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Review: Seizing: Places, by Hélène Dorion

Jackie Wills, The Warwick Review, March 2013

Dorion's translator, the poet and novelist Patrick McGuinness, has written an immensely erudite introduction that addresses the difficulties her work poses and suggest ways to read it. In fact, I'd argue this introduction is essential to a newcomer to Dorion's work as I am. It includes her own description of poetry as a way of 'crossing language' and McGuinness's analysis of the tradition she is writing in. He tells us that, like Paul Valery, who believe poetry was an operation performed on language, Dorion's poetry repays its debt to thought. It goes without saying, therefore, that Dorion is demanding to read. She organises her fragments into five sections: cities, shadows, windows, mirror and faces and while she is on record as describing it as a collection about the enchantment of places inside and out, it is unmistakably conceptual. She uses the French "tu" to engage her reader but often uses "we", so the overall impression is of universal experience and big views:

So, that's what we possess
of a city: the shadow it makes
in our bodies, the far off beat
the nearby beat
of its language.

The themes that emerge from Dorion's fragments include the damage of history. This materialises from the section 'Seizing:Cities'. We experience the relationship between land, water and sky, the influence of poets, art and archetypes: Through so many faces, I enter / my own face. She uses fragments like Lebanese poet Etel Adnan whose work is also concerned with history, language and ideas. McGuinness describes it as a sort of mosaicised mode of poetry.