BOOK

“Kintsugi”

by Thomas Meyer

Central Question: Why does mourning turn people into things?
Translation of kintsugi: “golden joinery”; Place one is most likely to encounter it: Japanese tea room; Books translated by Thomas Meyer: Daode Jing, Beowulf; Elegiac interlocutor of Kintsugi: Jonathan Williams, Meyer’s partner of forty years and founder of the legendary Jargon Society, affiliated with the Black Mountain school of poets, as well as publisher of the first edition of Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems; Two definitions of jargon: “specialized speech” (English); the twittering of birds” (French); Epithets applied to Williams by other critics: “our Johnny Appleseed” (Buckminster Fuller), “the truffle-hound of American poetry” (Hugh Kenner), “the gad-fly, the satirist, the exploder of balloons” (Thomas Meyer)

Why is it that the best parts of the best poems about mourning have little directly to do with the humanness of grief—with the dead or the bereaved—but eddy instead around objects, fixate on things? Take the yew trees that cycle through Tennyson’s In Memoriam, for example, which the poet randomly thwacks at to assure himself that he is something other than a tree. Or the literal object-quality of Anne Carson’s Nox, a box of a book, which winds up being as much about how paint bleeds through paper as it is about translating Catullus or remembering a dead brother the author barely knew. Or Susan Howe, who named her elegy for her husband That This, collapsing the distance and nearness of things: that snowstorm, this whistling kettle. This snowy, that whistling. Snow kettle.

The intermingling of substances and moments, here one minute, gone the next, is bound together in the title of Thomas Meyer’s Kintsugi, which takes its title from a Japanese word that describes the mending of shattered ceramics with a lacquer mixed with gold. In applications of this technique, the original form of the tea bowl or vase or plate is apparent, while the gold lines that lace it make it impossible to forget the precise pattern in which it broke. A former wholeness, a remembered and illumined rupture, and a new whole all coexist in the same quotidian object.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Gillian Osborne

Gillian Osborne is a poet and a graduate student at Berkeley. In 2012, she was a finalist in the Yale Series of Younger Poets for a collection of poems set in the green landscapes of mourning.

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