End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem
by Sarah Vap
Noemi Press, $15 (paper)
In this book-length poetic essay, Vap takes us sleuthing for the mystery behind sentimentality in language, exposing the intersection of gender and poetics through etymological vivisection. Early on she establishes the organizing principle of the book, each section introducing lexical clues as issues of investigation, elaboration, and transgression. A self-proclaimed “conversation about gender,” Vap’s poem unravels the politics of gendered modes of composing, reading, and critiquing poetry by delving into the etymologies of words (such as “university,” “fuck,” and “cunt”) and their implications in poetics. The poem, then, is a cipher and “is written in cipher”—a search through language’s trace evidence to identify what we do and do not want to find: “we have very complicated strategies, even (or especially) in poetry, for not hearing what we don’t want to hear.” If contemporary poetry in the university is vivified—made alive—“by a (‘masculine’) critical tradition,” then Vap claims that “etymology is like the DNA left on the scene of the word,” enlivening the trail of linguistic evidence. She deduces that, even etymologically, “sentimentality ends in the body. / Ends with my body, my experience, my cunt.” Ultimately Vap ponders how one can be both poetic vivisectionist and subject of poetic dissection, and what it means to cut into the heart of the poem and find the “gash, slit”—the cipher deciphered intimately in the mysterious recesses of body and word.