Saturday, March 16, 2013

Deborah Poe’s Hélène: Weaving in France, Dreaming of China

Deborah Poe's new novella in verse, Hélène, is both exact and dreamy. In powerful, rhythmic words and images of amazing beauty, she draws the life of a 19th-c French factory girl, who is basically a prisoner in a convent where she weaves silken fibers into the silk cloth craved by Europeans. The beauty of what she works on contrasts to conditions of her life. Her escape is through imagination, her fantasy of the life of a young weaver in China, going through the same motions, feeling the same longing for escape.

Poe explores the depth of meaning in common words repeated here: "benefactor," "thread," "falling," "chest." Images of animals--deer, geese, cats, fish, horses--appear creating moments of beauty and escape into the natural world, as in "Orphaned waterscape a flock of sparrows flying over the mind./A thunderstorm rolling in over a family of deer. The horse flying through branches,/landing safely." In the repetition of weft and warp beauty is created from "sticky protein" and the building of bridges through dreams allows lonely young women to travel together beyond the obstacles of geography. The difference in their languages ("Masculin et féminin" or the "Shang-sheng, a rising tone") and geography is overcome through the ideas and meanings that writing make possible and, in the words cited from Chuang-Tzu, "This is called the transformation of things." Poverty, enclosure, the sleazy facts of history, and the abuse of power are alluded to here, but are not allowed to cancel out life and meaning or beauty itself. Poe's work is a significant achievement of balance and beauty.

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