A Hermetic Conversation: Watchword by Pura López-Colomé

There is a risk to poetry, though, in taking this hermetic tack. Words have both denotative and connotative aspects, and by weakening the connection between the two, hermetic poets can end up creating a poetry of marginal effects. It is only the layering we find in the best hermetic poetry, along with thematic seriousness that saves it from marginality. López-Colomé accomplishes both.

Consider the layering that takes place in the following passages:

The angel-hair
of the clouds
dissolves and
from behind
them, a howl
quick, hide yourself, here’s your home
seems to echo from,
pertain to,
some neighboring cordillera,
a valley rivered like the nerve system
of leaves when, without shame,
they bare their undersides
or when the undersides shamefully suggest
the schemata of a body
marked by muscles and dendrites…

— “Three Lacustrine Scenes,” p. 17

Here I come, the new Cinderella, minus the cinders,
and while all those S sounds hang in the air, let me say
I’ve been seared stirring up a fire
between two urns
that weigh almost nothing,
scorched, pricked,
stretched to the point of snapping, of blowing out
ligaments between the chancel cross
and an angel pinned
to the concrete wall….

— “Dialogue of the Ashes,” p. 63

Oh the fabulous
pacemaker,
instead of stoking the beat,
it stimulates the stroke
in the sacred temple
of this, thine, the unnameable.

— “Heart’s Core,” p. 83

In addition to her methods, these examples constellate several of the poet’s themes, which seem essentially dialectical: perception and imagination, mortality and transcendence, health and disease, expression and reticence, memory and present experience. Each of these binaries acts like a magnet, creating a force field that interacts with the force fields of the other themes, all of which are colored by by the poet’s interest in the nature of language. It is López-Colomé’s rejection of received ideas about all this that forces her to abandon the linear aspects of poetry — narrative and argument of the sort we find in sonnets. Instead, she presents us with poems that are both fluid and exacting — the ultimate fruit of a process that, as she tells us in her Poet’s Afterword, began in adolescence, during a period of “regular reclusiveness” during which she “started … a dialogue with my personal penumbra” and read almost obsessively. Interestingly enough, her list of early influential authors consists mostly of English language writers: Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Whitman, Yeats, and most significantly, Emily Dickinson.

In the end, she says, “I began to write in order to speak back to those to whom I’d listened.” A telling remark — one that explains the sense one has as a reader that the poet is always addressing someone else, not us; we are merely overhearing the conversation. If the conversation is sometimes puzzling, even cryptic, we never lose the sense that important things are being said. That sense of ultimate value is the ground on which the hermetic poet’s works stands or falls, and it is what makes Pura López-Colomé such a rewarding poet to read — and to read again.

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