Roz Ito's Reviews > The Wide Road

The Wide Road by Carla Harryman
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it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry, theory

The Wide Road is a supremely riotous & zaftig take on the female picaresque. Language poets Carla Harryman and Lyn Hejinian join forces in a collaboration of poetms & correspondence, transforming themselves into a two-headed monster who roams the countryside, seeks outrageous adventures, takes random unsuspecting lovers, and pursues a far-ranging discourse composed of wit, free association, serial exchange, philosophizing, and figurative-made-actual language.

Their journey unfolds in four parts: the book opens with a long poem narrating the doubled adventuress's exploits, interspersed with succinct Basho-like observations; the second is a series of letters exchanged between Harryman & Hejinian on topics such as eroticism, power, and the problem of The Wide Road itself; the third part picks up the thread of mock-heroic narration again, with further team sexcapades and travels; and the final section divides the page into parallel columns for two poems that flow side-by-side to the very end.

One thematic refrain that emerges is the dialogue between an egalitarian pleasure-based eros (articulated by Hejinian) and a primal, potentially violent power-based eros (articulated by Harryman). Which version of the erotic offes a more viable mode of empowerment for a sex-positive heterosexual female poetics? Hejinian's utopian version celebrates the ingenious fertility of feminine desire with its capacity to generate endless potentialities that transcend the limits of the physical; while Harryman's darker perspective delves into the historicized dystopia of bodies unevenly categorized & exoticized according to gender, race, and various anatomical standards of normality.

At first glance, these two positions might seem oppositional, but The Wide Road demonstrates that they can also be merged into a new feminist synthesis through (as Harryman observes) the liberating spirit of "play." The play of desire, the desire for play-- this is the spirit that keeps the passionate body buoyant & balanced, that keeps oppressive power dynamics from recursively repeating themselves within intimate relations and the imagination from solipsistically running away with itself. Play roots the person in a limitless field where she can push the boundaries of possibility while empowering both herself & the desired other, culminating in expansive waves of pleasure & largesse.

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Reading Progress

July 12, 2011 – Started Reading
July 12, 2011 – Shelved
August 23, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 30, 2011 – Shelved as: poetry
August 30, 2011 – Shelved as: theory

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