Notebook of Roses and Civilization

Notebook of Roses and Civilization

By Bert Almon

A review of Notebook Of Roses And Civilization by Nicole Brossard

Published on October 1, 2007

Notebook Of Roses And Civilization
Nicole Brossard

Coach House Books
$16.95
paper
81pp
978-1-55245-181-6

Nicole Brossard is a national treasure, and we don’t need the Molson Prize and her two Governor General’s Literary Awards to remind us of that. Her new book does not include the French text, but the two translators are experienced and the monolingual writer can trust them. The language moves confidently, flowing without obvious transitions over a range of themes: beauty, love, language, war. The rose is associated with nature and passion, civilization mostly with war and power. Three “Softlinks,” prose poems dispersed throughout the book, offer the reader some ways into the meanings of the elusive lyrics that make up most of the work. Brossard is perhaps referring to the SoftLink library automation systems: libraries, repositories of the word, contain much of what is good in civilization. The outer world, the poems tell us, is not only a world of natural beauty but also the realm of men with “eyes of Kalashnikovs.” The second “Softlink” decries the power of men in white shirts who traffic in weapons, and trade women and children. This is the dark side of civilization. Yet the urban, the core of civilization, can be associated with the erotic: the speaker remembers the ’80s in Chez Madame Arthur, a famous Paris nightclub where “women wrapped their arms around / nights of ink and dawn.” If there is any resolution of the dichotomies of the rose and civilization, it lies in the words, which are treated in “Softlink 3” not as mere signs but as real entities. Any word, any language. In a passage that calls to mind Rilke’s “Ninth Duino Elegy,” which says we are here to affirm being through words, Brossard summons up the sorts of words that drive and haunt us: names of places and people, of cherished objects, words of pleasure and pain, words that “shoot up before our very eyes like cloned shadows replete with light and great myths.” The word is entangled with civilization and its discontents, but also preserves and exalts the realm of the rose. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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