McClelland & Stewart

Reviewed by Eileen Mary Holowka

Beyond the power of the writing, which is reminiscent of Michaels’ acclaimed poetry collections The Weight of Oranges and Miner’s Pond, the book also acts as a physical metaphor of itself. “Forgive me, for beginning / at the end,” Michaels writes as she introduces the two main characters of Correspondences. These historical figures, Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs, only physically met twice in their lives but maintained a love affair of longing through written correspondence up until their almost simultaneous deaths. Just as the overarching story of their relationship is defined by their having to say goodbye, in Correspondences every ending is also a beginning. The back cover of Michaels’ book is the front cover of Eisenstein’s and vice-versa. The process of reading Correspondences is cyclical, emphasizing the significance of the “difference between end and / and.” The book demands to be reread, to be held and to be touched “because,” as Michaels writes, “to touch / means always.” The remembering is infinite so long as we keep it going, so long as we keep rereading “the handwritten / witnessing.” We remember the physical book in the same way we remember all of the correspondents who are painted and written about within. “It is not the haunting that makes us believe / in their presence, / but the cold absence.” By unfolding meaning, we enfold their memories.

Correspondences is a book that defies digital publishing. Like Chris Ware’s Building Stories, the experience of reading becomes not just visual, but haptic — tangible. By physically flipping back and forth between the two sides of the page, we find ourselves reconstructing and connecting the many disparate voices into a communion of remembrance. Even if we cannot see the absence of everything forgotten, we see its presence in “all the water it displaces.” This awareness of loss becomes the invisible, yet invasive, “third side of the page,” “heard but unseen.” In an era where digital publications are becoming more and more prominent, Correspondences gives us a reason to believe in the physical book:

each word the reverse of a word

as if to say

the moment you stop believing in me

I will disappear

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Eileen Mary Holowka is a Winnipeg student and emerging writer. She is currently editor of the literary journal juice and spends her Wednesdays helping out at CV2 headquarters.