Sound Makes a Sound: Rae Gouirand in the Space Between
Rae Gouirand’s new collection, Glass is Glass Water is Water, begins with the impossibility of communication, the inherent disappointment of language in an opening poem called “Language,” which starts, “Just as I move to sound the word / I start again, fall between the place / my mouth begins, and the place / it makes something” (5).
Over the course of 42 exquisite and deceptively spare poems presented in three symmetrical sections, Gouirand pushes at gaps, from the chasm words create (that which uttering them and composing them renders in the body, heart) to the inevitable ruptures of coupling (both in love and in the syntactical act of joining signifier to signified). There is light and potential in these gaps.
Glass is Glass Water is Water is precise, discrete in its language but dual in form. With the exception of three poems in tercets (two of which bear the word “twice” in their title) and six contrapuntal poems (snakelike or, perhaps better, akin to hands intertwined), Gouirand employs the couplet exclusively, a form fit for the possibilities, contradictions, and divisions this poet is adept at relating.
The title, for example, taken apart from the title poem, seems simply to state an absolute relationship (what is what) when in fact it opens so many possibilities. The coupling of these objects implies and invites their relationship, in which water might be held or touched by glass while each remains itself, isolated. Or their coupling leads us to consider the qualitative similarity between glass and water in the way metaphors do (both being reflective, translucent, capable of liquid and solid states)—and still they remain distinct. These potentialities, to my mind, also encompass the linguistic and romantic (intimacy and dissolution) present in this collection. From the poem “With,” for example:
“Janus word: the pin
in my speechless place
both directions at once--
as in love, the beginnings and
the with along and against” (83).
This rings so true, doesn’t it? That already in the new relationship exist the seeds of its demise, just as death lingers in each of our lives. What holds one away from the other is only an indeterminate amount of time.
The title poem itself, “Glass is Glass Water is Water,” offers another possibility. As opposed to being water, “a return to returning / always seeking the place / it seeks,” the “we” of the poem becomes glass, broken, flying, its sound echoing, perhaps at such volume and with such intensity the poem’s speaker is rendered speechless:
“I need to say a great number
of things but the world will say
them for me: most things are
water mostly, glass just as clear” (25).
Like the divisions provoked by the work itself, it’s hard to describe these poems adequately in a single way, hard to describe the strange miracle of this poet’s work without flattening the experience or launching into philosophical outer space. In reading her, I understand in my body and am moved. My brain is piqued and my ear hums. In writing her, I lack the right words.
I can perhaps say something of queerness and duality, if only to note its presence in the text. In “One One Thousand,” a contrapuntal poem, one strand reads discreetly, “Every love makes a knot not two strands one,” and later, reading lines consecutively, “We wear rope carry it in our guard choose / to touching that place we double” (71). In “Return,” “We are no mirror image / back and front, but this fit / a closer to equal than I’ve understood” (59). In “Sex Dream With Friend,” “You are your body showing through, / reaching for what you turn into—my sudden, / moaning twin” (72).
Returning to the idea of time, this book evades chronology: we see a relationship, or perhaps more than one (although I sense a kinship in the you/she/we), in stages of union and separation that break with linearity. Like Gouirand’s play with equivalencies in language (things that are what they are), causing us to simultaneously sense the impossibility of true agreement, regarding time and space she is also seemingly direct:
“When something is happening,
it is happening. To be remembered
or not. You will probably
be the story I keep telling” (41)
“The most true state of all is the fog…
called simply this: I move through it as though I am…
the it I move” (44).
Still, the impossibility of being in the moment, in the this of what is happening, is indicated by the poet’s return to it in writing, in her observation of the lived moment which inherently requires some distance.
Gouirand also returns, in considering the challenges of language, to the breaks (defined by time) between the thought, the (uncertain) attempt at speech, the act of speech, the creation of the line—“line,” a word that appears insistently—and the creation of the book. In “Watermark,” she writes, “First the body of the voice, / then the hole of the mouth, / the hollow of the throat, / the heart in wait (8),” an isolation of the throat and mouth which lead into (or derive from) the speaker’s history with food restriction. In “Summons”: “There was a time when / my throat closed like a pair of hands / on the thought of food, on words / for it” (20).
There is perhaps some unity in the breaks this poet explores—they are the ruptures between mind and body, between desire and reality, between experience and the ability to capture and keep it.
“Shame” further explores a challenging relationship to eating with striking intimacy. Gouirand writes, “I want to feed myself on all the things I want in the world. I have gone hungry. I have starved myself” (36). There is perhaps some unity in the breaks this poet explores—they are the ruptures between mind and body, between desire and reality, between experience and the ability to capture and keep it. Two other especially personal and moving poems in the collection are “Daughter,” about her family’s hoping for a boy (16), and “Not Marrying,” the longest poem in a book marked by shorter verse, which touches on the inability of civil ceremony to account for and encompass the depth and nuance of queer partnership (80).
I was intrigued and entranced by this book. It recalled for me Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who observes in Phenomenology of Perception how “language transcends us and yet we speak,” and that “the body is our general medium for having a world,” both concepts being significant to Glass is Glass Water is Water, a collection dealing in transcendence, language, body, and the fragments that form our experience of a whole world.
REVIEWED BY RACHEL MINDELL
Rachel is the author of two chapbooks: Like a Teardrop and a Bullet (Dancing Girl Press) and rib and instep: honey (above/ground). Individual poems have appeared (or will) in Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, DIAGRAM, Foglifter, BOAAT, Forklift, Ohio, The Journal, and elsewhere. She works for Submittable and the University of Arizona Poetry Center.