Amy Wright: Wherever the Land Is
REVIEW BY SARAH ESCUE
(MIEL BOOKS, 2016)
“Reality, the discovery of it, will unbind the body to savor the banquet which is more than sweet, and oh the bitter terror.” Discovering the truth about yourself can feel like a hollow victory; it can be relieving, freeing, and frightening. At times, only a great tragedy can force us to shed our threadbare layers, grow, and rediscover our capacity for resilience and acceptance. Amy Wright’s chapbook Wherever the land is is a meditation on the ever-changing landscape of loss, desire, growth, and rediscovery. This “land” is a space in which thinking germinates; it’s both a place and an action—an arrival and departure, a growth, a museum, a cave. This chapbook is stab-stitched with white thread, and the cover is thick, textured paper. The simple cover, with a single green cursive figure, belies the complexity of Wright’s exploration of life’s many museums: “Horse Sense,” “from The Opposite of Daring: Prose Translations of Sappho,” “from The Butterfly Nail: Prose Translations of Emily Dickinson,” and “One Art, Any Number of Works.”
Through translations of Sappho, Emily Dickinson, and Roland Barthes, Wright ruminates on the pangs of human desire. She translates from Sappho’s fragment 112, “Honey never spoils. The eyes aglow with want are living” (10), and from Dickinson, to “revere the gift of lack to yearn” (13). But is it possible to live without want? Amy Wright toes the line between desire and constraint; she maps these territories in an effort to reclaim her sense of self and find some source of light in a seemingly sempiternal darkness. In Wherever the land is, Wright defies and defines this darkness and learns how to bloom from within the shadows.
Movement plays a prominent role in Wherever the land is—movement of language, space, text, image, and time. Wright breathes life into words and conjures sentences that literally curve and coil from page to page. Drawing on the practice of visual poetry, Wright collages and stitches words, rhythm, and meaning in an attempt to restore her spirit and find consolation in memories. In the section
“One Art, Any Number of Works,”¹ she writes:
Here, Wright blends a childhood memory with the imagined narrative of the stolen painting, Program for an artistic soiree. Throughout Wherever the land is, Wright explores the restorative power of the creative process and introduces new vistas of thought.
In this final section of the book, she refers to the several paintings that were stolen years ago from the Gardner Museum while simultaneously recounting the death of her older brother, Jeremy. Wright introduces the notion that art is an artifact, and she challenges readers to consider if art can ever truly be owned. She wrestles with acceptance of the inevitable aspects of humanity (death, loss, desire), but she then shows how this acceptance can transform how one perceives life. After Jeremy’s death, she writes “It’s spring I notice his absence the most—the season my mother reminds me every year was my grandfather’s favorite—when the whole farm looks fresh mown” (29). Spring is the season of renewal, rebirth, yet Jeremy is gone. Wright leaves us with these final lines to challenge the notion that death only bears destruction. But maybe death isn’t destruction at all. Maybe it’s a rebirth?
Wright uses the stolen paintings as a way to grapple with the unknown—the unknown location of the paintings and the unknowns of death and what comes after. In an attempt to better understand her brother’s death, Wright fixates upon the notion of the body as art—the representation of the beauty and tragedy of the human experience. The body is a bright, fleeting vessel in which we experience the world. Physical deterioration and renewal are natural processes, an evolution. The body is central to how we understand facets of identity and experiences—it can be both the subject of portraiture and an active presence. Wright explores art as a body—an empirical form that can be observed, held, and taken; and the body as art—a representation that can transform over time, that can create and recreate memories and experiences. Ultimately, Wright challenges the representation of art, ownership, and the human body, in its fragility by posing the questions: Can art truly be owned? Can the body?
Throughout this chapbook, Amy Wright meditates on death, loss, and time, particularly involving her brother Jeremy. She invites us into her and Jeremy’s childhood, rolling down hills and peering into caves, as well as Jeremy’s cold hospital room before and after his death. She puts us there, in the field, in the museum, in the room; she forces us to look and remember, as she remembers.
Throughout this collection, Wright mediates on how she has changed, and will continue to change, in the face of tragedy. She explores the resiliency of the human spirit, and the complexity of the human experience. Amy Wright’s Wherever the land is is a stunning and haunting text, in which the author masterfully reveals how writing can be a form of recovery—a way to heal, to continue growing out of the ashes.
¹ Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1 of 2), 1884. Charcoal on buff paper, 23.4 x 30 cm [Short Gallery—on a cabinet]