Working Note: Extracts from A Poetics of the Fragment
Below are some extracts from my thesis on the poetics of the fragment. liv is a novel written in fragments and the thesis dialogues with the novel in quite an intimate way. I began working with the fragment toward the end of writing my first collection of poetry. It is a form akin to poetry, carrying similar intensities, and yet it has a particular relationship to narrative, a kind of unpeeling happens over the language because of the limitations of the fragment. It has a particular charge.
The fragment is the site of surrender, of risking not only garment but skin and organs, stripping down to an unstable, partial, multiple psychic trembling. One cannot pass through intact. Yet as link it leads into the timeless space of all possibility. Olivia’s loss is connected with the death of her grandfather’s baby brother and the quiet practice of removing his mother’s bloody insides with each unwanted pregnancy and Lydia’s terrible anguish in the darkness of a childhood extinguished by the death of her mother. Because she can cross into these fragments, she is also other to them. Her life is composed of the psychic substance of many lives, is shaped by traumas and choices made generations before she was born, and it is also other to them. Her life is hers to create, to write, to be in simultaneously. She writes her otherness, it allows itself through the shared compassion of the fragmented space. In the fragment nobody escapes the loss. The fragment is a narrative of loss, it performs the rent. It is also the source of absolute compassion. It is the moment when having lost all, each takes a spoon and dips it into the pot of beans, boiled in salt water, in silence. It has no past and no future.
Olivia’s experiences of abuse remove the platform of the assured ‘I’. She cannot access it even as a fallible construct. She finds herself choosing to face the full extent of existential loss, the fragmentation of the contemporary subject, because there is the chance that meaning, however precarious, might return to her. She says i know i can only haunt this space, i am displaced many times over, but the attempt will transform the field for myself and the other and the others of myself and even that is enough. The faith in this gesture is life affirming and akin to the point of taking a breath. We do it, for the moment, whatever this moment makes of us and whether this moment takes place consciously or unconsciously.
This is a vigilant space, where the silences, the spaces where word is absent, hold their charge and direct it to the heart of the accountable moment. We look for meaning in the space between the signifier and the signified. It is the one place where it might happen and the waiting for meaning’s signal, or its other, demands courage. But we wait as we would for a possible meeting with a lover. There will be the fall, sooner or later, but for now even the stars might be signalling me.
My second collection of poetry is based on the theme of fire. These poems seek the burning in language, they test the flammability of how desire operates across the word. Language is like fire. It is not a solid matter. It consumes and transforms. It is creative and destructive. Some of the poems below are from that collection. ‘Owl’ and ‘Body Language’ are from my first collection. Again, these are language centered, working with sensations of language experience.
taste it and choose words like
mothers kept them hidden
periods, rags, menstruation
tampons are the risk one takes
women around you – in the next car, at work
she thinks of her yellow hot water bottle
her lover’s hand on her hot sensitive belly
taught, fruity, elastic,
this is what labour is like she says
exactly like period pain only stronger
she sees acres of purple, rolling through portugal
in her hospital gown with its red stamp
she says i dream of little things – miniature camels
witches grow garlic on their blood
standing naked in a fast flowing stream
and your eternal flame
i’m a burnt fuel
dead coal alive with your heat
and you can fly because i never knew
because my heart is a plum
she threw the chunks of banksia
when we moved into the display home
the chocolate velvet trees had survived the
it was their last spring
the scoured skin of my inner arms
their interiors eaten alive
white globe shudders
props one leg forward under
hot tap bites her hip, we watch the
entered our house on bags of trinkets just for her
in her bedroom
in that talk aliens would come in jesus’ spaceship
burn our eyes
at eleven she wanted to go with him, to be one
as she towels the body she shares
she cultivates her edge of a planet
her heavy body swings into
a doorknob in her home
the tie of her mouth is the same
it’s a claim that
perhaps you stole it from a woman in azerbaijan
she spent two nights awake
or did you catch it over the grave of
