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Monday, August 04, 2008

Letters to the Tremulous Hand

One of the fine Australian poets I’ve been reading over here is Elizabeth Campbell, author of Letters to the Tremulous Hand (John Leonard Press). The Tremulous Hand of her title refers to an anonymous thirteenth-century scribe working at Worcestershire Cathedral and known only by the distinctive tremor in his handwriting. Her sequence on him is a marvellous piece of textual ghosting between the lines of history, of harmonics, feints, palimpsests and silhouettes. Here’s an extract from section five, ‘gewyrdelic (historical)’ which uses found text from the scribe glosses:

Gaelsa, ‘lust’, glossed once
As fabula, ‘story’. Fracod, ‘infamy’
Rendered as versions of fragilitas.
The poem torn and gummed to stuff
The cover of a parish register.
Hraew, ‘corpse’, never glossed correctly.
The tremor misdiagnosed
As age: the left hand,
Wynstra, he mistranslated
As dextra, the right.

And from the end of the previous section, ‘address to the hand as a fellow scholar’:

Do you tremble? Good. Better
to write by: the hand moving without end, griefwheel

milling the past. Glossing
heolstor hiding-place, your mark the ghost

of living thought, Time thought’s winding-sheet.
No-one at court loves our language.

Schools sold, teachers punished, scholars shamed:
I am all your subject: you are mine –

life and works and time – each the others’
elegy and grave and afterlife.

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