Mary Cresswell reviews the loneliness of the sasquatch by Amanda Bell

Amanda Bell, the loneliness of the sasquatch. Uxbridge: Alba Publishing, 2018. ISBN: 9781912773060.

 

Mary Cresswell

 

This is a book with two identities: it is an independent, stand-alone collection of English-language poems, and it is a ‘transcreation’ or ‘translation’ of Sasquatch, a separate collection of Irish- and English-language poems by Gabriel Rosenstock. Rosenstock is referenced by title, but not quoted, and this collection is a bit like a poem based on an ekphrastic poem but with no picture. (More of this later.)

On its own, Bell’s book is an engaging and poignant history of a sasquatch. Like her precursor, she is presented (7)[1] as the last of the species, one step away from extinction:

last night

a sasquatch drowned –

none of her kind remain

to mourn her

Two pages later, ‘she knows / she too will disappear, / just not how / or when / or why’. Unlike her precursor, she is female, and this change makes Bell’s sasquatch an entirely new being – unique in in her environment and at one with her world:

I am the wind blowing

Blowing Wind

I am the rain falling

Falling Rain

I am the pine sighing

Sighing Pine…

I am the silence gathering

Gathering Silence

the silence without

the silence within

(64)

Solitary, but not lonely. The male sasquatch – going by Bell’s comments (interview cited in her website)  and the nine-page interview with Rosenstock appended as an acknowledgement in this book – is a symbol of extinction, acutely aware of his isolation and his unique loneliness. By my reading, Bell’s female experiences nothing of the sort.

For starters, most of the poems use imagery associated with the feminine. Regeneration:

picking the last flowers

in the woods

the last sasquatch knows

they’ll come again –

foxgloves

(41)

or

what are they saying,

the northbound geese,

in one loud voice?

do they seek another realm?

have they found it?

is this what they proclaim?

(37)

or

early morning

and the world is nothing

as she waits

it recreates itself

from wisps

(30)

Many poems reference the moon:

moonlight on the sea –

in the milky light

the scent of her mother

(23)

and we are told that:

clouds bleed

earth darkens

the sasquatch bleeds too

seals the wound with cobwebs

how does she know to do so?

light leaches from the sky

memory fading

(46)

Also, our sasquatch is thinking as an individual, not as a species, and she is speaking as an ageing, aware woman, no more and no less. Her extinction is the personal extinction we experience in our own death. Look at how much of her world involves the moon, water, vegetation, seeds – images that carry the idea of return, of a cycle. Reading the poems and re-reading them, I can’t separate her from hope and the possibility of renewal or rebirth – totally different from the male sasquatch, who (without my seeing the original) sounds like a primordial Eeyore trapped in existential despair.

But this throws us back into the matter of acknowledgement and relationship. Once upon a time, either the phrase ‘inspired by’ or ‘with apologies to’ indicated a poet’s use of someone else’s work as a creative jumping-off point. (‘Inspired’ still works for me, though apologies don’t ever seem to be in order for an artistic creation.) In this book, Bell acknowledges her debt by calling her poems both ‘transcreation’ and ‘translation’. The former word hasn’t made it to the OED yet, but various online definitions, most from business sources, consider translation the verbatim transfer of text and transcreation something more creative, resulting in a Version Two that walks, talks, and feels as nearly as possible to Version One.

On information given, I’m not convinced either word is relevant here. ‘Transcreation’ is widely used in advertising to refer to producing a new product [sic] in Language Two that has the same audience effect as an original product in Language One. It includes context, emotional effect, all the nuances traditionally seen as going into a successful literary translation – as opposed to a machine rendering à la Google Translate, and maybe the new word is simply a response to a change in meaning of the old word ‘translation’. Outside this book, I haven’t been able to find anything discussing the concept with respect to poetry. To talk about ‘transcreation’ I think we need to see Rosenstock’s two-language original sasquatch alongside Bell’s English-only one and compare the two Englishes with the Irish. Otherwise, the topic doesn’t seem strictly relevant, and to bring it in diminishes the present book.

This is in no way a weakness of the loneliness of the sasquatch, which is a readable and attractive collection. It stands on its own, and doesn’t need a discussion of poetics to seduce us with its lovely language and its visionary central character whom we leave (very much part of the world) in the final poem:

clouds shifting across clear blue water

draw her away

away from this life

away from herself

away

into blue silences

silences which stretch over silences even bluer

to breaking point

the blue plane of her spirit dancing in the water

in the sky

(70)

 


[1] Poems are quoted in full unless indicated by an ellipsis.

 

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. She is a retired science editor and volunteers at a nature reserve and at a women’s centre. Her most recent book is Field Notes (a satirical miscellany) from Makaro Press, Wellington, 2017.

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