Sunday Review: Opened Ground
a poetry collection from Seamus Heaney
[ Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 1999 / 443 pp ]
The Oxford English Dictionary says a bog is a “piece of wet, spongy ground, consisting chiefly of decaying moss and other vegetable matter.” The dictionary adds, as an oblique afterthought, that a bog is too soft to support a human body.
What the dictionary evades, poetry lets us see, no matter how filthy. I’d first come across bog while reading the poet Seamus Heaney. Spoken aloud the word resembled something thick, and dark, and homogeneous in makeup. The way the syllable landed gently, with a “g”, made the murkiness sound vast, a word that hung on the outskirts of the Irish countryside and extended into the horizon.
“I lay waiting between turf-face and demesne wall,” begins Heaney’s poem, ‘The Bog Queen,’ which appears in the collection Opened Ground. This was how I was first dragged down through the layers of peat moss, the moldered tree roots and wet soil. The Bog Queen is a corpse, left to corrode in the wetlands of the Irish countryside—a bog body. I shiver beside her in all her sensuous decay.
It can feel oddly fruitless to read Seamus Heaney, let alone to try and gather thoughts on his work. So few stones have been left unturned. But these days—due, perhaps, in part to a public discourse that trades in air-filled abstractions—I find myself drawn to the spare and concrete world contained within his poetry. These are visceral poems, but, in these pages, the most physical, mundane acts are elevated to a divine or otherworldly plane. Folding the laundry, scrubbing potatoes: these chores become sacred rites that unite mother and son. A young boy goes to gather blackberries, but by the poem’s end he’s received a disturbing, uncanny warning against his gluttony and greed. Most of all, I’m drawn to the landscape of Opened Ground—a moody, alien terrain that can, at once, terrorize and comfort. It’s a rural landscape that humans work to discipline, but nature, we learn, is a wise and unruly force—capable of disciplining and mystifying in return.
A bog will always be beautiful to me. The landscapes within most books I’ve read are merely pieced-together memories of dunes and meadows I’d seen in real life. But the boglands of my mind are purely the product of Heaney’s poems—they are the site of bog queens and bog lilies, they are the backdrop against which children first experience nature’s wrath. Even if I never see one in real life, I know there exists a place where flora festers more than it grows—a place dark and moist, like the secret parts of ourselves. So I fall in, and listen to the bodies that speak to me from its recesses, where words don’t reach.
Visit Farrar, Straus and Giroux to purchase the book.
Reviewer / Joy Shan
Five Things with Bhanu Kapil
1. The last thing that made you smile.
Two seconds ago, when I asked my sister when the last time she saw me smile was and she said: “Just now.” Because apparently I was smiling when I asked her.
2. A secret.
I am British.
3. The last thing you wrote.
Formally, Ban en Banlieue (Nightboat Books). Informally, three pages in my notebook describing the many flowers and kinds of birdsong in my garden this afternoon. All very blossom-ish and chirpy. Trying to get back to writing every day.
4. Favourite city.
Los Angeles is where I have felt most alive and free, as if I could write books there, real ones, and meet my friend Bonny every day for coffee on Wilshire Boulevard, etc. Also the ocean.
5. What you’d place in a time capsule.
Love. I’d probably hold something for a long time, like a beautiful crystal or rock, and send love into it, so that when someone picked it up in the future, after opening the time capsule, it might be released in some form.
Bhanu Kapil is the author of five books of prose/poetry: Ban en Banlieue, Schizophrene, humanimal, Incubation: a Space for Monsters, and The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. She teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Naropa University.
Sometimes We Choose A Person to Perpetuate Familial Blanks
a poem from Dara Cerv
“You never leave me / Long enough to heal”
We encounter all sorts of divides and halves every day in our lives, but to see it visually replicated in such a sparse and deftly woven poem is truly something else. The anaphora of “Hello” serves as an open and close with the bodies, blank spaces, and the self. Consider how striking the following lines are, and think about how you interpret them:
The bristled womb of earth In your cabin
Bombed from sleep by the toilet
Empathy is sometimes rage filtered
By the desire to join with the lovable enemy.
I don’t have the answer to this poem, nor do I know what it wants from me. But I will continue to read it over and over again, hoping to be whole.
