True North/Nord Vrai
Reviewed by Cal Kinnear
True North/Nord Vrai
by Jody Aliesan
Blue Begonia Press
225 South 15th Avenue, Yakima, WA 98902-3821
2007, paper, 174 pages, $18.00
(To read Aliesan's latest blog, link to: As We Were Saying
True North/Nord Vrai is, make no mistake, to the
marrow, a political book. Jody Aliesan tells us (This is record of a decision):
“I spent most of my life trying to help change the U.S. into something I could belong to. As in any dysfunctional relationship,
one day I realized that this was never going to happen. I could continue to beat my head against the wall, or I could go away – to a place
where I felt more at home. ‘Love it or leave it,’ they said. So I did.” (p. 162)
But if it is political, it is because Jody Aliesan is herself to the marrow political, in the largest sense of the word I can summon:
mindful of what a healthy polis might be, mindful as well of the manifest illness of the sociopolitical body of this United States of
America in our time, and ready to spend herself, body and mind, on envisioning and on making the vision real.
The book is a journey taken on with large energy, with self-assurance, but without the least arrogance or pontification.
It is a book that stays close to her experience. And as directly as it always speaks, it is in the whole, in the weaving of its themes
and issues, a subtle and complicated book.
One of the book’s complexities is in its incorporation of many ‘genres’ side by side: journal entries, poems, essays, dictionary entries,
lengthy quotations from her contemporaries, even full papers she wrote when in graduate school, complete with scholarly apparatus!
At any given moment utterly straightforward, the pieces, fascinatingly, won’t simply lie side by side, but come to linger, return, haunt.
She writes much about her mother who must lie, must tell her story differently each time. She remains, over many years, emotionally close
to her, and living with and understanding this mother, in the same stroke how fiercely she herself clings to a true story.
A truth, and a great truth, is the separation of good and evil, of which the great St. Augustine gave such eloquent account, placing
the Father of Lies unmistakably in the North (this from her graduate school essay). But we have to then take notice of the title phrase,
‘True North,’ the mariner’s one truth, the infallible guide, the attractive, guiding force in the North, and so things turn around, and the
draw into Canada is almost said before you ever think it out loud.
And after reading her thesis on Wuthering Heights, we no longer know quite what it means to be diabolical, where what matters is a
redemptive and transformative force within great and explosive passion.
Well, what is the Devil then? If you read this book closely, you have to think this question. Jody Aliesan comes to know her mother
so deeply, through the compulsion of her lying, through perhaps psychopathy, and then grows up into a social/political world, where she
learns to move her way by compass, by true north, through a landscape that is largely governed by psychopathy. (A psychologist friend
and I one night sat over dinner looking for the defining points of successful politicians – the major identifiers were narcissism
and psychopathy. And, much as I loved them, we were looking right at Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton.)
As a writer, she is – so much and wonderfully – not a controller of her own text. As the person about whom her own text is woven she
is forthright, honest, principled, active in support of her beliefs. She does not need to be the book’s only voice. She generously gives
us other, kindred voices to listen to; and she thereby comes to ring out as a singular, irreplaceable voice. As writer, she leaves such
a wonderful freedom to all the pieces of the text, so that the text moves, breathes, has its own force of emotion.
Including the book’s many interludes and digressions, which are none of them really departures from its navigation by compass,
this is a work of testimony, witness to a life lived in a time. It is the passion of a life transmuted into a fine passion of language.
Jody Aliesan has no answers. To leave this country, to move to Canada, is not an ‘answer.’ In a world of deceiving, self-deceiving,
self-deceived politicians, she bears witness to honesty. Honesty. We are plagued with public figures asserting their honesty.
The measurement of honesty is not a simple matter. To speak with true honesty is a deeply personal act. It can be heard. It can be read.
I am happy myself to bear witness to the richness of this honesty I have heard; an honesty turned true north.
Crab Creek Review, Point No Point, Pontoon and Fine Madness, and he was winner
of Fine Madness' 2003 Nelson Bentley prize. His book, A Walk in Bardo, has just been published by Blue Begonia Press. lives and writes in Seattle. In the course of his life he has been teacher, bookseller,
modern dancer, waiter, carpenter, private school development director, and director of Washington Lawyers for the Arts. His poems have been
published in various magazines around the country, and locally in