TO BE HUMAN IS TO BE A CONVERSATION by Andrea Rexilius
(Rescue + Press, Milwaukee, WI, 2011)
I tend not to have particular poetry collections I want to review. I just try to read as widely as I can and then engage with whatever surfaces or clamors from that reading as something I should (preferably, must) write about. Andrea Rexilius’ TO BE HUMAN IS TO BE A CONVERSATION—I plucked it from a huge Poetry-to-Read stack simply because of its great title—is the first book I’ve read that compelled me to review it as a result of the very last “note” in a “NOTES” to the poem section in the back of the book. Which is to say, something simmered during my reading of the actual poems, a simmering that was like a flirtation for my reviewing attention. But I didn’t get seduced until the book’s last page with this last note, to wit:
My apologies to my half-brother, Ben, for temporarily denying his existence on page 3 of this book.
I was seduced because I was repelled. I was repelled by the idea that this poetry project—which comes off as (partly) autobiographical—was free to edit biography in a way to deny someone else’s existence.
Of course this book is—and should be without apologies—also an imaginative act. And so, after being repelled, I became respectful. It takes courage to take such an action whose significance is such that the poet later even has to apologize about it. It takes admirable control that only would service the poems well.
And the poems themselves certainly are admirable, frequently gorgeous. About sisterhood (and more), the poems are meditative—they are both conversations and pauses in conversations:
Essay on Sisterhood
Human space is a cohabitation with fog. Our clothes are damp with it. Every sort of illuminated depth is astonishing. I have seen the burrow inside my own eye. Nature expanded into a premonition that the world is reincarnated. The essence of the brown and green color captures the process. Christopher Columbus did not voyage in the name of a country, but of an idea. The subject matter or this is obsession. You and I are in a relationship. We are glistening with what it evokes.
In her book, Rexilius also offers (some of) her answers to a question she poses: “What is the relationship between the text and the body in your writing?” Her text ruptures appropriately as much as a body will disintegrate or can be dissected. It’s all apt. But it’s Rexilius’ light (deft) touch that elicits reader empathy despite ruptures:
spoken as pasture
sky broken to earth
a groan in the growing
how two lungs resemble
interruption, an interrogation
hold yourself up to this light
Por eso, it becomes logical that some of the pages would contain nothing but a question situated atop the page, the rest of the page left blank as if for the reader upon which to inscribe response. I honor this project by answering one:
Page 12: Do you respond differently to the word depending on whether or not it is spoken or written by another person or by yourself?
Some words seem inherently Beautiful to me. A word like azure, for example. When I utter azure, I feel my tongue cleave onto and cling onto my mouth’s upper palate as if to extend the sound of the soft z.
A ZZZZZZZZZ OOOOR
I love this word, azure.
What if this word was uttered to me by someone I found abhorrent? What if Adolf Hitler was alive and we are standing inches apart having a conversation? What if, my repelled gaze on his mustache, he utters, Azure? I can see the individual hairs on his mustache move from the breeze of that Azure.
If that incident happened, I believe I no longer would find azure to be inherently beautiful. I hadn’t realized that until answering your question. Which is to say, a human is not only a conversation. A word is also a conversation, not an object to be fetishized …
… as I once did with azure.
This realization is not a loss but a revelation. It resulted from a conversation.
My gratitude to the poet’s humanity for enabling me to recommend TO BE HUMAN IS TO BE A CONVERSATION by Andrea Rexilius.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects as she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed by Zvi A. Sesling in Boston Area Poetry Scene; by Michael Leong in Big Other; by Alan Baker in Litter; and by rob mclennan. Stephen Hong Sohn also reviews SILK EGG along with two other books, NOTA BENE EISWEIN and FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 at Asian American Lit Fans.