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Poetry by Eleni Zisimatos
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Nearly Terminal resonates with a sense of foreboding at what may be seen as the social collapse of the individual self in a society that is being “whitened out.” Incorporating and intertwining aspects of the personal love relationship with a sense of a self under scrutiny, by itself and an imagined Other, the focus becomes one of loss, solitude, and the existential sense of being in a vast universe that is defined by traces of life increasingly lived as forms of abstraction within a virtual, disembodied reality. With a younger audience in mind, with poetic diction that is not afraid to be bold and experimental in its statements and claims, and with a delicate use of techniques evoking lacunae and erasure to convey the unanswerability of some basic existential questions, Eleni Zisimatos presents a bleak and uncertain view of the world.
“Eleni Zisimatos opens Nearly Terminal with a Dantean warning: ‘The death of human consciousness is white.’ Yes: To venture onto these imposing white pages is to navigate a blinding snowscape where words are the sparse objects that poke out of the drifts, like inukshuks, suggesting directions and meanings that are impos- sible to pinpoint, to pin down, because they are jests of gestures, as revealing in their amplitude as are ‘Cut up clouds.’ Nearly Terminal recalls Dame Atwood’s Journals of Susanna Moodie, but also John Thompson’s barely there ghazals, all that blank space Blitzkrieg’d by incandescent inklings, those dark flashes of insight amid the vacant, Arctic desert of ‘Such white,’ ‘much despair,’ where winter means erasure, ‘a white eclipse.’”
– George Elliott Clarke
“How can we know what is the self? This long-awaited first book from Eleni Zisimatos is a gem of–dare I say it–piezoelectricity. Faceted glints of sound pull off each word surface. Opacity here is a linguistics of nurture, and necessary. Each small kernel of diction counts...absorbs... projects as nervature. Knowing human sadness and difficulty, this poet does not howl. Rather, Zisimatos deftly micro-charges the tune and impasse of her intensely contemplative semantic surfaces into powerful choral actuators of possibility.”
– ERÍN MOURE
“It is amazing and inspiriting that Eleni Zisimatos can draw the fresh, unique beauty of Nearly Terminal out of poetry’s engagement with the human dilemma as it exists now. The winter of non- communication takes its present pressing form –‘You cannot come so close./The mark is in the computer’–but this metaphorical winter brings in the saving presence of winter itself, of the real, which always appeals to the human and offers a point of re-beginnings:
‘Such compassion/in a sparrow’s eye.’ The sparse, seemingly contradictory, Celan-like beauty of the first part of Nearly Terminal yields to a more personal and directly espoused second part, and a third part of exploratory affirmation, proposing what Zisimatos calls ‘the / Will that / and.’ In place of the will to power and the will to death, this brilliant and yearning poet would open us, stirringly, to ‘the primal light, the light/Where we understand each other.’’’
– A. F. MORITZ
The book, at its center, in its roots, is a child of ancient Greece. Two Greek words, akhos, penthos: sorrow and the expression of sorrow by way of singing. Lament—and with everything at stake. The poems, page after page, unmask shallow Truths with fearless honesty. In the end, through this process of winnowing, glimpses of personal truths are revealed, more powerful for the journey dared to unearth them. The process itself a kind of relentless hope.
As to craft, the poems — while contemporary to the modern ear and eye — are far from the currently common practice of cutting prose into lines or scattering words across a page. Again, there are, I believe, ancient roots. The poems follow a consistent form recalling haiku and tanka, with characteristic enigmatic phrases and Aha! experience.
I highly recommend this book, and suggest reading the poems in order for the book’s full effect.”
— Leland James, author of Muse
Author Eleni Zisimatos
Eleni (Helen) Zisimatos is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Vallum Magazine, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award in poetry, and was short-listed for the Robert Kroetsch Award, the Irving Layton Awards (in both poetry and fiction), and the Santa Fe Writers’ Awards. She holds degrees in Creative Writing and English Literature, and currently lives in Montreal, Quebec.
Nearly Terminal, Eleni Zisimatos, 100 pp., 5 x 8, Poetry, April 2019
ISBN: 978-1-927599-49-5 (paper) . . . $19.95
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Additional Critical Comment
"Then most often becomes the ‘altar / to worship to’ when relationships are at an end, and all relationships end with death. Terminal is, for one thing, an expression of diagnosis, of disease. From the beginning, this is a book of the end: ‘Knowledge of whom, it all began / With the end’ (18). It is a book of last breaths wherein ‘Every day is marked // For termination’ (23). The collection, in some ways, has no beginning, no poem titles, and as for endings, ‘There is no ending sir / just the melody’ (60). This is a book of haiku that aren’t haiku, stories that don’t end, sonnets sliced vertically in half, empty pages that remain largely empty, a book declaring against
Wild meaning That noose Declares you must Know
Too much, too much
It comes to you This madness (45).
This honed, roaming madness is Nearly Terminal’s alternative to wild meaning, a new meaning that does not commerce with beginnings and endings, but rather is only interested in ‘The free sound of your being / That which you will one day not / Hear any more’ (84). Even as it ends with language, it really ends with resonant echoes, echoes which take an overtly hopeful turn in the last few pages, reminding us that giving up is only a ‘false solution’ which crumbles compared to
Certain truth: Love
The looking inwards, outwards
Creating bonds, the Will that
this love, this trust, still possible (91)
Yes, inward and outward is poetry’s domain, and poetry like this is a sign that those saving, necessary bonds between us are still possible.”
– Bill Neumire, Vallum, 2019
“Eleni Zisimatos's first collection of poetry ... is a book to read in winter, for the companionship of solitude and the hovering, precarious balance between nostalgia and hope that can make any meditation seem like a Zen koan.”
- The Montreal Review of Books, Spring 2020