A church is a physical space designed and built to enhance transfiguration, with the architecture sheltering intimate ritual from the vagaries of the outside world. This is accentuated by the main portal that links the two – stained glass windows that let a little light shine in from the outside, but in a thoroughly mediated fashion.
The Stained Glass Sequence
By James Dunnigan
Frog Hollow Press
Stained glass itself is like a decoration hung on perception, one that refracts the light and shadow of the reality behind, transforming it into a more ornate version. Poet James Dunnigan leverages that quality as the foundational conceit for The Stained Glass Sequence, a chapbook plunged in reflection on another primordial creative force: language. But it’s not for the sake of an academic lesson so much as a means to show how poetry transfigures society into civilization.
In his ‘Ten Notes In Lieu Of Preface’ (i.e. a stylized Forward to the chapbook), Dunnigan argues that “[t]he basic unit of poetry is the line…an audiovisual notation of a phrase of language: it organizes languages into frames, the way cinematic frames organize movement and sound”.
So does poetry organize the elements of culture for the narrative of civilization, and so do Dunnigan’s poems mix myth, autobiography, philosophy, art criticism and journalesque jottings into a textual refraction of these elements.
In some places, Dunnigan moves from religion to geopolitics to astronomy; in others, from philosophical musings to a literal and figurative trip along the Lachine Canal in Montreal. It’s a disorienting techique, as his lines (true to argument) are sliced, diced, and scattered across the page, making for a poesy not meant to be read aloud, like musical notes plucked from a staff, but of clues to be attacked, as if part of a code or a puzzle.
Dunnigan occasionally launches into a more linear rush, such as in ‘Stained Glass 5 – Ceiling’, in which he imagines, “if Michelangelo…did a flood scene/for the Sistine/Chapel/involving the most massive use of blue” that quickly gushes out into a recounting of a failed attempt at the writing of a scifi novel, before whorling back into a mournful dirge. He delivers it all with the wonderful, twitchy energy and jumpy lyricism of a sermon given by a slightly deranged priest, one whose congregation is based in the Church of Disunited Abstraction.