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Museum of Bone and Water

by Nicole Brossard, Erin Mouré and Robert Mazjels, trans.

Although not strictly in the tradition of the language poets of the 1970s, Quebecoise poet Nicole Brossard’s work has always been marked by serious language play and Museum of Bone and Water, in an exquisite translation by Erin Mouré (herself an award-winning poet) and Robert Mazjels, is no exception.

Museum of Bone and Water, like Brossard’s earlier Installations, explores a central set of metaphors that reverberate across the entire volume. Here the central metaphor is the human body – the bone and water of which our bodies are composed. In Brossard’s work, the body becomes a museum, a repository of our history, in the broadest sense of the word: physical, psychological, and cultural; past, present, and future.

Brossard’s work is serious, yet not sombre, and sometimes deeply erotic. Consider these lines: “The skilled slowness of lips/on the young female libido. And the body/that bends so well beneath the future and so much water.” Here Brossard replicates, in miniature, the concerns of the entire volume – the body of the young lover, bone and water itself, redeeming the past while bearing and bending under the weight of the future.

Using language that builds and unbuilds and rebuilds, Brossard partially decontextualizes the words themselves, but never loses sight of what the words mean (hence her distinction from the language poets). This effect creates a semantic cascade that both requires and rewards rereading, thus allowing the reader access to a whole that is better than the ordinary grammatical sum of its parts. Which is, of course, what poetry should do.