Kemeny Babineau, House of Many Words. AngelHousePress, 2016
Chapbooks are the natural home of avant-garde, experimental or simply peculiar writing. They are not, for the most part, created to serve an audience, but to serve the art. The hope is that a handful of readers will be willing/able/interested enough to peer through this particular window and try to make some kind of sense of what is going on.
Through the window of House of Many Words is a stage. The stage is a mound of earth upon which stands a doorway. In the doorway a sheet is stretched, upon which shadows fall. This is the setting of Kemeny Babineau’s impossible little theatre piece; does it vaguely recall Beckett? The cave in Plato’s Republic? Or are these mere coincidences?
There are four characters, listed at the front as in any published playscript, although instead of “Willy Loman, a Salesman” or “A Boy” we get: “MANY WORDS,” “MANY PEOPLE,” “LAND BARREN” and “NOBODY.” Each of the ten acts is brief, taking up a single page of instruction. In Act 1 MANY WORDS “fills the doorway,” only to take up three separate stances (one involving “old dogs” that “bend their pricks / on dry haunches”) only to be immediately erased or negated with a “No.” Act 2 contains the first of many directions that cannot be fulfilled–“Not even MANY WORDS could explain / how the fire moved them”. MANY PEOPLE appears in Act 4, slamming the door (but is there a door or just a doorway?) while NOBODY pokes a fire in Act 5, “sparking up a nest of stars,” an unusually poetic phrase for this rather bare-bones text. Land Barren does not appear until Act 7, being prevented from entering by MANY PEOPLE, although “many people (sic) argued / that Land Barren was already in….”
It’s quite possible to see this not as a play at all but as a poem, given the deliberate line breaks. I think my paraphrase of some of the text indicates that it isn’t in any sense a coherent drama, but rather something more like a dream, a game, a refusal, an attempt, a stand-off. The feeling it gives me (is it the right feeling? Is there a right feeling?) is rather bleak, cold, and existential, like watching figures that are half-human and half machine bumping into each other in a dance that isn’t a dance at all.