Erin Thornback Reviews Chris Edwards and Toby Fitch

By | 19 July 2016

I find myself lost in the systematically obscure and inconsistent impulses with which Edwards climbs from Hades. The meaning of his text is veiled through intricate language barriers, and like Eurydice, true understanding is always just out of sight. Perhaps this is because, as Kristeva suggests, the literary word ‘is an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a fixed point’ – Eurydice perpetually vague and indistinct because the path to Hades is set on dual plains of ‘what Will be’ and ‘it has-been’. It speaks something of the significance of the fragment – the power to absorb and transform, distinct from context, outside of time and the necessity to respect the autonomy of these threads. Edwards’ quatrain at the beginning of poem 16 seems to be a tribute to this:

Dumb, mean and Fiendish, I bite into my sandwich. Wait …
I could have made the Words and Fingersign gesture one
always makes outflanking the opposition. Instead, I go
Swiss Cheese and veal, gristle and frog’s Tail.

In this way, Edwards translates his way into the language to make the words do something other, something more than representation. He calculatedly matches syntax and meticulous sentence detail, to return to the source text – only to augment and extrapolate the well-revised, futile-male myth and make it ridiculous. As he writes, ‘much is to be said here […] of the role of Malaprop[ism]’, demonstrated in the parallel excerpt:

Du, mein Freund, bist einsam, well … 
Wir machen mit Worten and Fingerzeigen
uns allmählich die Welt zu eigen, 
vielleicht ihren schwächsten, gefährlichensten Teil.

Throughout O Sonata, Edwards has created a vision in which the duality of the original and its revision are reciprocal, as he compounds in poem 31: ‘With someone one Goes waltzing, with oneself one wanders.’ Accordingly, Edwards appears to be commenting on Rilke’s rendition – and likewise, as improbable as that is. Take the first tercet and part of the second from Rilke’s poem 1.16. He states:

Sich, nun heißt es zusammen ertragen
Stückwekr und Teile, als sei es das Ganze. 
Dir helfen, wird schwer sein. Vor allem: pflanze. 

mich nicht in dein Herz.

In my rough translation, this amounts to (retaining the original punctuation and line length):

See, together we must endure it
These fragments and parts, as if a whole. 
Helping you, will be hard. In particular, plant
Me not in the heart.

This translation hints at the essence of Edwards’s O Sonata and serves as a metaphor for writing a rendition. Being made of language, O Sonata is embroiled in the particularity of fragments, their subtle nuances and connotations, and to the furthest point of ingenuity it bleeds the idea that words have the power to dictate their own meaning. As single entities unto themselves, the poems’ internal logic is destructive and constructive; it considers the original and rendition together, but ultimately as separate. Edwards invites us to see how syntax has the power to unhinge and re-charge, the liberal capitalisation of words injecting the unexpected and signalling pause. So much of these poems must be weighed up in individual words, the single thread which has the power to bind and destroy the ‘whole’ that is at the heart of Rilke and is avoided in O Sonata. Edwards’s echoes back through the vortex, or more so across the page, ‘Very well: please / meet me at the Help desk.’

Edwards plays with the interpretative qualities of rendition, the sonnet form and O Sonata, pun to boot. The sonnet, traditionally divided into two; an octet followed by a sextet, is carefully sliced into four sections, resolving to quatrain, quatrain, tercet, tercet. This unfamiliar formation is taken directly from the musical sonata form. Translation has purposely been transmogrified to resist the necessary rhyme scheme of the sonnet, and replaced with a rhythm that ‘wheezes no it waltzes through the rattled / interstitial dark’ and behind the poem. The idea of resonance is fundamental to Edwards’ mistranslation, as in the collection he considers Rilke’s lyrical impulse, and turns it on its head, imbuing the sonnet with sonata constructs, and illuminating an ABBA rhythm enmeshed in four divisions of the poem. This clever and attentive conveyance of the performative functions of rendition is especially interesting when Edwards’ sonata is set against its cantare [to sing] counterpart, as the thematic drive of Rilke’s sonnet is embedded in lyrical impulse: ‘O Orpheus singt!’

Time and again through O Sonata, Edwards’ fidelity to roots and singular attention to detail demonstrate his exquisite grasp of language and sound. His augmentation, in accordance with Rilke, speaks on polyphonic levels; compare the opening line of Rilke’s poem II.5, ‘Blumenmusk, der der Anemone’, and Edwards’ response, ‘Bloomin’ muscles, they’re their own worst Enemy’. This comparison makes it clear that Edwards has the animating power to sustain connection through the purity of sound and shape; employing the phonemic qualities of the morpheme, ‘Blumen’, to create ‘Bloomin’, and still remain separate enough to create a secondary Hades from which to offer up to a ‘zooidal’ unification of the futile male and traditional myth.

Ultimately, I interpret O Sonata as an impulse in of itself, a re-presentation of the perilous path to the underworld that is now well trodden and ‘working at a wonky angle to the Zebra Crossing’. This image suggests that the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is nebulous, but also precariously stuck between crossroads, a scene juxtaposed by leaving and going. In this way, the necessity of rendition lies not in semantic meaning, but the possibilities that are just beneath the surface of a sound, a word, syntax or just on the other side of the Zebra Crossing. The combination of Sonnette an Oprheus and O Sonata signals that revision is an endless repetition onto itself, the source text and translation reliant and dismissive of the other, as in the final tercet of poem 54:

Should dickhead want to dance and Iridesce and get verbal, you can
always call on the Zoo to call on Erda to sing sadly: Ay Caramba.
Alternatively, you can spruik what Was as what Will be: it has-been

From one side of the road to another: Toby Fitch’s The Bloomin’ Notions of Other & Beau. In this rendition of John Ashbery’s translation of Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, Fitch has created a multiversal pathway into another inversion of the Underworld, or maybe a ‘nether nether’ world as it pertains to Australia. Fitch ploughs Illuminations as ‘fertile ground in which to grow Bloomin Notions’, and presents the land Down Under in a chaotic and continually metamorphosing shroud of visual and sensory aesthetics, to make a sequence taut between social disruption and transcendence.

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