Transversals for Orpheus & the untitled 1-13 by Garry Thomas Morse

morse frontcover

Review by rob mclennan.

One of the first series of LINEbooks produced through Vancouver’s West Coast Line magazine, Garry Thomas Morse’s Transversals for Orpheus & the untitled 1-13 works from what Erin Mouré called “transelation,” working poems by Pessoa into her own Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2001). In the back of his first collection of poetry, writing “for a case of textual influenza (antidote included): Sielger, Spicer, Blaser, okay Rilke too…” into his acknowledgments, he references a number of source materials for his pieces, including Talonbooks publisher Karl Sielger’s own translation of Rilke’s complete Sonnets to Orpheus (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1977), recently included in the first publication of this same series, companions & horizons: An Anthology of Simon Fraser University Poetry, ed. Stephen Collis (Burnaby BC: LINEbooks, 2005). As with the Erin Mouré Pessoa transelation, the notion of writing poems not only out of poems but using the materials of previous works certainly isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that has been gaining speed over the past few years, especially through the variety of how poems can be translated from one into another, from various pieces by Steve McCaffery and the late bpNichol, including Nichol’s Translating Translating Apollinaire (Milwaukee: Membrane, 1979), to George Bowering’s own Duino Elegies translations into Kerrisdale Elegies (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1986) as well as the more recent “plunder verse” experiments by St. Catharines, Ontario poet Gregory Betts.

The strength of the work itself comes from how he manipulates and moves his sources; listen, for example, to the second of Morse’s pieces from the first part of “transversals for orpheus,” where he writes:

It seemed to me a
maiden, shifting song
through veiled eyes
asleep in one ear

This is silence. Light
through trees. Touch
in a field of visions
leaving astonied

Sleeps. Innocent
lack of animation
A slab of silence

Forgetful the way
a dip in oblivious
wells – a maiden?

Compare that to the music from Siegler’s own translation of “Part One―Sonnet 2,” writing

And almost a maiden it was and went forth
from this joyful union of song and lyre,
shone clear splendour through her spring veils
and made herself a bed within my ear.

And slept within me. And all was her sleep:
the trees beheld in wonder, this
tangible distance, the meadow’s touch,
and each amazement having come to me.

She slept the world. Singing god, how have you
perfected her, that she should not desire,
even to awaken? See, she was bid rise, and slept.

Where is her death? Will you yet invest
this motif, before your song consumes itself? ―
Into what depths does she sink from me?…A maiden almost…

But for the breaks in the poems for numbers, Moore’s “transversals for orpheus” reads as one long continuous piece, turning the poem new from the machinery of the previous. The “untitled” poems that make up the first section of the book work in much the same way as the later pieces, picking and taking as collage a series of poems that move variously down and across the page, but somehow don’t have the same bite as the rest of the collection, moving through leaps and jumps in a collage of text and space and multiple fonts. Listen to this fragment from “The Untitled (12)” that moves through references to the epic, a poem said to “contain history,” and Ezra Pound, known for bringing in a steady stream of collage-like references into his ongoing poem(s):

Meanwhile, the Epictries to avoid meetinghistory like this                its very epos                                choking on                ethos                sheds excess                        poundage / baggage                                        under the (i)s                                    enjoys                        slimline                        digital                                dinnersgets lonely           as a late night charge-per-minute                                                seaglio

rob mclennan is an Ottawa born & based poet. His thirteenth poetry collection, The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books) is due to be launched at the ottawa international writers festival in April, and he has a collection of literary essays out this fall from ECW Press. He has just been named writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta for the 2007-8 academic year.