September 15, 2016 in Celebration of Canadian Poetry

Week 90 – Beatriz Hausner presented by Lynn McClory

Threads of Love and Human Desire in Beatriz Hausner’s Poetry

In everyday English vernacular, the word “surreal” is interchanged with the word “strange”. But for Beatriz Hausner, whose first language is Spanish, and who learned French in grade school before she came to Canada, “surreal” means inviting the language of dreams into her writing. Steeped in surrealist art and writing from childhood in Chile and Toronto with her artist mother, Susana Wald, and her surrealist artist and poet step-father Ludwig Zeller, Hausner’s own work threads a fine needle exploring the many dimensions of  love.

In two of her latest three full-length books, The Wardrobe Mistress and Sew Him Up, disjunctive images are framed in the language of sewing and anthropomorphized cats. Cats bound and abound, occupying the inner and outer sexuality of apparel worn by women with dreams of an elegant domesticity. Among many, a cat in The Wardrobe Mistress, appears in the poem, “Ruben’s Cat”, written for Ludwig Zeller. This cat “is a housewife who / believes in the ritual organization / of jars which feed her necklaces”. When this cat gets sleepy — “she grows a mechanical / arm from her ribs” (p.24). Perhaps this dream later beckoned Raccoon, the lover with a mechanical finger, who entered Hausner’s room and was unequivocally admitted.

In an IFOA interview in November 2012, the year Enter the Raccoon was published, Hausner declared the reasons she wanted to leave strange, psychological mysteries unresolved when she explored erotic love in the book’s narrativized, poetic prose.

“That this strange creature came in this form, as a human-sized animal with elements of the mechanical, is a mystery I would rather not resolve.… What interests me is the possibility of transformation that occurs through poetic creation. … the exploration of the more violent, the more frightening aspects of Eros, which this strange relationship allowed. Inventing a being who is at once animal, human and machine allowed me to be overt about those aspects of love that are not possible in realist representations. Wild animals change something in one’s perception of reality: they are utterly unsettling. …Entering the space between, the uncertain and the liminal, inherent in this existential conflict, gave me the freedom to explore the erotic completely”.

Italicized text, on the left hand side of every page of the book, relate the darker erotic aspects of this “strange relationship”, “We should pray for a vision,” / I whisper in his ear as I stand in front of him. His little metal finger / draws the outline of a heart on my sex.  “Yes, the miracle of the sky / pouring in when we break through the slab you laid above us,” is his reply. I weep silently as we fall into each other’s arms in the dark cold / room, our current abode (p.14).

That Hausner gave life to her imagination affirms the surrealism in André Breton’s manifesto, especially on Freudian dreams as a core tenet of surrealist hope—“when the dream’s curve is developed with an unequalled breadth and regularity”, Breton wrote, “then we can hope that mysteries, which are not really mysteries, will give way to the great Mystery”.

Provocative art on the covers of these three books fastens meaning and mysterious dreams together. For Enter the Raccoon, a raccoon with frazzled black whiskers and startled eyes peers out from the cover end in an illustration by the book’s designer, Deborah Barnett of  A collage by Toronto surrealist artist S. Higgins on the cover of Sew Him Up crisscrosses desire for a loving existence to poems that attach women’s attire to utopian dreams of romantic love. Cover art on The Wardrobe Mistress by Susana Wald reproduces the figure of “The Carpenter’s Wife” from Wald’s painted series “The Wives” where each wife is a moulded image of her husband’s trade or profession.

A woman’s full breasts, embedded in the top drawer of a bureau, suggesting sexualized maternity, illustrates Wald’s ironic humour and serious critical intent. On top of the bureau, a doweled neck holds the carpenter’s wife’s head, wearing a stylish hat made of rounded and edged wooden pegs; between thumb and index finger rounding the letter O, she pulls a thread from her full-lipped mouth with the large hand of her elongated, wind-up arm attached to the bureau. Attached to his wood, this wife’s attempts at elegance are mechanized repetitions in a husband-identified body.

S. Higgins’ vibrant collage of a pink clouded sky foregrounding a dark-haired woman, hand stitching a large silk floral gown from the spinal threads of a human skeleton, couldn’t be more relevant to Hausner’s writing. This reader imagines palaeolithic bone needles and animal skins stitching the poems inside to Hausner’s desire to sew the inherently visceral joys and grief of love together—to sew him up.

Want and its raw edges
beckon from her sex
as she works her way
up the bias cut. Twisting
the unfinished garment
she cries as she touches
the cooling seams she is
overcome by tears
of sadness tears of joy.  (Sew Him Up,  p. 49)

In a departure from the material of her other work, the beautiful poem, “Cow Head”, For my father, Joseph, in memory of István and Arthur Hausner, honours Beatriz Hausner’s familial history with profound sorrow and deeply felt love.

The ancestors have reached
their destination. Invisible threads
brought them to the sun
drenched beach at Cow Head.

Ash turned to bone moulded
by the hands of the Silent One    (Sew Him Up, p. 30)

Beatriz Hausner, The Wardrobe Mistress,  Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, B.C., 2003
Beatriz Hausner, Sew Him Up , Quattro Books, Toronto, 2010
Beatriz Hausner, Enter the Raccoon, BookThug, Toronto, 2012

To learn more about Beatriz Hausner, please have a look at these articles.

Poets in Profile: Beatriz Hausner in Open Book Toronto

Five Questions with… Beatriz Hausner from the IFOA Blog

Enter the Raccoon – Beatriz Hausner at Today’s Book of Poetry

Week 57 – Celebration of Canadian Poetry – Gwendolyn MacEwen presented by Beatriz Hausner

First Surrealist Manifesto by Andé Breton

Lynn McClory reads and writes poetry in Toronto. In the distant past, she graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in English, specializing in Canadian Literature. Lynn has had poems published in the magazine, Ars Medica, the anthology Garden Variety, and several micro-press editions. Her poems online were published by The Puritan, ditch poetry and The Rusty Toque.

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