Ella Longpre’s How To Keep You Alive, Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM), 2017)
REVIEW BY carrie lorig
1. The book I am carrying around in my unbroken hand on Valentine’s Day states a question without the mark. I read near a tree before work and write in the margins of a page, “Very in love w questions that refuse the mark bc the mark is already so present and uttered elsewhere and otherwise. Somehow the Atacama blooms / without permission / with all its bone and life.” How To Keep You Alive no question mark becomes terror that fills our bodies this particular Valentine’s Day.
“What are you failing to say. If you are speaking
to someone is one of you still (already) gone /
or is there a delay.
What rituals are useful to locating
3. Did I read near the tree before work or did I read at work, carefully hiding How To Keep You Alive just below the beige rim of my desk. Did I write in the margins on the page or did I write over an image of the page for an Instagram story that is since, gone. I underline a sentence. “To be wild but appear ordered.”
4. My partner and I attend an event called “The Rebel: In Celebration of Mari Evans.” The scholars speaking about her answer questions by reading her poems, by talking about how the rooms and notes in her house were arranged, by speaking about her work, her clothes, her dessert. A student asks what it means to face a person in the archive, how to protect the complexity of who that person is, what they felt, what they created. Dr. Althea Tait tells her, I will not produce knowledge, a talking product, about this woman. I go to the archive and open myself to revelation. Go and wait for revelation. That’s why you’re in the archive. Be present with or in proximity to someone’s life in a way you did not feel was possible.
“Escape: beyond performance. A ritual. Meekly approach the edge and
stop. Hover, waiting for a sign, to be called forward by the unknown
that’s poised in the silhouette of your potential. You are caught on the
edge, unable to fathom the silhouette, humbled.”
4. Longpre’s book insists you meet it in a revelation of the unknown, the fragment, a painful overlap of memory and an inability or a refusal to recreate memory linearly. “A book is what a ghost is / trying to say. Does she become the house or does she become / the fire. You don’t need much to keep a story.” How To Keep You Alive reminds me a great deal of another book I recently wrote about, Jane Lewty’s In One Form To Find Another. Both books endlessly fold into / unfurl around / flinch against the time, the bodies, the space, and the details of the event / the traumatic event. What does it mean to be in proximity to someone’s life according to incredible terms they create?
“You could recreate a book of photographs. A line of questioning you don’t
how far from memory have you come?”
These books and their writing do not emerge as narrative defined by clarity, itemized invoices, and a “satisfying” slab of healed flesh. Rather, here, memory, emotion, presence, and body are defined by an unstoppable whirling. A whirling that is as necessary as it is disorienting. An intensity, a fading in and out which chunkily collapses rigid assumptions of reality and “reflecting upon” reality. Who gets the privilege to “reflect upon” reality? When is the expectation that one should “reflect upon” harmful to those who want to acknowledge an event in ways which exceed prescribed trajectories or imagining? Rather, here, we have reality or the unknown, the fragment, hundreds of fragments / hundreds of unknowns, a painful overlap of memories or realities or bodies or buildings or objects, which all exist severally and refuse to exist severally.
5. The more I type the word “overlap,” the more I feel it is a verb particularly and actively embedded in Longpre’s text. It is the book’s floral abundance. In How To Keep You Alive, pronouns fall in and out of capitalization, they blend into each other and interchange while also still indicating separate bodies, separate experience. Objects, similarly, pulse in and out and overtop each other. Fire / house / tree / water. The pulse is or can be painful, a rubbing / a robbing of. However, it’s also a sign of movement. An experience of reality and of memory. An act of confusion and the enactment of a question. The body of a family. The body of their poverty. The body of lost records. The body of lost bodies. What remains. What body is that.
