REVIEW: Soft Pages by Kathleen Fraser

belladonna

by José Angel Araguz

pelagic, if that’s how a particular moment keeps continuing
without one being able to stop it…(6).

I enjoy a text that has me walking away having learnt a new word. In the case of Kathleen Fraser’s Soft Pages – a lyrical prose sequence part of the Belladonna chaplet series – that word is pelagic, whose definition – living or growing at or near the surface of the ocean, far from land – is a key into the overall text.

Throughout Soft Pages, Fraser’s speaker presents a hybrid mix of travel journal/personal diary/writer’s meditation. The ambition of such a mix is reflected in the way the speaker boldly reconsiders and repurposes the aim of the narrative at several turns:

I must remember to enter the narrator’s life in as many ways as possible—
[by “must”, I mean that I crave intimacy and little corners but take
even more pleasure in distancing devices, while sniffing the smell of leftover
shampoo on a person’s damp terrycloth robe ](10)

This craving for “intimacy and little corners” as well as “distancing devices” implies a specific kind of tension behind the narrative. The structure of Soft Pages itself is less fragmented (nothing feels exactly missing or broken) and more loosely tethered, a kind of conceptual mobile capable of holding various meanings, which returns us to the image evoked by the word pelagic.

Fraser’s lyrical musings explore various aspects of the “soft pages” in her life – from notebook paper to photographs and a fan, the latter two conflated as the speaker of the text describes her direct physical experience as:

Not as definite as departure. Already it was following the camera’s path,
its ability to bunch up time, capture it incrementally or smoothly, into successive
unfoldings, compression fanning out through heat-laminated brick, golden
fade-out into transliteration of…pale fan sent from Tokyo, held in place by a
thin loop of silver paper, just at its breaking point, until the restraint had been
lifted away to release the motion of unfolding. Someone wanting the prop in
cultural time. May I demonstrate my lineage?”(6-7)

Through this kind of leap from similarity to similarity, Fraser constructs a reading experience about reading experiences. Instead of a distrust of being able to pin down human experience in words, one reads a speaker engaged with how things change as soon as you start to pin them down by naming them. In a scene, for example, of going through the motions of a public yoga session, Fraser’s speaker recounts looking for her particularly marked yoga mat, only:

to find, among the various colored blankets [the instructor] provided in a
wall cupboard at one end of the studio, a soft blue plaid that would draw me
into a state of calmness, as if the water in the river were also blue, instead of
muddy, and the sky an intense wintry cloudless blue , instead of burdening
the urban landscape with its heaviness of pale and dark grey storm clouds
waiting to break loose (8-9)

This kind of nuanced moment of insight, where realities are superimposed upon each other through the blur of memory and sensory perception, makes up a large of the pleasurable reading experience of reading Soft Pages. Throughout the sequence, one is given the workings of a mind who values the various “ultimate” meanings and profound epiphanies to be found, “Even as you walk towards the most simple morning task” (6).

Soft Pages is available as a free pdf at Belladonna*.

José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and has had work most recently in Borderlands, Blue Earth Review, and NANO Fiction. He is presently pursuing a Creative Writing and Literature PhD at the University of Cincinnati. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence.

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