Anaïs Duplan’s Mount Carmel & The Blood of Parnassus (Monster House Press, 2017)
Review by John Rufo
The only time I ever traveled to Iowa was to visit Anaïs Duplan. See, they said, pulling out a giant scroll of white paper, scratched and scrawled with handwriting, I’ve been working on this new thing. I don’t know what it is yet. They held it upright, above their face, with the paper so long that it began unraveling on the floor: its unruly, untitled form licking Duplan’s feet without ceasing, not unlike Chester, their dog, who has more than one cameo in the scroll. This paper, through an editing process of which I don’t know the exact details, eventually emerged as a work entitled Mount Carmel & The Blood of Parnassus. In an interview with The Rumpus, Duplan mentions that the original un-edited form does not appear as the final manifestation of the work; however, with a careful eye for preserving its looseness and flow, Duplan successfully maintains
an arrangement throughout Mount Carmel that allows us to feel its improvisatory bursts and fissures. It is never landlocked, but continually churns out into the sea and back
again, basking in a circulation which Duplan reminds us can never be removed from its time of writing, remarking:
“I don’t care if my chapbook / isn’t published. I don’t care if it isn’t really that good.” Often, what seems to bind together the work is knowing its crude “inappropriateness” – where we’re told: “It would be a / mistake to publish this. You love mis- / takes.”
But instead of a misfire or awkward encounter, we get a series of takes (versions) and trials going after how Duplan regards “the poetry world,” Blackness, music, and familial
relationships. It’s a deep, abiding love for the mistakes/misnomers that crop up in every arena, every zone where sociality is set to reset and grow.
In each instance, Mount Carmel & The Blood of Parnassus shakes itself alive and dry, though willing to comb through the waves once more if need be. What I mean is: the chapbook feels like a metamorphic process of traveling into the sun, without neglecting the places that held its position before. The first section [white ink on blackpages] reveals itself as a personal memento concerning Duplan’s gender, sexual, and racial identities that doubly serves as “A Love Song to Dean Blunt in Three Parts.” See, you can never really talk about that without also talking about the music. The second section [black ink on white pages] becomes a manifesto exercise in continuous serial poetic movement, surfacing negative space and cruising the duties of a “published poet” while, at the same time, smashing and seceding from said duties. While I’ve described the first section as “memento” and the following parts as “manifesto,” the two could be used interchangeably: the book is a promise to “keep this page for your record” and a declaration that “all marginalized people inhabit two worlds at the same time: freedom and unfreedom.” Duplan’s duties that they assign themselves are numerous and bountiful: this is a book that seems to travel in alldirections at once, and levies the microphone to every murmur.
In this way, I want to put Duplan’s work in conversation with a conversation between poets Nathaniel Mackey and Kamau Brathwaite, where the latter writer insists on “tidialetics” instead of “dialectics,” where the motion and movement of water, ceaseless seizing and heaving sea, becomes the operating metaphor in the place of binaristic opposition. Though Duplan’s title is bifurcated, the “&” instead is like the sandy part of “ampersand” – the temper and timbre of grainy rock that collaborates with the tide, makes endless meeting times and places, instead of forces at war with one another. Mount Carmel is the holy site where the blood of Parnassus may abide. And, at the same time, they may never touch. A lot of the book seems to ask, “How do you talk about this?” And then answers in a multiplication of senses. Can we really talk about race/gender/family/poetry in a way that presupposes two opposites and sits somewhere along a line? This is, maybe, why Duplan writes: “I wanted you to cry into me.” We need to abide somewhere in the field of the earth instead of regulating ourselves to a linear sensibility within the world. More specifically, and keeping Mackey and Brathwaite’s practices in mind, Duplan’s site of thinking space is that of Black privacy. Dean Blunt becomes the principal material personed specter for this reason. A “third space,” which is an “intensification, or deepening, of mundane reality” is another phrase Duplan uses in an attempt to describe how male-ness and Blackness twist and turn about their shapes. This space is the “possibility for liberation” and also the possibility of libation, of drinking and of offering “performance as lived reality…at the stage of one’s skin.” In moving away from either/or, and by consulting the comedian/ performer Eric Andre, Duplan is wrestling/resting/re-arranging the elements that seek to keep things and persons still and at bay. What is the mundane? What is the everyday? Duplan queries and states: “are you tired. Yes, everyday.” And then goes on to relate: “Chester wags his tale / everytime I LAAAAAUGH!” The world where waiting on a paycheck and laughing at your dog’s tail and violence against Black persons occurs and the mundane continually recycles are all inhabiting the same earth. Anaïs calls us up the mountain, and digs deep into it. It’s a DJ set they invite us to dive into.
There are two more moments I want to draw up from the book: “I hesitated to begin writing” and “I wanted to be the men I dated more than I wanted to date them.” These desires, and their relevant, accompanying, beforeand-after hesitations, are where I put the book down, bring it back, continue, and rewind. What feels through Mount Carmel & The Blood of Parnassus is an endless hesitation being hewn and lived through: a kind of vocabulary developed to begin the process of something deeper than resolution. It’s not that Duplan provides us with a drama, but instead invokes/involves us within the drama of thresholds and holding onto ourselves while simultaneously giving up ourselves. It is why, halfway through, between sections, they write: “Let us enter this again.” A process of re-entries, of entries, of “keep[ing] this page as a record.” Just now, as I am writing this, I am trying to record my writing of this, of my writing of my reading of my hesitations and beginnings and allowances. “Ecstatic union,” Duplan calls it.
“Do you believe in that?”