The lunatic algebra
The frenzied orbits
The malarial temperatures
Symbols of the Cult
This flesh, this amulet
This hot spoor
This zodiac savaged
in the sky.
Anyone who has encountered the searing fiction of acclaimed novelist Rikki Ducornet will vouch for her linguistic and imagistic explosiveness. It will come as no surprise then that her many wonder-filled novels were preceded by lesser-known works of poetry published by small presses. One such offering, The Cult of Seizure, was first published by Porcupine’s Quill in 1989 and is a work containing a lush poesis from a visionary soul. Just like the following magical fictions, it is a sensual work that augers between the erotic and the grotesque, full of mesmerising language and magnetising symbolism.
Poetically speaking, Ducornet seems to come to us through the narrow channel flowing from the European avant garde, a tributary that tends to feed Latin American versifiers like Neruda and Paz rather than their North American counterparts, the latter largely following the lineage of Whitman and Williams. But there are a few that seek to answer André Breton’s famous call for that resolution of two disparate states of consciousness, namely Lamantia, Welch, Kaufman, and more recently Will Alexander. Perhaps in part due to her short sojourn in France Rikki Ducornet echoes the surrealist exhortation to enter into dream logic and the archetypal world of myth and folktale. The Cult of Seizure flutters with fantastic dalliances with the shadow world – from Erzsébet Bathory, the “Bloody Countess” of Hungary, to the enigmatic Thorn Falconer.
Of course, there is always a way to over-theorise poetry, to neutralise its raw power with the cloying veneer of academic posturing. One way to indulge in this work is simply to allow the wash of exotic and exoteric images to induce a state of pure pleasure. The reader will enter into a dream world of sensual intimacy, a bestiary of totemic resonance, a world that contains wild leaps of thought and all manner of cavorting symbols – all the while weaving its own internal sense of savoir-faire. There are moments of adroit imagistic coupling in the style of Lautréamont’s umbrella and sewing machine finding each other on the dissecting table – moments of playfulness and fancy in some edenic garden. But not all is sweetness and light for there are the hidden teeth of intent in all corners of this lush panorama. There are moments of frenetic violence and the tearing of flesh. Ducornet is never one to obfuscate the dark side, often writing from some ancient wound or from some Artaudian sense of miasma. Indeed it is a world of exquisite corpses and there is a theatre of cruelty at work. The reader must embrace Sade’s darker side of artistic liberty or the sort of murky internal violence that can be found in Angela Carter’s Shadow Dance.
When the book was first released the back-jacket blurb explained that it “…proceeds visually through a bestiary of the small creatures that crawl — lizards, snakes, crickets … all rendered in the style of the 19th century steel engraving, much after the manner of a dated zoology text.” Indeed there is something of the Victorian miniaturist in Ducornet, the sort that is charmed by the machinations of various obscure microcosms, as is found in the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth perhaps. This cataloguing impulse is behind the lush cacophony of images and leads to the sort of ‘excess of consciousness’ that is often attributed to Gertrude Stein. Ducornet is fascinated by both what is seen and what is unseen, which tenders strange juxtapositions of images from the miniaturesque world with those of her attendant curiosity and imagination. Thus, when perusing Zötl’s Blakean bestiary we get a bewildering admixture of innocence and experience, intent and chance, premonition and yearning. The Cult of Seizure is the harbinger of spirituality in the frozen moment, the stupefaction at the genesis point of fascination. New combinations of possibility, both positive and negative, are given a visible space, freeze-framed in poetic introspection.
Female writers have often sought to incant the body through language, whether through the psychic landscapes of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel or the exploration of the relationship between boundary and desire as with Jeanette Winterson or Hélène Cixous. But Ducornet seems to go beyond fixed boundaries or at least engage more infinite striations extending to the animal, vegetable and mineral world. Her poetry seeks a new iconography, one that is fluid and flux, and one that can be represented by the mutability of language. But in an entropic world the sage-poet must be able to freeze the action and capture the moment while always intending towards motion – and we have long made a cult out of the ability to do it. Thus, Ducornet achieves a final doubling – that of the fixed and free. The Cult of Seizure is a celebration of language as incantation, of utterance as a magic rite, of the exhalations of the spoken sacred into text.
Skylight Press is thrilled to reissue this treasure, coupling it with two marvellous and deliciously appropriate essays, Silling and The Deep Zoo. Published as a limited release booklet by Obscure Publications in 2004, both essays dovetail exquisitely with the main text despite the temporal gap between them. The reader will confront the entropic universe of Silling and gain a deeper understanding of Ducornet’s ongoing fascination with the Marquis de Sade and his declaration of war to protect author singularity (explored at length in The Fan Maker’s Inquisition). In The Deep Zoo she further explores the visual inception of the authorial moment, commenting on Bachelard’s reverie, Calvino’s delight in the possibilities in the maze, Borges’ magical dream gardens, and Zötl’s daemonic bestiary. In Ducornet’s words the combined texts seek “to bring a dream of life through the alchemy of language.”
“The passions that animate Rikki Ducornet’s The Cult of Seizure are both more apocalyptic and less immediately comprehensible, and sometimes seem to indicate a surrender to the imagination rather than a shaping of it. The elemental forces in Ducornet’s world explode in irrevocable acts, as in “Abracadabra,” with its admonitions to “Drink the dew from the spoor of a one-legged crone” and “Take an axe to the spouse of a hardened heretic.” Visits aren’t recommended to the weak of either spirit or stomach. But if you’re willing to take the plunge into poetry that cuts close to the bone of our dreams and obsessions, The Cult of Seizure contains some absolutely stunning examples of how language can transform actuality. Using as her model the medieval bestiary, wherein natural and imaginary animals mingled in glorious confusion, Ducornet, whose third novel, The Fountains of Neptune was published earlier this year, has mixed the rivetingly graphic and the ferociously fanciful into a striking volume of verse.” (Toronto Star)
The Cult of Seizure is available from various retail outlets such as Amazon, Amazon UK, or direct from the Skylight Press website.