Writings / Reviews: Angela Walcott

Poetry Review

Correspondences
by Anne Michaels (Author), Bernice Eisenstein (Illustrator)
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2013
128pp. $35

“Not two to make one,
but two to make
the third
just as a conversation can become
the third side of the page”

The above are the opening words to Correspondences – an artistic collaboration which tests the boundaries of convention. Bernice Eisenstein and Anne Michaels work artistic magic together in this collection where poetry and visual art components work in tandem.

Correspondences is an elegy to  Michael’s late father Isaiah Michaels, which takes on many forms quite literally. Celebrated author Anne Michaels, of Fugitive Pieces fame and designer Bernice Eisenstein have pieced together a work that is intentionally without a spine – but instead deliver an exoskeleton of otherworldly proportions.

It is only when the reader addresses the elephant in the room that they can fully appreciate and embrace the book. Without the expected spine that we as readers and lovers of books have come to expect, we are forced to react and interact quite differently with this alien form of literary architecture. Correspondences questions our relationship of the act of reading and our visceral appreciation of the written word.

A momentary hesitation followed by peeling away the combined layers of text and art combined allows us to embark on the journey. Despite the challenges of its outer shell, it is a wonderful read and refreshing experience. Tackle the notion of the book and the process of reading; reacting and reflecting, pushes us further in our quest for understanding how these stories relate to the prose held within.

The backbone we have learned to hold and expect from the written word is replaced with a framework that encompasses something entirely new –art. We are ushered into the ancient world of folding paper—origami—where the vessel a reference of the art itself. The ancient art of the paper-folding craft, molds this story and gives it depth; shapes the tale; contours and provides dimension. And it is not just about the art but the way in which this art/prose has been designed to create a new reader experience. While the pages are constructed from a heavier paper stock to withstand the rapacious wear and tear of voracious readers, we relearn the delicate act of holding words, precious words, with care.

Cradling phrases protectively as we meander from one stanza to the other; the story is not broken, the pages connected in one continuous string, propels stories merging one into the other. A reworking of the ‘book’ sees us embracing this architectural marvel in a new way. While the leaves of poetry unfold, accordion-style into stories that weave and interweave, we delve into the heart of this deeply layered text and the individuals within.

Writers, musicians, philosophers grace these pages including Paul Celan Franz Kafka, Charlotte Delbo, Andre Schwarz-Bart, Albert Camus, Joseph Schmidt and the lone child, Tereska, among others. There is a literal connection between these people, whether it be place or experience that is the common thread that binds in the never-ending pages of Correspondences.

Eisenstein’s portraits populate Correspondences with faces lacking true expression. Stark minimalism mirrored with succinct prose is presented in an effort to banish waste as seen in a neutral color palette. There are a mixture of poems, (some two lines and others longer) and yet there is no beginning nor end to Correspondences. The correspondences that tie a nation and an era riddled with war and uncertainty within are part of a continuous loop. We forge ahead. Within this unique structure, clever words lap and overlap –fold and unfold into each other.

With art and poetry together, the moments are shared and exemplified. On one side is the visual art and the other the tales. In a sense, the art and text work together like a map from which we triangulate and decipher images and symbols from within. Amongst the pages of Correspondences is not just text but art. While each poem is written to read in sequence and join together with the portraits in a dialogue, they echo again and again, the thematic connection of collaboration.

Words engraved on the front cover state, ‘Not two to make one, but two to make the third’ and which leads us to ask, ‘What is the third? Bernice Eisenstein and Anne Michaels are the two that do not make one. Together they make this memorable collection of art the conversation–the third.

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