Les Animots: A Human Bestiary (in conversation with Gordon Meade)

spider's web
Taken from my window, 8a.m. So fragile, yet tenacious. The perfect writer’s emblem. Joan Barbara Simon, Luxembourg.

GORDON : Joan, a poem from my next collection, Les Animots: A Human Bestiary, out in September 2015. Hope you like it…


Spider is very seldom
seen at the centre of her web.
She is happier lurking

at the edges. It gives
her victims a larger area on which
to land. It is only after

she has felt the vibrations
that Spider rushes in. Life is lived
at the edges; the dead

centre, left for the kill.

JOAN: Hi Gordon. I love this poem; the concentrics of it; spider not at the centre, though she must start at the centre (why is she always a she, and depicted as a killer? just a thought…); vibrations (I think, too, of water, rippling away from the stone thrown into it…); dead centre (bull’s eye), still-living prey ready for the kill… struggling, thus provoking vibrations, SOS… message received… here she comes

GORDON: Glad you liked it!

JOAN: more than liked it, Gordon. Would you allow me to cite it in the critical analysis part of my Ph.D.? I can (begin to) see how it relates to themes I’m exploring; themes on structure, layered reading, hypersemia, movement, even brushing Derrida and certainly relevant to my take on Faulkner (e.g. ‘Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through’: The Sound & The Fury), even the notion of prey.

And maybe it’s just me being pervy again, but I also pick up a whiff of something vaguely sexual there, not just the spider as she-predator, but also in the structure of the web itself (getting well and truly pervy now…); could be a nipple, could be THAT orifice, sticky, waiting, dead at the centre…?

But it’s also a great metaphor for the meanings that ripple off individual words (Bakhtin), whose centre, origin (in pops Derrida) can never satisfactorily be traced…; there is a hole at the heart of (the) language (trap). That your poem brings all of this together, structured semantically (as I see it) like the very web it describes, gives me goosepimples. We’re verging off into French, so I’ll say frissons. 🙂

GORDON: By all means use it, Joan. Funny you should mention Derrida as one of the quotes that I’ll be using as a sort of introduction to the new book is from him:

The animal is a word, it is an appellation that men have instituted, a name they have given themselves the right, and the authority, to give to another creature.”

I’m very pleased by your response to the poem. The book, which will be illustrated by a Scottish artist, will consist of four “galleries” of creatures which, hopefully, will be both animal and human, or for the reader to find out for him- or herself.

JOAN: Derrida also explored the notion of hymen. And violence… Of the struggle at the borders, which I see as fitting in neatly with Bakhtin. In describing the animal as a word – as BUT a word is the echo I hear when I read the passage anew – I sense the injustice done onto the living thing by the authority of Man – by his ab/use of language. This BUT opens up realms where ideas may merrily breed and shapes may shift: Animots, anime les mots…(I think of Jacques Prévert…) man, striped of his husk, becomes which animal? Do we err on the spider’s web, eventually to be pulled toward a dead centre? Just thinking out loud. And deeply impressed by your poem, Gordon!

GORDON: I think a lot of your impressions regarding the poem are definitely there… the sexuality, the dead centre, language as a trap etc. One of the things I’m trying to do in the poems from Les Animots; A Human Bestiary, is to use a pared down sort of language to open up a lot of different interpretations.
Encouragement is good at any time, but your timing is impeccable with this poem, as I am meeting up with the illustrator tomorrow. I haven’t seen his sketches on the Spider poem, but we had talked about having the web encompassing the text with just a glimpse of the spider at the edge of the page.

JOAN: and if the spider were off the page??? If we see her, we know which direction she’s coming from. This makes her less dangerous, to me. If we don’t/can’t see her, we have no idea where the danger is lying in wait. And it makes the poem, and the web, spill over the border of the page – pages are rectangular, webs are not… – into a space that only the reader may enter. Not sure if you want to go that far. I’ll definitely buy a copy of the book, so I’ll find out 🙂

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