‘Fudekara’ by Liliana Ponce: Evolution Through Repetition

Roz Naimi

“Why write confessions? Why confess the written?” asks Liliana Ponce in her poetry collection Fudekara (44 pages; Cardboard House Press; translated by Michael Martin Shea). Ponce is a poet and scholar of Japanese literature from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who incorporates her knowledge of Japanese culture into her work: “Fudekara” is a Japanese neologism created from the terms “fude” (brush) and “kara” (from) to mean “from the brush.” Written over the course of a Chinese ideograph calligraphy class the author took in 1993, Fudekara takes as its subject the stroke: the iterative, meditative practice of putting pen to paper.

The collection is diaristic: there are fourteen poems for fourteen days. Each poem tracks the day’s revelations, demonstrating the bond between thought and stroke. What happens in the transference of the brain’s synapses to hand to pen to paper? How does thought evolve within the minutiae of action? And, what’s more, how do we evolve across the process of repetition?

Many of us remember the hours spent in grammar school painstakingly tracing letters of the alphabet along dotted-lined paper. For most of us, the repetition is what made it boring. Our teachers stood over us, monitored our straining hands in the name of literacy. Practice makes perfect, right? Ponce finds what is pregnant in recursive, iterative action. She reminds us of how what may seem like mindless repetition might become a pathway to mindfulness. To embody an action over and over allows for endless opportunities to actualize what is at the core of one’s desire.

Practicing the stroke though the signs are unknown.

Someone rests the hand on the inkwell and the ink rises.

My eyelid has refused. The eyelid closes, using the force

of the thread that knows, that has already stitched it.

The shadow of dusk over the river is slight, something

muddy, of a thick and shifting gray. The river too draws

itself lightly, without origins.

Someone rests the hand on the inkwell and spins the bar

in circles, slow curves.

That Fudekara is written in a lyrical prose gives its reader an initial sense that we are reading fully formed, closed statements: the familiarity of punctuated sentences lulls us into comfort. Ponce is, on the contrary, giving the reader access to the beginnings of many meandering thought-maps. She chants her provocations with a soothing measuredness that graces us with the confidence to stroll alongside her adeptly carved pathways. And just when you think you’ve been keeping pace, you realize you’re out of breath—another lesson on the importance of recursion. These are not poems to be read only once.

On translating Ponce’s work, Michael Martin Shea writes in the book’s addendum: “It is almost a platitude to say that translation is a way of knowing a work from the inside out. But for a writer like Liliana Ponce, such knowledge could never be only conceptual—her work is an embodied practice, language like a bridge between thought and action.” 

For poems that live so vividly in the mind’s eye, Fudekara does not leave feeling behind. There is a somberness to its sobriety, a yearning in its metaphysicality. The collection is imbued with the devastating emotional rawness that is unique to nascent thought. The reader is called to hold this work with attention and care. This impulse is inspired, too, by the book’s aesthetic design. Skillfully designed by the artist Mutandis, Fudekara’s cover resembles a sand-colored envelope, embellished with silver and white diagonal striations. An adhesive silver circle holds it enclosed. You must open it gingerly to avoid tears and stains. This book is an art object—something that, even without reading, you will want to handle with compassion and presence.

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