“I have to work very hard to keep my eyes open now that I have passed to the other side of
ruin. A name in a book. White flowers on the table. How to keep ruin from completely growing over you, I have been replaced by ruin, is this even my body I am in. Whose house is this, whose face in the window. If home is tenderness than I once unstrapped a small body from a stretcher and held him to me so that we breathed together until he stopped shaking. I was his apparatus. A lost boy, a small child, they came to find me, hesitant to take responsibility for his body, a lost boy, this was one of the last times I saw him, if you never see them again, they don’t age, I have trouble remembering if this is the time the light went out of his eyes. We could not speak in the house. I worship the space where I can still speak…”
6. I think often about what is sanctioned as inspiring / quote-worthy and how much extraction or isolation is a part of that classification. I think often about how extraction from the text or isolation of the poem is the most common signal for conveying reading. It isn’t violent, but it is violent / when it becomes something like proof of value. Books like Longpre’s should not be pitted against books or writing that happen to be quotable. However, books like Longpre’s importantly acknowledge how many varied ways of reading, writing, and thinking exist. What if a thought / a feeling through takes more than one book / takes several books to course through. What if such variance can’t be perfectly distilled or shouldn’t be.
“But remembering the small bodies I reverse the trajectory.”
How can I create a reaction to How to Keep You Alive except to insist that it should be experienced. Nothing I’ve quoted should prompt a potential reader more or less than the simple fact that the book fucked me up / that it lives as a fold in an ocean I’ll spend something like my life sorting through the texture of.
“Ruin: does not erase
you can’t see.”
7. Such notions of unquotability are particularly radical when discussing how a body continues to feel through an unnamed event or trauma. How is this a form of protection, movement, and survival.
“Empathy means you understand how the
and how it could move against them,
and you don’t want to be the world.”
8. How is this complexity, unwrapped from linear detail, meant for no one / meant for everything. What if unquotablity is less about unquotability and more of signal that a thought / a writing continues to be enroute. Is this an “incompleteness” or is it something more interesting. The promise of the writing, the books, and the overlap to come.
“Ruin is duration.
Ruin is not a visual characteristic. Ruin is duration. Ruin fills a space while opening it.
A room over time. Who am I.”
9. Such notions of unquotability create time that has been withheld or not given. It creates space for the body writing / the body reading / their wild overlap / a revelation.
“What are the responsibilities of your body.
How do you forgive your body. What are the
responsibilities of a poet. How do you forgive
a poet. How do you even find forgiveness to
How might your skin change. Why don’t the
Remains repulse you / do you ever let go. What
is mine. How do you set aside time for your
body to fall apart. What does it mean for a
body to fall apart.”
“If they can’t make impressions they expect they can break you. Like if you are not flux you
are rigid. But they forget you are wild, too, and you can sense the air shift. They cut the lilac bush to the ground but never dig the root so the ground starts to sink and the tiles fall apart. You can sense the air shift and know to move around it like the tree in this room now growing up the wall, that is, it’s glowing, a room on fire, if they see your house is dark always they will not be afraid, you open the blinds so the window becomes a screen playing the fire, a mirror you watch it on, on this day, years ago, the man at the door can he see you, too, there is no way you can let him into this room, in an act of forgiveness, he wants to become ruin, in an act of protection you are become ruin, they never expect you to be wild, always something that depresses or snaps, never something that moves.”
The refusal to use a question mark in such a book / a book that doesn’t detail the event(s) is an immense refusal to acknowledge any possibility the event(s) didn’t occur. The life before the event(s) mattered and the life after it does. That life doesn’t owe anyone detail / and rather, would like to offer or fail or succeed at engaging with the event(s) plethora / the ruin / its whirling. All of this life has been changed / not changed by memory. All of this life has been changed by a decision to move through language while refusing linguistic expectations. The body that violated another body or attempts to violate another body flickers on the screen / for a fleeting moment. They are not nothing. But in How To Keep You Alive, they are unable to take anything from the ruin / its whirling and instead, briefly witness the ruin / its whirling.
10b. For a long time, I stay near. For a long time, I am quiet / with feeling.