in that case its stirrings will be violent
i have found words on metal shelves
you swallow the air after your sentences
can’t come to the phone
you have cases of eye-shadow, lipstick and
you prepare for the sea dogs with their signal
their sextant mapping of you
you scoop lighter fluid with your fingers
you scoop lighter fluid with your fingers
they’ll want a taste but they’ll press
the heat smelts their core
and they’ll shake your hand
trying to leave it
vapours smoke through organs
as visible as the dark of the moon
it is only now that i sense something
undetected, you had flown into me the instant
you choose a distant perch, knowing i would come
beg you to guide or devour me
When he said that I knew he was mad. His madness was the only boundary we had. It was madness that made sense, but had no place in a world of physical laws and concerns. My friends hated him. They thought he was just trying to be an arsehole. Or they thought he was retarded. He was always dirty because he hated to wash and sometimes he stank. So then we’d go down to one of the northern beaches at night and fuck in the ocean. There is a family of stingrays that live in that bay. They would gather, gliding into the bay in small sets to rest in the calm for the night. They sometimes brushed our heels as we left the water. Then when we got home and I was almost asleep, skin to skin with him, only several thousand grains of limey sand between us, he’d slide down and lick me with his steady salty tongue until I felt its every movement like the flood of a small wave over my body; so that when I came I fell through the weave of the sheets and lifted up through air particles and became everything, especially my cunt. Later when I gave birth to Josephine, my arms and legs shuddering and myself swimming from contraction to contraction breath by breath, I would become my womb. Just a giant contracting womb with head, arms and legs. With him, I was all cunt in the same way. In that period there were times when it felt like it was something of me, yet not of me. Like those strange sea hares you find washed up, looking like huge turgid vulvas; labia, clitoris, vagina, only with snail-like antennae. Beautiful purple-brown patterns. Mine was a creature of its own, and never before and never since has this happened, but it was as though he knew her better than I. So she was always surprising and contradicting me, what I thought was me, till she taught me I was her.
As I write the book of me I am being written into the book of my life. A larger writing precedes me. These are nodes where they clash. Short circuit. My book is gone. I am looking at a novelty product. A book of blank pages. The cheapest paper, clearly a glue of splinters, already yellowing, already disintegrating. All this time, the best part of a dull weekend, I’ve sat here staring at a cheap marketing idea, trying to make something of the twee and banal. Everything Men Know About Women. A mulch of chemicals, some toxic, some benign, and the dust from milled trees. Their desiccated xylem, a little bleach and they can become anything. And there is that temptation to write. Several times I have picked up my pen to write one of my fragments. The sensation of the fragment, its life, evaporates before the pen even touches paper. Like those tiny insects that don’t even have a name. They appear on your skin, or on a letter you’re reading. They are white and they have wings and if you look carefully they look like miniature cicadas. They sit on a single hair on the back of your hand and preen themselves as comfortably as a monkey in a tree. No matter how careful you are you can’t pick one up without killing it. You can’t even brush it off. You are left with a pale greenish smear about the size of a pinhead on your paper, or silvery dust on the ridges of skin at your fingertips. The life and form and animation are gone. Just like that.
Some of these poems have appeared previously in Night Reversing (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Aust 1996) and liv (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Aust 2000).
Bio: Morgan Yasbincek is a Western Australian writer. Her first collection of poetry, Night Reversing, won the 1997 Anne Elder Poetry Award and the 1997 Mary Gilmore Poetry Award. Her first novel, liv, was published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press in June 2000.
In 1998 Yasbincek travelled to the United Kingdom where she completed a residency at the University of East Anglia. This was part of the Creative Connections project which was organised and sponsored jointly by The WA State Literature Officer, Arts WA, the British Council and British Airways.
Yasbincek teaches creative writing at Murdoch University, and has run workshops both within Australia and in the U.K. She is developing her second collection of poetry and is researching her PhD at Murdoch University.