For November we feature Eva Heisler’s “Lover’s Manual,” which appears in Poetry Northwest Fall-Winter 2007-08 v2.n2. The poem is part of a longer series of prose poems entitled “Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic.” According to Heisler, “‘Lover’s Manual’ originated as journal entries written during the first three years of a nine-year period in Iceland. This was a period in which the romance and astonishments of a foreign land were challenged by the difficulties of earning a living as a foreigner. I was constantly faced with just how deeply language shapes perception and, as I struggled to learn Icelandic, the blind spots proliferated.
“I think of the form as a poem-in-disguise. The black square of prose is non-visible as poem—and it must work harder at generating its white moments and reversals through syntax and phrasing. I have tried to use the contradictions of the prose poem as a way to explore uneasy encounters between competing language-worlds; for example, “Lover’s Manual” is an attempt to describe a moment in which three paragraphs in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders refute three years of journal entries.”
I tip the manual out from the shadow of my head and hold it in the blue Northern light. Paragraphs of wind rattle the social worker’s window. I am tin. The sky is fierce. I read paragraph after paragraph of wind. I am a metal lid rolling down the street in a fishing village. There it is: clatter, in cold blue light. There it is, in black-and-white: the mystery of Steinunn mapped. Steinunn and the sea are squared in measured boxes. A sudden cartography rivals the sullen entries in a sorry-blue notebook. I had admired the frown (a symptom); I had wanted the heat of her silence (a symptom). I read description, not reason. There is madness in reason. The world is paper. The shadows are filing cabinets. Her touch is arithmetic.
Eva Heisler’s poem-series, “Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic,” was recently published in Crazyhorse. Another series, “Eurydice,” was awarded Chelsea’s 2006 Poetry Award.
“Lover’s Manual” appears exclusively in the Fall-Winter 2007-08 v2.n2 Issue of Poetry Northwest.