Speaking in tongues, contemporary Canadian love poetry by women
The first essay in Julia Kristeva's Tales of Love begins by claiming the writer's speechlessness in the face of a lover's discourse: " (n) o matter-how far back my love memories go, I find it difficult to talk about them" (1). In the face of this claim to "speechlessness" I am interested in finding a language adequate to articulate a discourse of passion in twentieth century poetics, as represented in the works of six Canadian women poets. Trading some potential models for articulating desire, passion and/or longing in the work of Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida, I suggest that these models are effective precisely because they are not definitive, but rather venture a tentative and highly subjective response to these affects. I consider how the writer positions herself in just such a precarious and subjective position in Kristjana Gunnars' The Prowler, and suggest that the figure of the narrator/prowler might be an effective entry into the amatory discourse. I consider how Elizabeth Smart's desiring narrator in By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept uses her lacking and longing state to produce a metaphorically overdetermined narrative, thereby conflating the distinction between absence and excess. I then examine Dionne Brand's deployment of poetics as a marker of difference and resistance, her identity as a Black lesbian writer integral to her expression of political and erotic passion. I trace this politics of difference in Dorothy Livesay's erotic poetry, and consider how this explicitly sensual writing about an older woman's romance with a younger man is constructed both by the poet and by her critical audience. Reading Kristjana Gunnars' Carnival of Longing alongside Nicole Markotic's prose poem sequence, "No Goodbye, Just:," I discuss how confessional practice and amorous discourse are performed through two markedly different narrative structures: Gunnars' performance of abandonment and Markotic's language of revenge. Finally, I explore how Daphne Marlatt's engagement with language as a network of textual, intertextual, and extra-textual conversations creates an amatory discourse that listens for an answering touch. Throughout, I suggest that the structure and language of amatory discourse is always addressed to the reader, always engaged in seducing the reader and the writer through the illusory promise of representing the unrepresentable, the promise of an unknowable secret of desire.