Thursday, February 15, 2007

White Out

Mary Ruefle's book A Little White Shadow has been sitting with me, especially since the snowfall. How bright the world looks in snow. Even as it covers the imperfections of the fall, what remains stands out, which is kind of what occurs in this small book. Page after page has been whited out except for a few words, a fragment here, a micro-thought there. She has taken a book (though there's not an author's note, you discern this from the copyright info) published in 1889, as it says on the frontispiece, "for the Benefit of a Summer Home for Working Girls," and gone through each page with great intention and even narrative thrust and wiped out most of the text. A new story is made through erasure. It's not a poem, although in its spareness it has poem-like qualities. Plus, the appearance of the whiteout gives the pages a painterly quality.There's the shadow of words under the whiteout. The rough whiteout has texture. It's like looking at small rectangular prints. And the bits of remaindered words read like Zen death poems -- as in this excerpt:
the dead
borrow so little from
the past
as if they were alive
and this several pages later:
in black velvet
the last one
he wrote when quite an old man
dered into English
this was something of its meaning:
There are characters and places but these are mentioned in passing almost, as if you already know the story, the people. Like what's under the snow. You imagine what you can't see, make up your own story for the white space, fill the white out. Or not.
Agnes Agnes
the stern sad problems of human
has its pauses.

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