Surge, as the title suggests, is a book awash in movement: the movement of mind, of time and of memory. It presents an old poet at home, at night, roving through her recollections of dead or dying friends, landscapes passed through or lost. She muses on unresolvable ideas that have flickered at the edge of perception for countless sleepless nights.
In perception, redemption,” Adnan declares in this assemblage of mystical, metaphysical ideas and aphorisms, often in conversation with the dead. “We have to say yes to that fate,” she writes of mortality, “and it’s hard, the hardest.
Adnan’s poetics brings the feminine power of the undetermined, casting language around what cannot, ultimately, be made certain. With skill, she uses words to obscure fixed notions of what it is to be a person, to experience pain, to think about it, and refracts thought matter back to the light of the moon. “That kind of motion,” she writes, “alters the world.”
Rather than pin down or bemoan our lack of perceptual surety, Adnan builds a nebula for readers to drift about. Her pages are a place for us to submerge, to question ourselves and each other even as we want to reach out and affirm that yes, we saw some nice fish down there—the colors really set off the light.
In Surge, a new book of (mostly) taut prose formations, what she is thinking about at 93 seems to be the whole range of life on earth, explored with a more palpable sense of mortality than perhaps she could have expressed at 43 or 53… The action of the book is like a sewing machine: jabbing deeply and decisively into a subject and then quickly moving on.
By looking out at the universe, we are looking into ourselves. By naming that shimmering, we are piecing ourselves together. Adnan has given us a new way of thinking through ourselves and the world, our place in the universe.
As a wave does. Of the sea, of emotion, of thinking. Meaning crests, blinks, and submits to the vast and chaotic flow of thought. Nothing stays. The workings of the mind keep happening. Etel Adnan’s long poem, Surge, published through Nightboat Press this summer, attunes to such a motion; humbling itself to the forces beyond a singular subjectivity. It is a philosophical succession of aphoristic thoughts, turning its reader in on herself and back out again; visiting questions of being, of perception, with the rigour of a thinker who has lived a deeply curious life.