Julie Carr’s new collection of poetry takes us on a journey where fragmented thoughts and abbreviated memories exist in varied form. Coffee House Press is known for publishing groundbreaking authors and championing the work of writers who have made a place for themselves in the literary landscape. This work addresses the humanity of death and contemplates what happens when faced with a life-threatening illness, the loss of our faculties, and often times, the spirit of love. These poems also illustrate the joy of new beginnings in exploring the feelings connected to giving birth and pregnancy. The 75 plus pages of poems examine the complex responses that come into play when dealing with health struggles and faded memories; a pastiche of familial responsibility. Fragments, abstracts on death, exhaustion, mothers, and unexpected scenarios are only some of the themes at play in these pages, but Carr gives her full attention to each sentiment expressed in this collection. What’s unique about the writing is the manner in which the narrator attempts to digest her reality. Poems and fragments share titles but shift in their POV. This technique seems to demonstrate the need to digest sentiments from different points of view, thus allowing for multiple perspectives on the same scenario, on the same difficulties we encounter, regardless of where we sit.
In the poem, Waiting Abstracts, she describes what it’s like to wait in the wings for death.
“ A woman hangs with biblical figures can’t speed her departure, her anger’s still firm. Piled up bedclothes; it looks like they lost one; there’s nothing but waiting, there’s nothing but waiting, there’s nothing but waiting and meals.”
Several of the poems are written about birds which serve as metaphor for death and life, In Bird Fragments, she writes, “she, mistress, died crystalline with echoes of lead// Quali gives feast of Id;// her core of nuance, //her sonorous state, stilled.” Carr allows for the raw emotion of the narrative to take over, to speak for itself. The work is poetic without using convoluted language. The narrator experiences internal conflict about death and illness in What is Broken, “need for milk for grain the malleable brain what drugs do-sedate block stabilize” while ruminating on life and incorporating a bit of Gertrude Stein into the same poem. Stein says, “Philosophy begins when one stops trying to describe things” and that’s exactly what happens with the poems Carr has written; she lets the images emerge on their own. The narrative takes off while never over-attending to details that exist on their own plane.
Here, in these fragments and lines, life and death remain the focus. To write about serious issues without them becoming cliched, to look closely at the feelings attached to powerful life events and how they manifest in our hearts and minds can be incredibly challenging. Carr is not only equal to the task, she also manages to unearth a mental mindfield of emotion in these poems. In contemplating what it means to look inward, to reflect on what’s broken and what’s survived, the author also addresses a myriad of topics from conception, pregnancy, dreaming, life, birth, and waiting, to self-loathing, death, fear and grief. To produce a collection that so effortlessly encompasses a wide range of human emotion while pulling from one’s own personal experience (Carr’s own pregnancy and her mother’s impending death) make this work as organic as any of the writers who’ve influenced the author and this collection.
Sarah, Of Fragments and Lines was selected by Eileen Myles for the National Poetry Series in 2009.
To write with a discerning eye is a task best tackled by one whose perceptions are open to interpretation. Suzanne Buffam’s latest collection of poetry, The Irrationalist demonstrates how the narrative can be both unique and whimsical in voice and its meditations on philosophy. The upbeat commentary on topics (ranging from the cosmos to flags and paradise) and the manner in which the narrator bounces Greek philosophy, muses, and physics are what give life to the pages in this collection.
Buffam likes to teeter on the edge of being comedic while infusing her poems with lyrical witticisms that seem to allure the reader into the clutches of a word-belly, a head whirling with contradictory thought. To juxtapose the irrational mind (thoughts, feelings, theories) with rational tendencies (mind, actions, etc) is to remain acutely aware of the dichotomy presented when plucking away at the tension that exists between the two. What’s captured in the pages are images of heartbreak (“I don’t have a costume//Past lives clutter my closet//A long way from home”) and visual inventories of what Buffam calls, “Abstract Fires” (#1. Candy Canes, tinfoil, flamenco guitar//#9. Termites, teacup, artist, microscope.)
This collection questions its questions by acknowledging the tendency for self-doubt and insecurity as it exists in the mind of the narrator.
“Often in a quandary I ask myself what would a wise man do? A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees, said a wise man, and when I look out at the spruce I wonder what a wise man sees. A wise man might laugh at such questions. As for me I laugh often, but I don’t get the joke.”
One’s intellect and common sense are questioned with regard to commonplace thought and ponderings on actions taken, on roads less travelled. The first section of the book divides itself up between “Little Commentaries” (On Parakeets), “Practice concentrating on an empty stomach// Practice making love with a terrible sunburn//Practice walking with little dried peas in your shoes//Sprinkle sand in your food//Sprinkle salt in your tea//Pitch your tent in a howling gale//Soon you will be ready to live in the house on the hill//Nest door to the house full of parakeets,” (On the New Darkness) “What’s wrong with the old darkness?” and (On Common Sense) “Aristarchus of Samos//Sealed his fate as a footnote//By pointing out the movement of the Earth around the Sun//To Aristotle of Stagira//Who Pointed out birds in the sky//Keeping pace with it.” Buffam leaves nothing unturned in these pages as she reflects on fact, laments heartache and keeps her reader curious as to what lies in wait for us on the next page.
The Irrationalist prys open creaky doors to internal mysteries and waxes philosophical about the inner-workings of the mind and heart all while putting what is and would could be under the microscope. Buffam sums up what I hope each of us might find in the poems that exist in The Irrationalist. “I cannot tell you what I saw//My catastrophe was sweet//And nothing like yours//Although we may sip//From the same//Broken cup all afternoon.”
**Check back in two weeks for reviews on Evan Lavender-Smith’s “From Old Notebooks”, Bruce Covey’s, “A Glass is not a Liquid” and Alissa Nutting’s, “Unclean Jobs for Women.”