Drawing Water by Eva Heisler
Drawing Water fulgurates in its lyrical freedom, and it forces the reader to question what is real or imagined, light or dark, and created or found, all while bearing knowledge and close witness to the work of the speaker's artistic ancestors.
The collection is delightfully self-reflexive and postmodern in its construction. Many poems mention the construction of the writing, and they reveal the insecurities and inaccuracies of creation making. The speaker searches for the self in dizzying doodles, patterns, and symbols in an effort to make sense of the world before her. The poems all lack titles, so it reads as one long sectional poem, but each page plays with form, white space, and image in dazzling new ways. In searching for a pattern, the speaker resists a dominant pattern in her own work. The collection begins: "Take the horizon line, for example, / a mirage -- / that marks the limit of sight."
And the next poem, in prose form, meditates upon this idea: "I spend much of my writing time seeking the horizon line. I know that there is no such line but I see the line when I look up from small blocks of text and squint at the sea. To write prose poems is to resist the horizon line --"
The line of the horizon looks very real to most people, but the speaker, rightfully, exposes this idea as an illusion, which calls our whole human experience into question. Then, the speaker admits that she still seeks this line even though she has already admitted its contrivance, and she achingly and painfully asserts that she sees this line as she writes, but writing is also a form of resisting the illusions presented to her.
Additionally, Heisler makes meaningful usage of the white space on the page. Many of the poems are short, and the white space takes up more room than the text does. One page has only one line: "The page is the body of a ghost (but I don't believe in ghosts)."
Again, the speaker plays with the reader's sense of faith versus myth and reality versus illusion here. If the page is the body of a ghost that the speaker does not believe in, then the blank page itself is something the speaker doesn't believe in. This could have multiple meanings. It could suggest that all the possibilities of writing shrink to trivialities, and all attempts to create are therefore both magical and deceptive. Or it could mean that the blank page is useless, and we must write on it to come towards a sense of reality. Regardless, this simple line alone on the page was enough to trigger my imagination and cause me to pause for a significant amount of time upon the idea suggested.
As this speaker revels in space, she creates shapes on the page to interrogate what these spaces can hold. In one poem, Heisler writes:
I saw "negative space"
saw that triangle between the curve of a hip and an arm
another triangle between spread legs
I drew the contours of an emptiness and a body emerged.
In these lines, the speaker reveals that every act of creation has its roots in the combat of loneliness and self reflection. No matter what the speaker draws, the result is a body. We cannot look at this world or reflect upon this world without it becoming a mirror to humanity.
Furthermore, this art reveals a concern with interrogating the binaries of light versus darkness. Take:
In the darkness of ground there is the light of pebbles or dust;
in the darkness of foliage, the glitter of leaves;
in the darkness of flesh, transparency;
in that of a stone, granulation.
These lines are Derrida's dream, a deconstructionist's playhouse. In every image, she subverts our understanding of the binary, thus throwing the differences of oppositions into question at every turn. Everything that carries darkness must also carry light.
Finally, the speaker leaves the reader with many confounding directions for an artist. For example, she states in three separate poems:
"Anything you find ugly is good to draw."
"Do not draw things that you love."
"Never, by choice, draw anything polished."
Here, Heisler embraces imperfection and ambivalence in art as a means of embracing the flawed reality of the world. Heisler's vision often wavers and retreats, but by the end of the collection, we realize that's the most stunningly beautiful aspect of it.
Drawing Water by Eva Heisler