01 December 2015

Vivimarie's 'Nothing prepares you': readable and ‘rememberable’


‘Nothing prepares you’, by Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Zeus Paperbacks, 2007. Rs. 295.00. Vivimarie won the Gratiaen Prize (2007) for this collection.  

There are two kinds of writers. Some describe what we all see in exquisite ways. They give the ‘everyday’ a beauty that we never really noticed before. Then there are those who write that which we didn’t notice was there before our eyes. We are thus mesmerized by language use or we acquire new eyes. We become more appreciative of the world around us. We become more empowered. And somewhere in the play of metaphor and meaning, we learn something about ourselves.

I am not a frequent visitor to bookstores for quite unforgivable reasons, but when I do go, I look for poetry, especially poetry by Sri Lankan authors. A lot of people write these days and I am aware that there are many creative writing groups encouraging young people to write, and I am aware that many people do have the money to publish their work. An encouraging sign, I tell myself, especially since there is no doubt that there is abundant creativity and energy evident in these many collections.
There is of course a flip side. It is easy, relatively speaking, to be ‘creative’. To craft, that is a different matter. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound come to mind. Eliot dedicated ‘The Wasteland’ to Pound, ‘the finer craftsman’. There are brilliant pieces, I have seen. Tend to be raw, though. Also, in any given volume, one would find at best two or three good poems. That’s it. You find great lines in fairly pedestrian poems. So, with respect to talent, yes, we are not lacking. Craftsmanship is a different story.

This is why Vivimarie Vanderpoorten’s ‘Nothing prepares you’, surprises one, I believe. She’s got the insights, the words, and the craftsmanship. She is both an excellent ‘describer’ of things we experience and encounter all the time and is a revealer of things we just don’t have the eyes to capture. 

Vivimarie makes us say, ‘that’s so true’. She articulates that which we cannot put into words. Makes us feel nice that someone else also felt the same thing, saw the same thing. She’s an affirming writer who makes us feel good about ourselves, or, in the flip side of it, make us say ‘it’s alright then’. She has the words and the courage. Poets are supposed to have both. 

Has sorrow nothing to lose,
Does it therefore sing?

We are content in experiencing joy. We rarely write joy. Sorrow we splash all over our preferred canvas. We all know this. We don’t say it. And even if we did, we would arrange the words in awkward manner. She says it well.

‘Grief has no words,’ she claims, without shame, the opposite. Such a cliché, right? Wrong. It is all about context. ‘They Said’ is about reactions to a sobering fact, death. ‘They’ will have things to say. Why? They do not grieve. ‘We’ on the other hand, are robbed of word. Vivimarie writes a personal moment but the sense one gets is that it is not so much the ‘personal experience’ that inspires the poem than the fact that a good observer was endowed with the word.

Who has not been intrigued by the art of reading palms? Who has never stretched out his/her palm for a palmist to read? Who would see the lines on the palm as roads?

These lines, they’re
like roads in
a city without maps.

The metaphor was always there. In the palm of our hands. We never saw it, did we? She did. And she transcribed it with great economy and still managed to work in several layers of meaning. And so, when we open our hands now, we can extrapolate in many directions, with or without road maps. I find it empowering.

There are in this collection, the articulations so typical of love, lovers and the forsaken. The sentiments and even the lines are predictable. At least for those who have loved, been loved and left. Still, Vivimarie manages to throw in that deft twist that is not simply word-play but expression of a deeper sensitivity and evidence of exceptional literary skill.

Take ‘For DS’. The narrator’s name has obviously been replaced by another’s in the heart of the addressee. “When I’m gone, you’ll find someone younger, smarter, more beautiful, etc. etc. etc….,” she writes. And adds, within brackets “I’m sure you will”. She’s pouting. ‘What’s the point?’ I found myself asking.

But maybe
-just maybe-
she’ll not write
poetry
for you.

Quite pedestrian, if you ask me. Except that Vivimarie comes up with this simple but brilliant touch to end it. It is bracketed thus: (“I hope she will”). One hears and feels in this the softness of voice and heart of the poet, respectively.

Vivimarie gives colour to the black-and-white of our “everydays”. She narrates in anecdotal fashion the things we’ve all done and seen. Requires great observation skills, a penchant for telling a story and yes, craftsmanship. In ‘You’re welcome’ for instance she uses a simple matter of gifting warm clothes to an Oxfam Shop to express the quiet thrill of going home and, inter alia, she makes a deft comment on stereotyping (she says a lot in the little she says):

Crinkly doll’s-eyes
take in….
my black eyes-hair-skin
Un
certainty
skims
the surface of those blue pools
for a millionth of a second.
An eyebrow is raised a zillionth of an inch.

She’s noticed a lot.

Clearly a heart person, the author writes much on heart-matters. Intense passion, melancholy, longing and the simple everyday thoughts that crowd those in love find expression in these pages. Love poetry, in general, is appreciated by recipients. Outsiders tend to get nauseated. One loves to exaggerate love, but exaggeration by others in love with others, make one cringe. But check out “Haiku: Cyber-love”:

Babe, I’m online and
Happiness is virtual
Log in to my heart.

Heart she has, for other kinds of love. For a father, for example. Grief is a word that is tagged with ‘outpouring’. In her case, she makes it trickle down to dimensions that are manageable but nevertheless telling. Tears are easy signifiers. We notice them. They say ‘grief’, ‘grieving’. They say nothing of the why and how, the details of the source. Vivimarie takes us on a tour of this other map, the beneath-the-tears place of grief.

It is not all dark and grey, though. No, her poetry is infused with humour, with irony. Like in ‘Explosion’, where she brings a ton of bricks on an insurer’s pay-off line by throwing it into the debris of a bomb explosion:

Out of the broken window
of a damaged car –
dead driver –
the radio blared, unscathed
on a commercial break
a man’s pleasant voice
announced
that big or small, insurance
protects them all.

Or this, in “Haiku: Elections”:

A man pees against
the wall, smiling lies can wait:
Nature’s call is strong.

She can even laugh at love (“Celebrating Love”):
Quick, find it
Before it vanishes
Before it turns into a pumpkin
At Midnight
On Valentine’s Day.

It’s all deeply personal but a ‘personal’ that one can relate to. It is social comment inspired by the gaze of everyday eyes. Eminently readable. Rememberable. To coin a term.

First published in the Sunday Times, April 27, 2008
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