The Blue Pearl


Anne Blonstein
The Blue Pearl
Salt Publishing
110 pages

I first came to know Anne Blonstein when out of the blue she sent me some poems care of Mesechabe: The Journal of Surregionalism.  Meticulously crafted, literate, erudite.  I was mystified and not sure I wanted to read more if I was going to have to work so hard.  But I couldn’t resist, it was so rare to get poetry of this kind, so I asked her to keep in touch.  Sustaining herself as an editor and translator, she lives in a crossroads of la belle Suisse, from her window she can see into France and Germany just across the river.  I paired the prose poems she sent with the exquisite-cadaverous drawings of the brilliant young artist, Kourtney Keller, and they took off.

Now comes her first full-length book, The Blue Pearl.  “She inhaled her mare’s breath.” Sucked in the breath of the animal, her own breath did she breathe. Sustaining herself on her own expelled air. Sursilencing the silence, upon the silence, silence above silence.  As John Cage said, sound is what rises up to the surface of silence, what is suppressed bobs up eventually, a bubble through time.

She has a love of neologisms (like sursilencing above, and the heartbreaking crematogen —“think of carcinogen,” she answered my inquiry, so I did, and then of the ovens).  And she gives your vocabulary a workout: what’s a chironomist? Someone who directs Gregorian chant, using hand gestures to indicate the rise or fall of the melody.  Which illuminates “empalmed” (embalmed + palm.)

There is much color & light (the book is after all, “the Blue Pearl,” color of clear sky and the oyster’s gem) horses & cows, snakes, Hathor, represented by a cow with the sun between her horns, daughter of Ra, goddess of, get this now, chaos AND music…

The poems themselves are allusive (elusive too), there’s a bunch that have to do with snakes which are divided into two or three strophes, and each poem is numbered in strange ways, binary. Numbers are of major importance to her poetry, as they are to music. “Write as if you are standing between zero and one,” she writes.  Is that what this is all about? The section called “anilineated dreams”, begins with “1111,” goes on to “1121,” “1201” and through many binary permutations, manages to end precisely upon “2001.” She does somehow always seem to know exactly how many poems it will take to finish a sequence. Another sequence not included in this book is numbered by using the Hebrew alphabet’s numerical values (or numerological, magick values) in equations (for instance, kaph-aleph  [20-1=19]).  If these poems are elusive, they are also Eleusive, defying interpretation by all but the priestess of Eleusis.

Funny thing about such opaque surfaces is that they throw back your own mind. I don’t know the absolute value of this notion, but it’s an alternative to simply thinking that I, the reader, am stupid or the writer simply doesn’t want to be understood.  A poem is a map of the mind moving, and maybe it is also a map of the mind reading.

Wanting a better map, I broke down and asked her some questions.  Why is blue the fourth power of wavelength instead of fifth? (Roy G. Biv thought blue light should be the fifth power.)   She responded:

Tyndall scattering owes its effect to the scattering of light by small particles known as iridiphores. These consist of stacks of purine crystals, which reflect and refract light in a certain way. Short wavelengths of light, at the blue end of the spectrum, are affected more than the others and so the colour produced is blue. In certain species, a layer of cells containing small reflecting particles is found well below the surface of the scales. If worked alone, the snake would be blue — a few blue snakes, notably among S. American pit vipers — Bothriopsis and Bothriechis. But blue effect usually combines with yellow chromatophores ‡ green.

Since xanthophores change the blue coloration to green by filtering the light coming back from iridiphores, the absence of xanthophores results in blue snakes. These are not common but have been recorded for at least . . .the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus.

Tyndall, John (1820–93) Irish physicist. He is best known for his work on heat, studying such aspects as the absorbance and transmission of heat by gases and liquids and the thermal conductivity of solids. Tyndall also worked on diamagnetism, glaciers, the transmission of sound, and the scattering of light by suspended particles, becoming the first person to explain the blue colour of the sky (the Tyndall effect), according to which blue light is more strongly scattered than red light because the scattered intensity is related to the fourth power of the wavelength.

Anne’s book speaks into as well as out of darkness.  Too obscure to break the silence? Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t see.  On the other hand, what could be more banal than another ten-minute open mike rant on the rights of woman?  Scared out of darkness, frightened out of silence, angered to love. 

Derek Walcott never let Helen speak in his Omeros, and that is what set this book of Anne Blonstein’s off:  the silence of the most beautiful woman in the world, who was valued only for what the world could see, and not hear.

I expected an outburst of marvelous music, but there wasn’t any.  I expected something I could hang my hat on, but I tossed my hat away.  I sense that the snake lore and autobiographical morphisms can move randomly and resonate with other elements. There are movements suggested by the orthography of dividers between stanzas. There is color and light in the Tyndall effects and the snake’s deep blue scale-shine. (German Schein: appearance.)  I noted while reading Allen Ginsberg’s writings on drug experiences that he thought it was impossible to communicate the visionary experience because in writing, you attempt to latch onto particulars, leaving the divine sweep of the vision beyond your means.  Paradoxically, only concentration upon particulars can even begin to suggest the power of totality. This is what I was thinking about six re-readings into this book.

—Dennis Formento

Copyright © 2004 Dennis Formento.  All Rights Reserved.

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