Bayart by Pascalle Monnier
Translated by Cole Swensen
Black Square Editions, 2002

bk of (h)rs by Pattie McCarthy
Apogee Press, 2002

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It is particularly exciting when two books—one originally published in Paris and the other in Berkeley, CA—unintentionally evoke one another. Reading Pascalle Monnier's Bayart and Pattie McCarthy's bk of h(rs) is like encountering two minds which have come together to form a third. The best way to describe them is that they are both rooted in a medieval consciousness. Finding their voice outside of contemporary reality, these poets have cast the net of their poetic eye so wide that they have actually managed to converge.

Bayart is divided into four parts, each corresponding to a season. Within each season, there are different degrees of awareness. Like a camera focussing in on significant moments, the book zooms into objects with an amazing attention to minute particulars, as if it were truly the parts that make up the whole. A thread connecting the various sections, there is the story of Bayart, a knight who during the coarse of the year makes the journey from the domestic sphere to the battleground. Within this progression are multiple voices and multiple ways of telling the story—letters, diaries, notes, observations. The narrative is never located in any one of these elements—the story is told by how they all work together. From spring to winter, from home to war, Bayart is the discovery of an interior history that is challenged by its own telling.

The medieval book of hours was a pictorial guide to the seasons. bk of (h)rs internalizes the seasons and tells another kind of story. There is no character, but rather the interior vocalization of a woman speaking through time to get her grounding in the present. The vanishing point of this book is the poet's lover—a familiar "you" who directs her energy. The language she has found to address him evokes an epistolary syntax and an arcane vocabulary. To give this language a form, the poet has invented her own use of punctuation which resists capital letters. Like Bayart, a medieval setting has allowed the poet to invent her own language in order to revel in a private space that could be centuries old—and yet is distinctly contemporary. The friction of past and present tones in this book evokes the delicacy of a medieval poetess with a 21st century intelligence.

Revolving around their respective medieval conceits, these two books show a simultaneous attention to both imagination and language. There is an exquisiteness about these books, each telling of seasonal changes, coveting what is minute in grandness, and evoking the exquisite privilege of creating a world through lyrical glimpses that waver between serenity and upheaval.

—Kristin Prevallet