paperback, 56 pages, 5 1/2 x 8
Publication Date: 2016
A luminescent new book by one of our leading innovative writers
Etel Adnan’s evocative new book places night at its center to unearth memories held in the body, the spirit and the landscape. This striking new book continues Adnan’s meditative observation and inquiry into the experiences of her remarkable life.
"A fragmentary, aphoristic examination of night in all its illuminating darkness from a Lebanese-American poet who is also an admired visual artist." —David Orr, The New York Times Book Review (Best of 2016 Poetry)
“There are few lives that have charted the dislocations, tectonic shifts, passions, and innumerable heartbreaks of the modern Arab world more thoroughly than Etel Adnan… She is a writer of searing, sometimes surrealist heights.” —Negar Azimi, Artforum
Trained in philosophy, Beirut-born author/activist Adnan blends a meditation on the meaning of memory with memories themselves, dredged up from a long life. And surely night, her setting here, is the time for such dredging. Adnan rigorously asserts that “reason and memory move together.” But she argues that “a remembered event is a return to a mystery,” and her writing is eye-openingly lush, gorgeous, even surreal (“waves of roses are blanketing memory”), showing us the mind at work on its unstructured, uncertain edges. The epigrammatic ending, “Conversations with my soul” (“Why are we lonelier when/ together”), will feed even those who don’t typically read poetry. VERDICT A good way for sophisticated readers to recall why they first loved verse.
A meditative heir to Nietzsche’s aphorisms, Rilke’s "Book of Hours" and the verses of Sufi mysticism, "Night" is an intricate thread of reflections on pain and beauty.
To "constitute spirit," as Adnan puts it — or become our best selves, as others might have it — she advocates opening our minds and memories to encounter the world, to nurture a love from our radical correspondences with the dispossessed or overshadowed:
I entered once someone’s memory, I say through his brain, the seat of his illuminations. The place was planted with olive trees, and mathematical equations. On one of the trees was hanging a Van Gogh painting. The ground of that house of memory had been once the bed of a river that had run through still another person’s brain. All this constitutes my spirit.
Adnan’s language summons transcendent experiences, like shibboleths the poet utters to cross a room without "thinking" it. An empathy with other worlds has been a constant in this Arab-American’s work, whether embracing Syrian immigrants and Palestinian orphans in her classic Lebanese civil war novella "Sitt Marie Rose" — essential reading to grasp our current refugee crises — or here in "Night." Adnan’s collection is “a cosmic phenomenon,” to borrow another phrase from the book, “elevating us far above our daily condition." - Benjamin Hollander for The New York Times
Renowned Lebanese-American writer Adnan (To Look at the Sea Is to Become What One Is) maps consciousness in a book-length poem that explores night in all its permutations. Though she is more elliptical and fragmentary here—and less narrative-driven or referential—than in previous work, these poems engage in a daring, meditative exploration of perception and her own experiences. Adnan does this with a courageous interiority that becomes universal as the text unfolds. Memory is a particularly notable leitmotif as it relates to identity, whether personal or collective. “I measure my memory of things, but not memory itself, as the present is also overflowing,” she writes. These internal and societal memories lend themselves to queries about history, landscape, and the nature of consciousness. Adnan posits that memory is not a “storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking.” As the book progresses, memory becomes increasingly knotted with loss and mortality: “It was said that people mattered, which we did, and they lost their shine.” Adnan never provides clear answers, but this prevents her wide-ranging assertions from becoming didactic; her evocative imagery and interwoven repetitions serve to create another memory—one that will linger with the reader long after the text’s conclusion. (Sept.)