Melbourne Poets Union, 2020
Reviewed by Alison Clifton, StylusLit
Dominique Hecq’s tripartite long poem Kaosmos playfully plays the tape on a loop and spins the record backwards, like a DJ on a mission to mesmerise. Words repeat; phrases resurface; literary allusions abound. It’s an exuberant display.
In Kaosmos, Hecq explores the instability of the self. Words collide, run backwards or forwards, up or down, in circles. Still more words spill their hoard of letters upon the page in pleasing patterns. The three poems busily construct and deconstruct their representations of the self, creating an overall sense of movement and flow. There are moments of beauty and synergy, with serendipitous meanings formed by lists of alphabetically ordered verbs (13-14). The occasional noun is also thrown in, perhaps to throw you off. “Don’t get too comfortable,” Hecq seems to be saying. There is chaos in the cosmos and the patterns we seek are elusive and sometimes illusory.
Of course, each reader will approach a text differently, bringing their own preconceptions and experiences to bear on their understanding. On my first reading of Kaosmos, I was reminded of the repetitions and distortions of a hall of mirrors at a fun park. On my second reading, I heard the ruminations of an insomniac seeking to drift off to sleep. The poetry seemed the product of a person desperately trying to fend off the thoughts besieging their brain. Such thoughts stop the coming of the warm blanket of sleep the insomniac wishes would enfold their conscious mind. Preoccupations, anxious imaginings, obsessive reiterations of ideas… all are churned up from the muddy mire of the subconscious.
This is no chicken soup poetry. Hecq offers trails of crumbs we may choose to follow through the forest. They may lead to the witch’s house or down the rabbit hole. No matter: it makes for an exhilarating adventure.
Nicole Brossard – another poet who revels in word play – provides the apt epigraph to this collection, which is printed in three languages. Hecq, who grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium, translated the original French into English, while there is also a Spanish translation. The extended alliteration of the letter “m” in the original French excerpt is rendered polyphonous in the English translation, with the addition of alliterative “w” and “h” sounds and the lyrical assonance of the pairing “words merge.” Such chance felicities of language are delightfully sonorous:
a manner of mosaic-memory modified
in a world of mixed method
here words merge haphazardly
une manière de mémoire mosaïque modifiée
dans un monde de méthode métisse
ici les mots se mêlent méliques
This quotation and its translation show Hecq’s eye for symmetry and ear for dissonance. She decorates her poetic nest with choice pickings from her magpie stash of literary phrases and allusions.
Yet, if the adage holds that the sincerest form of flattery is imitation, Hecq avers instead that “Rhythm is imitation Is loyalty Is stepping stones held by wind” (29). The word “rhythm” pops under the surface of the water again as Hecq offers this fragment: “The repetition of a motif at higher then lower pitch within a / pebbled stream” (29). Then, the word stubbornly bobs back up again: “Rhythm is looping infinitudes through a sleepwalker’s / milky way” (29). Earlier lines are echoed, including, “The milky way drinks you / with the cosmos” (27). Such images are so succulent that they bear repeating, and Hecq seems to savour each metaphor, each personification more with every retasting.
There are unexpected twists in the verse as motifs rise and subside. The image of the “Blue moon thrust against / the sky” (27) gains its potency from that startling verb and echoes the poetic voice’s earlier brooding on the luminous sphere in the sky:
That day, the moon ceased to be
your mum’s sickle curse, dad’s
crystal ball, God’s peeping hole
That day, the moon turned
a child’s bleak universe
into a stage bursting
with unmatched lexicons (22)
Hecq’s lexicon may very well be “unmatched” among contemporary Australian poets.
Kaosmos is breathtaking and in some ways satisfyingly exhausting to read – the kind of contented fatigue felt after a day of physical labour, of planting or harvesting. In a cover blurb for the collection, Antonia Pont describes Hecq’s lexical feats as “a spree of juxtaposition.” This “spree” of words and letters, an abundance of meaning, is sometimes densely packed into the pages and at other times spread like a scattering of dark stars over white space. Hecq is an accomplished poet, and Kaosmos is an extraordinary rendering of malleable poetry into strange and wondrous shapes.