Visit The Shallow Ends to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen
“Variations on a Theme”
an essay from Christina Im
What is the song of your ancestors? What is the music of your family? What melody tinkles, thrashes, bee-bops or swells with the everyday moments of life—what is the soundtrack of your becoming? Christina Im’s essay, ‘Variations on a Theme,’ is an answer to those questions. She explores the music, literal and figurative, that underscores her complicated relationship with her Korean-born father. The complications are common: the natural tension of child/parental friction as a young person seeks a louder, more raucous, world outside the gentle lullabies of childhood; and then the complications are more rare: the tension of an ever-widening gap between being of-here and being here, when a daughter navigates a cultural landscape in a way that her father cannot because he wasn’t born here. As a first-born American on my father’s side, Im’s exploration of this immigration divide felt particularly poignant. Im’s essay is a swelling ode to the grief of growing, of having to let go of a parent, and hoping to return to them some day. It’s about imperfect moments of hurt and then reconnection. About the music of family, of father, and forgiveness.
Visit Half Mystic to read the essay.
Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby
a short story from Leigh Camacho Rourks
“Another octopus, but in his nets, in this house, on his tongue that still struggles with English, it is always ‘pulpo.’”
Instead of something based in restrospection, this week’s story is planted firmly in the moment. At times anticipating the future, or reflective on the near-past, but determined to keep us grounded there in that kitchen. There’s a lot of universality in this story, the tiny, nagging reminder of time constantly moving past us, how we’re never quite fast enough to catch its movement. Its certainty, its consistency.
“Her octopus’s spots have grown familiar, like a face.”
There’s a familiarity about cooking that only brings this story and its characters closer together. The act of watching a parent cook, something done so many times over the course of a lifetime, the movements become cemented in the mind. Its accuracy only marred by the adjustments made by age and passing time. The distance between each replication small enough to be measured with a stopwatch.
Visit SmokeLong Quarterly to read the story.
Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong
Don’t Let It Bury You
an essay from Eloghosa Osunde
‘Don’t Let It Bury You’ is a moving, brilliantly crafted essay by Eloghosa Osunde that explores the author’s bridging of trauma and dance as a means of healing. In less than 3,000 words the reader is offered a dense but clear emotional arc. Starting with a childhood scene where the author witnesses her mother fire a maid for stealing, Osunde drops a perfect heel-turn when she reveals that the maid had molested her for two years. What follows is a beautiful meditation on dance as somatic self-therapy, as protection, as healing. “Dance was second flesh, a vicious mask, my whole disguise,” she writes later on. Also: “Sometimes it took hours, other times it took days, but dance and the ache that lay in its wake reminded my body that it was still alive, that the illness was the lie, that I was and I am—aren’t I, despite everything—still alive.”
Visit Catapult to read the essay.
Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein
music from Corinne Bailey Rae
If we know anything about Corinne Bailey Rae, it’s that she’s a disciple of the slow build, so I wasn’t surprised that one of the longest songs of her career ended up being my favorite. The words of the chorus are strung over a long set of interchanging “ahhhh”s, as if we’re being welcomed in the breath and wonder of the natural space of which she sings. The lines that strike me the most are “just when I thought it was not to be / holiest of mysteries / it’s all green.” That moment of having anything you tended finally coming into fruition is a sacred moment. Greenness here embodies the love and sacrifice that’s been poured in to allow the lushness to take hold. Greenness is the return, so the song’s elongation helps us really traverse with her.
It’s fitting the visual isn’t completely swarmed with the color, rather it appears to balance out the rest of the landscape. I love that the space is left wide open, and for the most part, each object and person is singular and not touching unless it needs to. Consider how Corinne’s free-flowing hair, face, & shoulders work against the gold-dipped leaves & other hands, hovering just outside of them, but close enough that they must feel her breath & body heat. Or consider the veil slipping from her hands to uncover the shimmering sequins of her dress, barely missing them. Each moment of the almost-touch proves to be intimate. It also creates a juxtaposition of man-made luxury & the natural, but because each glimmer of skin and garb is soaked in natural light, the connection never feels flimsy.
The choreography also pulls us into relationship with nature by elevating the moments of her being in relationship with her body. She hugs herself, curls her hands towards her face & waist & sides, and reaches out into the space. In many of these moments, she becomes fully enveloped by the dancers’ arms & hands until she unlocks herself and then they pour outward. It provides us with a continual mirroring of bud to flower because we watch Corinne continually bloom and recede. The dancers’ ability to bend into new silhouettes, both alone and with each other, also returns us to plant life. How often do we find them building on each other until we untangle them and realize their singular beauty? Come to this space if you’re interested in the catch, the tangle, the unfurl.
Visit YouTube to watch the video.
Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse