The Shining Material


By: David Stokes

On your own calf / take a small fruit and bleed the juice of it to know / something empirically” writes Aisha Sasha John, echoing the Song of Solomon’s call for sensual discovery (‘sensual’ construed in the widest way, equally related to Eros as related to ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’), but subsuming that ancient poem’s role of lover and beloved both unto herself, like a house divided. The fact that this separation holds together and creates a more perfect union remains a mystery, and “the Shining Material” is Ms. John’s name for our shimmering, hidden pillar of both possibility and sublime clarity that corresponds – like the lover/beloved dichotomy – to our often conflicted and confused everyday selves.

Her poems are all attempts to open-up wider rings of conscious self-understanding relating to all ranges of experience, from choosing to go get groceries or what to feel about sex, and she speaks to and asks the depths of herself, “where can we go / to have some kind of communion.” Many poems in the collection are titled as self-portraits and, like an artist drawing himself to gain both an object, better craft, and self-knowledge, they figure Ms. John watching herself at a distance while she interacts in relation to – or under the power of – certain constraining terms, such as linguistic constraints.

In other poems, which also exist as a separate mode of self-portraiture, she repeats Paul Valéry’s practice of early morning free-writing, which both he and Ms. John call ‘Cahiers,’ in order to let the ‘I’ speak directly, without the distance of the triangulation of viewer/object/being. Though in both modes, she draws the blinds far enough to let the reader into her often plaintive self-exhibitionism-cum-voyeurism. The only constant is her shifting, changing self, or as she says in “Self-Prortait A Reader,” and speaking for us as well, that “all the day does is change me,” a parting testimony to the gift, also found in these poems, of life as a dizzying, glorious sense.

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