COIN OF ANOTHER WORLD: EDINBURGH NOTEBOOK by Valerie Mejer Caso, translated by Michelle Gil-Montero

Edinburgh Notebook (Action Books)

"Poetry -- that catacomb art which refuses to perish with our mortal beings"* 

One of the reasons I love poetry is its way of keeping company with grief. This late winter and early spring I've been surging with grief. The catalog of particulars: another dictator pushing the world into war; misguided people trying to bully away a pandemic with trucks and noise; plastics riddling oceans; species vanishing; the earth heating up....Turning to poetry helps to restore my sense that there's more to humanity than collapse and destruction. 

It's in this mood I return, again, to Valerie Mejer Caso's Cuaderno de Edimburgo (Edinburgh Notebook, in Michelle Gil-Montero's brilliant English). Poems of mysterious power and agitation document a loved brother's death by suicide and give luminous expression to suffering, calling us to confront our own sorrow. Collages by the author and photographs by Barry Shapiro punctuate the poem sequences.

The notebook is a body, a landscape of grief and dying, of vanished paths. In the landscape (in the body) are mountains, shadowy ponds, quicksand, clouds compressing time, hallucinatory apparitions and transformations. 

A dove, "bluish light flying over the world," carries sorrow in the form of "coin [that] is not of this world. Buy me a planet with it!" ("Nocturne"). In "Before is Forever," the presence of absence haunts city streets and poplar trees, cafés, people strolling through shadows. "Two Decembers" builds up a stunning vision of the lost and missing in the murk of pond-bottom, from which a giant turtle, "bathed in still-liquid silver," emerges as if from fable. Memory arrives like fable, too; in "Sixth Movement (Transfigured Night)", "those who fought in real life for equality and freedom were already old (...) one turned into a pigeon; the other went to jail. Years passed....". 

Love is urgent. "In the desert, my love, in the desert I saw an elephant born. Its mother thought it dead, and in her desperation she dragged it with her trunk, struck it with her giant foot. That black smudge in the distance is, my love, a birth." ("Seventh Movement")

Sleep is denial, refusal, resistance. Words are rope ladders that climb themselves toward "godless night where dogs gnaw/butterflies in repose" ("Riding the Crocodile"). Words are bad and bridge. The body is glass. Water-creatures - the turtle, the crocodile, children - live on the edge, always almost reclaimed by seas. 

Sleep is a theatre where the dead and the living meet and play. To live is to perform in the theatre of these poems. The body is the notebook.

Collage by Valerie Mejer Caso, from Edinburgh Notebook

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*These words are from Raúl Zurita's introduction to Valerie Mejer Caso's  Cuaderno de Edimburgo (Edinburgh Notebook, translation by Michelle Gil-Montero).