APRIL JOSEPH Reviews
not so, sea by Mg Roberts
(Durga Press, 2014)
I am reminded of color as I surround myself, my listening, my reading with writers of color. Then to undertake the generous preview of not so, sea is indicative of how the universe reveals my sisters and brothers. Thank you universe.
I consider some writers of color: Cisneros, Neruda, Dr. King, Junot Diaz, Mg Roberts. They speak our language. A language of survival: an outcast cry, a language of arrival, of departing. To arrive is to depart. To depart, you must arrive. Even if you’ve landed in an in-between space. You’ve landed. Mg Roberts’ not so, sea begins:
This is how I arrived, cut. (9)
not so, sea is memory echoed from the belly of a whale. From the moment we step into the cavernous mouth of not so, sea we are “unearth”ed. Roberts reminds us that arrival and departure requires surrender in order to examine the debris or “cuts” of the storm—
This place holds distinctions etched onto flexible strips of plastic. Do you hear its mutability of letters, the knock of consonants?
Discomfort remains separate against the back of mouth where hosannas name the naming. (12)
Roberts’ ears are fine tuned to the sound bites of words. Her language emits a sword—mimicking the point of arrival, the point of departure.
After reading not so sea, I came across a throat chakra stone—I am working with this stone to remember the lives of those passed on—gone gone gone beyond. I am working with the throat chakra to consider and write the voices of humans who will not or cannot write or speak for themselves. Their silence is unjust and violent. Roberts reminds us of the importance of the voice. The voice must sing.
I must untie the knot in my throat, puncture air, shift to bone. Search for boundary. Locate name.
How to build horizon from what was?
Shall I learn to cleave? Hold prayer salt into knees, carry edges of psalm in lung across ocean? Make animal gestures: bleat. (15)
I begin to understand why the universe places us in strange desert(ed) landscapes filled with those “left behind.” Humanity’s wasteland. I consider “at risk youth” who do not realize their plight from or endurance of “ghetto.” These dangerous streets are filled with families of color who cross borders with undocumented stories, pushing against heavy hands to survive. How many stories are forgotten? I realize the urgent need for this literature: the various voices found inside not so, sea trace ancestral lines. Roberts’ inquiry into the practice of self-canceling and what it means to be self-reflexive illustrates the rediscovery of memory—contradicting memory.
Pages turn creating distance. I must retell myself, until I can see us in color. (20)
Roberts entices us with a foreign soundscape and shares Filipino superstitions—allowing the reader to be the fly on the witch doctor’s wall—listening as the “sky breaks”—envisioning the fractures, calling us to relocate (27). The text opens with the sky as Roberts’ use of space and negation demonstrate the breaks in language and memory.
A shape I am bringing to life: an earlobe scratches into and out of seeing; a fist is everything and nothing;
beetles fill the sky; thru shadow—the sky is mating.
Recalls details though what’s broken: mother and auntie’s English.
Watch //fs disappear (23, 25)
In “Something from Nothing: The Disontological Poetics of Leslie Scalapino,” Jason Lagapa writes, “According to the precepts of Christian negative theology, indirect speech is necessary to describe the sacred. One ought to speak of the ultimate nature of the divine only through negative utterances…This double negative is useful, for it formulates a conception or approximation of the divine even as it implies the faultiness of language itself” (34). Roberts’ work describes the sacred act of relocating a sacrificed language and culture.
In dreams the women occur as sound.
Silence. Sometimes is all we have. (37)
These utterances indicate the legacy of women and the immigrant experience. As we enter “Here,” the voices of ancestors are heard: …a beat heard as tears. Look at me I’m stained throughout (43). Roberts writes the voiceless whispers of ghosts—reaching towards the disappearing roots of language. Roberts’ enquiry into the groundedness and groundlessness of language reveals sites of trauma and spirit/spirituality. not so, sea is an island surrounded by sound beads that ask “…where to dissolve” (66). Roberts’ words dissolve at the point of origin to indicate the collapse of memory—forgetting, failing—reminding the reader of the flux of memory—how a heartbreaking touch can wave memories and like the tide pull us under “as in the state of gasping, sound too can hold the intention to ghost” (68).
I read Mg Roberts and consider the necessity to read writers of color who write from the space that documents the breaking-boiling point of roots—that create or transform humanity. This writing connects to the mother tongue—the matrilineal blood line that screams pain or is so far away you can barely see.
Across ocean or back, before prayers and breath, before salt of
ocean, of before was lungs. (79)
not so, sea revisions the past to make way for new birth, to create new channels of living.
April Joseph is a poet from East L.A., California, who is currently exploring the Pacific Northwest. After studying The Beat Generation and Buddhism in American Popular Culture at the University of California, San Diego, s)he received a MFA in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University, Boulder, CO. April has taught writing at Naropa and Las Vegas, NV, and performs paths to heal ancestral trauma, most recently at the Literary Death Match in San Francisco.