A little over a year ago, I was struck by a certain theme that kept recurring in my words. Within the poems I was writing, I noticed a consistent fascination with the space in between -- the inherent separation between everyone & everything else.
It was the space between people; between people & other beings; between people & the land they dwell within; between people & conceptions of some unifying force or element. It was the fascination with the paradox that matter is made up primarily of spaces between particles that mysteriously & delicately keep everything from flying apart.
I realized this fascination with those spaces between also dwelt at the root of my interest in language and translation. I am captivated by the way we constantly attempt to bridge the spaces between ourselves through language; language – be it spoken, signed, written, sensed, embodied or visualized – is perhaps really all we have to connect our separate beings with anything else that exists.
Simone Weil wrote in Criteria of Wisdom (‘Metaxu’, from Gravity and Grace): “The essence of created things is to be intermediaries. They are intermediaries leading from one to the other, and there is no end to this […] We have to experience them as such”. In this book, poems are the vehicles of connection. Weil believed that poetry was something natural and inherent to human communication, and helped to establish a direct, profound connection between people through its conveyance of internal experience and feeling. For Weil, as created things like poems pass through those spaces between us, they allow the barrier of space to become a connection; an absence becomes a presence. This is the paradox of metaxu:
“The world is the closed door. It is a barrier. And at the same time, it is the way through […] Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but it is also their means of communication […] Every separation is a link.”
If we were not so separate, there would be no reason for connection, for communication. We cannot make bridges without that space to build them in. As painful as these gaps between our solitary little beings are, it is this lacuna that makes language -- & all the transcendent things it can do -- necessary & possible.
This books is a cycle of poems: a collection of little songs inspired by folk songs and dedicated to holidays traditionally celebrated by Ukrainians. At their very centre, these holidays are all elemental feasts, marking changes in the earth. Though over the last thousand years they have become elaborate syncretic constructions, their pagan integrity remains intact under layers of Christian influence. Fertility rites involving fire & water & ritual purification persist on a midsummer holiday now consecrated to John the Baptist, Ivana Kupala; Spas’, the Feast of the Transfiguration still involves the offering of the summer's first fruits back to the earth that provided them.
Despite the Orthodox theological overlay, at their roots all of these ritual celebrations basically serve the purpose of reuniting those who observe them with a trinity of elements -- the whole earth, all one's ancestors, & some sort of universal presence or animating force -- as well as with each other. Every feast gathers people together, allows them to confront their singularity & separation and then unify, by focusing their energy on some common purpose.
These celebrations commemorate return & transformation, separation & reunification. These poems are little bridges across metaxu, flying in the spaces between all things that brought them here.