, to form more of an intimacy with language and with the self. Still, Hirshfield’s conveyance of her profound intellectual relationship with literature and frequent referenced literary figures and texts suggest that while the book can be read by anyone, it is best suited for those with an English literature background.
Rootprints, translated by Eric Prenowitz is a compilation of works by numerous writers including Hélène Cixous, Mireille Calle Gruber, and Jacques Derrida. The book explores the world of Cixous through interviews, articles and essays, by examining her approach to fiction, feminism and literary theory. Indeed, the book can be considered an exploration into Cixous’s view on writing as “a place of tension, reversibility and meaning” (141). The first half of the book is comprised of an interview between Calle-Gruber and Cixous with selected excerpts from Cixous’s notebook located in boxes throughout. With its medley of snapshot entries into her literary thinking, the latter part of the book is a compilation of articles written by Calle-Gruber as well as Jacques Derrida on Cixous and vice versa; on the intersection of art, history, language and feminism. By the end of Rootprints, one begins to connect with Cixous through her reflections on her family photographs, of which offer insight into Cixous’s writing and familial experiences.
While known for being a literary theorist and feminist writer, Cixous’s interview by French author Mireille Calle-Gruber is particularly interesting with regards to the discussion about her passion for the theater and in which she describes the audience as “implicated actively present in the space of language”(101) and “the reflexive self of all characters” (102). In the interview section, both authors are distinguished by their initials as well as different fonts of which Calle Gruber’s font is smaller than Cixous’s (which may inaccurately portray her as an inferior or secondary thinker to Cixous). Calle-Gruber breaks with the traditional placid question-answer practices and instead engages dynamically in dialogue, establishing her presence in the book as a vital and critical voice towards understanding literary theory and Cixous’s thinking. While Rootprints is not the book with which to introduce Cixous’s works as it does not capture the beauty and power of her writing and theory, Calle Gruber’s analysis in the section titled, “Portrait of the writing” does bring clarity to the complexity of Cixous’s literary theory. Indeed the arrangement of the book could be better edited to place “Portrait of writing” at the beginning of the book, followed with the section on photographs and concluding with the interview.
Rootprints is best suited for those who have had prior exposure to Cixous or those in advanced literature studies including women studies and linguistics. I highly recommended to read Rootprints as an accompaniment to any Cixous work.