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Review of Avatar by Jenny Sampirisi

Matrix, 2007


“I love you.”

The word love in poetry is often noosed with cynicism. Love brings with it an expectation of sentimentality that is (or has become) too abstract and sarcastic to be considered sincere. But what is that if not a poetic challenge? In Avatar Sharon Harris examines the world of the sentimental and shows us that poetry itself is love.

The poetry in Avatar microscopes in on the central phase “I love you” through multiple entry points: visual, linguistic, pataphysical, and methodological. Replying to bpNichol’s concrete “I love you” poem, it makes sense that the mode of Harris’ response should be in part visual. Through concrete and language poetry, Avatar exposes the interconnectivity of objects to subjects, and of those, to the universe.

As we move through each of the alphabetized visual Figures, we see how almost anything can become an avatar for love. Dominos arrange to create the word, love is spelled in Braille, becoming sensory, and love turns molecular and flexible. There is a sense that both love and poetry are everywhere, and that they cannot be so easily extracted from each other. Even the I and the You of the phrase begin to blur as the centre, love, visually recombines from page to page, eroding the “otherness” of the phrase.

Harris reveals the existing connective tissues of life by reminding us that language is visual, and also potentially present without words. And if we agree that this is true, we can also be persuaded that love is everywhere and that language too is everywhere. Further, these things are interchangeable. The questions of this book aren’t, how is the physical world like poetry or how are these things like love, but rather, a more definitive, the physical world is poetry and poetry is love.

“I love you too.”