cover image Rough Ground

Rough Ground

Alix Anne Shaw. Etruscan, $15 trade paper (114p) ISBN 978-0-9977455-5-9

Poet and visual artist Shaw (Dido in Winter) undertakes a creative translation of Wittgenstein’s formidable Tractatus Logico-Philosophicos (1921), aiming to supply a new idiom that moves “from philosophical treatise to poetic text,” and exploits what she calls “the slippage between his language and [her] own.” Readers of Wittgenstein are perhaps the book’s ideal audience, though Shaw insists that her book can stand on its own “as a long experimental poem or as an elliptical story.” If-then statements abound, though often truncated, as if the completing work of the apodosis is unimaginable, indescribable, or simply no fun. “Given the if, the open palm, a question interposing in the air,” she writes in “An Argument.” Where Wittgenstein is abstract and aphoristic, Shaw is concrete, such that surprising narratives emerge from the poet’s spooling of objects: nests, birds, houses, roofs, fires, “two people with their separate names, their breakfast dishes waiting in the sink.” In Shaw’s act of poetic invention, self-described as “a wild proliferation of meaning,” readers may wonder whether the traditional relation has not been reversed or negated, as in a Wittgensteinian language game, with the ladder thrown away once one has climbed to the top. The overall effect is that of witnessing another’s ecstasy from the outside: appreciable, perhaps—but, finally, inaccessible. (July)