A story that can be retold and rewritten, but can all the while retain its own thingness—a story that can evolve in the imagination—is a finger in the face of the insipid outpouring of gifs and memes we daily consume, like Technicolor marshmallows shot out of the all powerful maw of the Facebook-Disney machine.
We of the lower forty-eight are fortunate, then, that something like Samuel Archibald’s Arvida, has been recently translated from the French by Donald Winkler. We need stories. And these stories from a land we’ve all been living alongside our whole American lives will do nicely. These are American stories. But another America, a hidden America, maybe even more American than the America we think we know.
Canada. In Archibald’s Arvida, there is an echo of some of the wavering visions we have of our northern neighbor (evergreen, flannel), but they are woven into the fabric of a working-class town, both factual and fabulous, immediately calling up comparisons to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s evocations of Winnipeg. Both Maddin and Archibald tell their tales utilizing a personal history of a family and a discreet location, while at the same time breathing into them a dream logic and fairy tale or fable-like tropes.
I’m translating “The Wife’s Lament,” from the Anglo-Saxon (among other poems), and—though I am in the habit of calling my drafts “transgressions”—there is a palpable sense of longing breaking through which I think may be possible to understand. What I mean by “even now,” has to do with the ideas of immediacy prevalent (one could say saturated) in the current collective consciousness.
I just read an article eulogizing the long email. And who even talks on the phone anymore. We interact in quick bursts, with no breaks. Both of these things being, of course, enemies of longing. We do not allow ourselves the luxury of longing. For to long, literally, takes “length.” Long stretches of absence and time—for which nobody has time for anymore.
The girl I’m trying to write (the wife lamenting) gets left to long by herself under an oak tree. This oak tree intrigues me. There is so much symbolism here. Pagans had their sacred groves. Druids had oak knowledge. I have also read about the linguistic link between the Celtic word for oak and the Sanskrit word for door—the connection between knowledge and doors apparently reaches pretty far back, but the other thing has to do with the oak as a portal, a door to another world. In the text the girl sings: This earth cell is old—I am full of longing. She is under the oak. There is ambiguity. Is she even alive?