Review by Craig Santos Perez
[one love affair]*
by Jenny Boully
Tarpaulin Sky Press
PO Box 189
Grafton, VT 05146
2006, 68 pp., $12.00
As we learn in a footnote, the title of Jenny Boully’s [one love affair]* comes from the cover of Thomas Bernhard’s The Voice Imitator and alludes to how “when reading, our minds often supply another narrative” (17). Boully’s collection of prose pieces documents the narratives that emerged while she read various books, such as Roberto Belaño’s By Night in Chile, Marguerite Duras’s The Ravishing of Lol Stein, and Severo Sarduy’s Cobra and Maitreya, just to name a few. This intersection between source text and emergent text creates a fascinating movement throughout Boully’s work.
[one love affair]* contains three sections, each section composed of various, titled prose poems. The individual pieces don’t necessarily connect to each other as they emerge from various sources and project Boully’s narratives into a multiplicity of directions. What ties the disparate narratives together is Boully’s unique prose style:
In a field of rye, rye which did not allow for solitary moments, but opened one up to each flaw and freckle, in a way that Duras’s rye would never do, [viii] the couple put down a blanket and dreamt things: in the sky, a million wallowing anemones; in a shaft of rye, a landscape of hills and boulders, a crenellated planet’s covering; within a stone, a billion years of plate tectonics, cross-sections of sediment and historical evident (6).
Boully’s sentences are a joy in and of themselves; they move lushly towards the period, transversing commas, semicolons, and colons to accrue and sediment in our own minds. In a section titled “…its smell of books and solitude,” we read: “[i]n her garden full of ravenous rooks, in her dreams of kidnapped youths, in her study of frail and reread books, a flower that emerges to sprout over and over” (8). The flower of narrative sprouts throughout [one love affair]*, allowing us to supply our own narratives to Boully’s often strange, often captivating articulations:
And if, after all, the peeling blue paint, the workmen spying in, the orange boat, the seaweathered dock, the calico cats should prove to be—because she knew that he knew that she knew (yet he pretended not to know) that he heard things, saw things—all but a false mimicry, then perhaps all things, even the most remote, were present all along, lurking underneath (14).
While the first section focuses on a “she” and “he,” the second—composed of shorter paragraphs—revolves around the relationship between an “I” and “you.” The relationship is described through a series of paratactic moments:
The bats always come back; at the same time, all together, they come back.
I would mail it to myself; it would be as if you were again with me.
You mailed me the autumnal leaves of Annapolis: yellowing things, decaying things, crumbling things.
My lack of pregnancy flashes, a keen knife parting the silently tremulous waters. (26)
In Boully’s writing, there are no beginnings or endings; instead, we are presented with impressions, threads, and flashes of narrative. Within the space of these short paragraphs, we are compelled to narrate our own ideas about the pleasures and failures of love. At one point, Boully comments on this phenomenon: “Maso writes, So that the form takes as many risks as the content, where I think love is the content and the risk is separation, and the pain is the returns, the repetitions, the completions, or the making meaning of” (38). The form of [one love affair]* takes as many risks as the content, and the poet dwells in the returns of memory, the completions of interpretation, and the making of variable meanings.
The final section, “There Is Scarcely More Than There Is,” weaves together the “he,” “she,” “you,” and “I” into a meditation not only on love and relationships, but also on poetry and narrativity:
In a last correspondence, he was abroad; he said he saw mountains so beautiful that they reminded him of her. In a last correspondence, she posed a question which he never answered. In last correspondences, never so much about what it was that really did happen in the end, in the very end. There is instead so much talk about beginnings. And so, that is where, for so long, I stayed, within budding hydrangeas, within unnameable endless flowerings. (59)
There are many questions in this work that are left unanswered, as well as many silences surrounding what happened “in the end.” Yes, there is much talk about beginnings, but we are never truly situated “in the beginning.” Instead, we remain in the continual becoming of love and loss, memory and perception, narrative and poetry. We stay, as the various characters and the speaker herself, “within unnameable endless flowerings.”
Craig Santos Perez is a co-founder of Achiote Press and author of from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008). His reviews have appeared in The Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Denver Quarterly, The Latino Poetry Review, MiPoesias, First Intensity, Rain Taxi, and Jacket, among others.