Thursday, February 3, 2022

Ethan Vilu : Serenades, by Rosaire Appel

Serenades, Rosaire Appel
Non Plus Ultra, 2021



In an artist’s statement available on the publisher’s website, Rosaire Appel offers the phrase asemic music as an explanatory term for the current parameters of her practice. Drawing from the concept of asemic writing (that is, markings without semantic value that nonetheless intuitively look like writing), Appel gestures precisely towards the visual distillation of music and sound which constitutes her work in Serenades. It is a fascinating, thought-provoking, and above all mysterious process – in Appel’s work, everyday sonic moments are made subject to a kind of attentive criticism. The work produced is radically unfaithful in its transmission of its source material – it must be, like all interpretation – but it is by virtue of this fact that it draws out previously unknown insights. Each page in Serenades is a cavalcade of aural information, judiciously refracted through the prism of Appel’s subtle artistry.

Although the pieces in Serenades are to a certain extent based on distortions of the rudiments of musical notation (mutated staves, notes, rests and clefs abound), these symbols act merely as a starting point for the visual poet’s sonic explications. Each page of the chapbook contains a multitude of abstract premises – some of my favorites resemble magnificent arcane diagrams, gesturing furtively (in my mind at least) to some esoteric feat of architecture or engineering. Others warp the hallmarks of sheet music into obstacle courses, treacherous walls which one imagines must urgently be scaled. This is a book that contains ancient codes, obscure and defiant declarations, transient visions and even rare moments of disconcerting clarity (the final page contains a single, perfectly clear bass clef). In terms of experience, Serenades is fundamentally an adventure, as mediated by the observer as by the artist’s initial transcription.

Indeed, it is on this last note that the heights of my appreciation for Appel’s chapbook rest – Serenades is a work which serves readily as a font of inspiration. For my fellow occasionally (or else perpetually) stymied poets, I would recommend this book as an experience which may well provoke and clarify. Appel’s sustained dedication to an original and insightful practice is enormously to her credit, and one can look to work like Serenades in order to observe the results of such commitment. It is a work of vibrancy, of imagination, and of insights gained through rigorously cultivated attention.






Ethan Vilu is a poet and editor from Calgary, Alberta. Their longsheet A Decision Re: Zurich was published by The Blasted Tree in 2020. Ethan currently serves as both poetry editor and circulation manager for filling Station. Their February goal is to watch The Phantom Menace with director's commentary.    

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