No Document (Anwen Crawford, Giramondo)
In this arresting book, Anwen Crawford reckons with the death of a close friend and comrade. Seeking a language suitable for grief, Crawford stitches together material from a wide range of sources in a poetic and allusive manner reminiscent of Susan Howe or perhaps a miniature Arcades Project. But this is no insular work of autobiography. Crawford’s meditations on the lost works of the German expressionist painter Franz Marc are exemplary of the book’s political and historical dimensions: though some of Marc’s key paintings were never recovered after their Nazi confiscation, the power they continue to exercise over Crawford’s imagination resonates with the haunting memories of her lost friend. Such ghostly presences are political and historical: No Document is structured around a sequence of motifs of leftist despair, from the slaughter of the Paris Communards to CIA-backed coups and abductions. But the restorative work of remembering—be it protests Crawford attended with her lost friend, or the life of a girl who drowned while seeking refuge in Australia—is a source of hope. Crawford’s imaginative use of the white space around the text, which is often broken up with stark lines and squares, buttresses this effort to think beyond borders—most of all those separating life and death. A deeply moving anatomy of personal and political melancholy, No Document speaks as directly to the dead as it does to its reader. Crawford even includes a PO box address at the end, perhaps inviting that reader to speak back.
Joshua Barnes is a writer and bookseller in Melbourne.