Persons Real and Supposed
A review of Ropewalk by Angela Carr
Published on March 1, 2007
The opening sequence of Angela Carr’s Ropewalk
, “The Louise Labé Poems,” turns on a real person (maybe), the French Renaissance poet Louise Labé. Recently some critics have suggested that Labé was a fiction of a circle of male writers. She is best known today as a poet admired by Rilke, who translated her work and referred to her in the Duino Elegies
. Her life was full of improbabilities: a bourgeoise from Lyon married to a rope-maker, she was said to have been a swordswoman, a lover of the poet Olivier de Magny, and (perhaps) a lover of King Henri IV as well. No less than John Calvin, the great religious reformer, appears to have called her a common whore. Not all of these stories are likely to be true, so Carr can have fun with them, making feminist points with a rapier rather than an axe. The poems are playful, full of acrostics of Labé’s name (a trick as old as Renaissance poetry). The metaphor of the loop is important in a sequence that turns on itself, knots itself up and then reveals the knots to be illusions. Angela Carr is a rope-walker herself, a tightrope artist with nimble footing. The other sections of her book are internal journeys. “Empty” is based on the experiments with words patented by Gertrude Stein in her book of domestic objects, Tender Buttons
, and “Mountance of a Dream” looks into the psychic depths through a dream sequence. The problem with imitating Stein is that the great writer’s methods dazzle without offering a way of saying very much – and the pupil of Stein inevitably sounds derivative. And dreams – which, as Freud pointed out, are over-determined in their symbolism – need a little more context than Carr provides here if they are to reveal as well as mystify. Carr performs without a net, but her occasional falls are not fatal. She has written a first-rate collection, exquisitely printed too. mRb
Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.