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SUNDAY EVENING
WINTER MORNING
NOVEMBER DUSK

AN EXCERPT FROM INFINITE GRADATION

ANNE MICHAELS












Fiction sets a broken bone in the hope that it will mend straight. It is a plea, a prayer, and because language itself is hope–the autonomic hope of a voice calling out even in despair, even involuntarily–fiction seeks the error in a complex mechanism, seeks to reset the human flaw. Fiction recreates what never happened. By recreating that potential, it addresses both past and future. It does not seek forgiveness, it seeks to understand. It does not dare to hope, yet it is hope distilled. It is both solute and solvent, resignation and conspiracy. Buried within the history of what did not happen is the possibility of redemption at the core of failure. That redemption does not lie in words or in the writer, but in the reader.



*



What words can we have for death? What words restrained or spare enough for its totality? To render language chaste.

What language can we have for the unknowable? What words for a mystery distinct from thought? We imagine the end, but not the beginning.



*



The workshop was a single room, chill darkness saturated with wood smoke, and marble dustwhite, finer than sand, a kind of moonlight.

You spent your days slicing stone, and brought me back with you at night. I became hungry for the night sky, to know what I was looking at and, soon, looking for. And to push open the rough wooden door to the night that was ours.

In the marble dust, you made a nest for us with your coat and we lay on the moon. The trains seemed to pass right through the little room. In the sound of their passing, a whole life lived.

The stoneworks were secret, tucked between houses. Pages of marble, sliced or broken, lay strewn on the lawn or leaned, stacked like paintings, against the fence. Each piece of polished stone was a landscape: lightning at night, polar sea, blackwork of trees on a winter sky, desert, galaxy.

Before morning, turning back at the doorway, we saw the shape of us still darkening the  oor like a shadow.Often, in the turn of a moment, in ordinary daylight, I was lost again at the joyous sight of marble dust on your coat.



*



Some poems emerge from silence, some from speechlessness.

Poetry, by its very nature, is defiant. It is spit in the eye of the oppressor. It is the defiance of lovers who will not waste a moment, knowing they may never see each other again on this earth. It is a single letter scrawled on a wall, a signal to the others. Every poem, by daring to hold and name a moment, de es death. The shortest poem is a name.

Poetry is the lonely, radical, precious expression of a single life. The singularity of the unique human soul who must cry out. Because of love, because of wounds, because of injustice, because of hunger, because of exile and migration, because of dispossession of every kind, because we have lost someone we love and cannot bear that loss, because night comes on and we are alone, because morning comes and blessedly our children are still safe asleep beside us, because the language the migrant speaks in the street is not the language he dreams in, because parents sing lullabies in a language their children do not understand, because any moment we might die and – where do we belong?

In the place we are born, or the place where we are  buried, the place where we fall in love, the place where our children are born, the place where we made a catastrophic mistake... Poetry is born of all these things and everything else, it is the consuming subjective experience ofthe body, which ensures we are alone and never alone. Language keeps us inextricably entangled and inextricably separate. Just as a wall does not separate but binds two things together.

Poetry can be an ambush – the glint of a knife on a dark road – because it asks: how much is your life worth?

Poetry is insurrection, resurrection, insubordination – against amnesia of every sort, against every form of oppression, dispossession and indifference. And against the drowning noise of other words.

Poetry is a dispatch from the front. Because the ones who cry out cannot wait and have always had to wait in their urgency. Because love cannot wait – an entire life passes in a moment. Because we can say yes or we can say no. Under the wire, under the radar,or out across the desperate open space of a page.



*



Poetry suspends time. Poetry is time. Poetry gives us time.

A story or a poem is like a living body; we need only tell the few, precise pulse points to feel the heart of it leaping in its skin.

Those details are the flare in the desert, a signal from a boat mid-ocean, the cry of the abandoned, the ones caught in a trap who must be freed.

To rescue, to name what must not be forgotten.

Sunday evening, winter morning, November dusk.

We belong where love finds us.



*



Weakness and powerlessness are opposites.

It is the difference between crying and weeping: crying begs for a response, weeping knows there can be no response. We cry to be heard, we weep because we are alone.

To write knowing there can be no response is to write from a wild assertion, undiminished by oblivion.

Perhaps loneliness is the real proof that we belong to something greater than ourselves, the way absence is proof of what was once a presence.












Anne Michaels is a novelist and a poet. Her books have been translated into more than 45 languages and have won dozens of international awards, including the Orange Prize, the Guardian Fiction Award and the Lannan Award for Fiction. Her novel Fugitive Pieces was adapted as a feature film. Her latest book of poetry, All We Saw, was published in 2017 and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.







We ask of art not that we understand it, but that it understand us…




In Infinite Gradation, her first volume of non-fiction, Anne Michaels, the internationally award-winning poet and novelist, author of Fugitive Pieces, reflects on the ethical, emotional and philosophical implications of language and the creative act.

She considers the lives of certain artists and writers – Paul Celan, Jack Chambers, Eva Hesse, Etty Hillesum, Nelly Sachs and Claire Wilks – who have made work at the very limits of experience, in remarkably different situations and with radically variant materials. Asking those urgent questions, Michaels explores how the artistic expression of being might serve as a witness in extremis; and she examines the nature of responsibility, and the form it takes in poetry, fiction and image-making, especially in the face of atrocity, when everything is at stake.

Infinite Gradation is an astonishing meditation on what art makes of death. In lines as precise and profound as any Michaels has written, it is also a lyrically compelling praise song to love and the enduring mysteries at the core of existence.

Infinite Gradation is published in an edition of 600 copies, of which 26 specials are signed and lettered by the author; it is available directly from the publisher here






2017