Kathleen Fraser’s chapbook, hi dde violeth i dde violet, explores observance with a series of typographic compositions, where the muted breaks into the ecstatic, where hidden meanings boldly emerge under their referents, and where those meanings complicate themselves through alternate writings. Fraser underwrites the sequence of events of Easter in Rome, exposing, through typographical play, the textured meanings that lay beneath word and action.
Fraser’s words stem outwards, exposing underlying meanings inherent in seemingly benign referents, mimicking the organic stemming of growth. Although the lily is the Easter flower, it is also the ostentatious flower; the violet is what is hidden by the lily; it is the at times scentless, small plant that is overgrown by the more vibrant lily. And scent fully infiltrates the text of this chapbook: “next’s/smell/in two-way/Bak/floor/noise):” the “no elite (smell,” and the “provoking ginscent.” In this text, we must uncover the hidden violet, scentless and untraceable, from under the arching Easter Lily—we must retrace the alternatives available in every word, uncovering the possibilities of denotative form. This occurs mainly by accrual; we are led to a word, given an altered version, and have no choice but to accept both.
The textual accrual works by deposits and strata, each depositing meaning into itself by linguistic change and circumambulation. In this text, “bOther” leans to “bother” as much as it does to “Be other.” What originally could seem to be transcribed accent, slant of speak, undoes itself as consequent meaning. The “n” in “violent” disappears, leaving its remnant only in its detritus: “violet,” which in turn changes to “violeth,” echoing “violate.” But these layered meanings are not hidden, per se. They instead act like strata that exist in simultaneity, pressing inward on each other.
This textual allowance of alterity also works by deposit: the word “Christ” is separated out; in places we find the consonance of “Ch” standing alone, in others, “rist,” which points to “wrist” as much as the latter half of “Christ.” But Fraser doesn’t seem to ask for a particular meaning—she instead allows these (mis)readings to become a crucial element of the text itself. One of the compositions reads:
Collated lilies fallow in
bakelite shadow shusshing
slippers’ advertent pitch
along warm tile amplitudes
whine of lead pipe’s
morning uses. Shutter latc
h creaky bang purrs above
trees’ abundant smattering
opened by unseen hand
light greens. Sharpness of
Although the immediate syntactic reaction is to read “fury” instead of “furry,” later in the text, Fraser reasserts the place of “furry” in this context:
smattering lushness. Fury
The allowance of the seemingly out of place “Furry” into this text is emphasized by this bold “r,” after which Fraser allows “fury” its place as well. These deliberate alterities surface even more readily by the typographic play:
We are forced to recognize Christ simultaneously pierced with homophonic arrows as much as we are forced to envision him as sustenance, though not in his usual form of bread, but rice (arroz). Then comes the “thump,” the body hitting the floor; but this is a day of rising, at which point we arrive at “a rose.” The materiality of this text is practically undeniable. We must reckon with the letter, and consequently, the word, on a basic level. We are not dissecting a “clean” text, but actively grappling with the word at its most bare.
Fraser’s tone itself lends a genuine play to the pomp of the scene. While remaining sincere, she allows play in a space of an otherwise somber mood. It is precisely this allowance of the ecstatic into the sober that gives this text a breathing life, a resurrection, if you will, of the letter.