Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Julie Carr, Rag

Though I have answered your questions about the molestation of children
and have offered a definition of rape

Though I have invented a blue-skinned bath-witch who turns your
            bathwater to ice
and a benevolent squirrel who after spying through the window,
spirals down a tree to find your

mother, I have no true gifts beyond the gift of placing the pieces one
beside another all day and all night

until you wake up and I yank at your hair

With my brush

Boulder, Colorado poet Julie Carr’s fifth trade poetry collection, Rag (Richmond CA: Omnidawn, 2014), is an extended poem on fragments, writing on those torn into pieces, including an array of personal, political and social violence, as well as, the press release writes, “a politics of mourning.” Rag is a follow-up to her collections Mead: An Epithalamion (University of Georgia Press, 2004), Equivocal (Alice James Books, 2007), 100 Notes on Violence (winner of the Sawtooth Poetry Prize, 2009; Ahsahta Press, 2010), and Sarah-Of Fragments and Lines (a National Poetry Series winner; Coffee House Press, 2010). Even from the titles alone, one sees that violence appears as a thread throughout her published work, and through the book-length fragments that accumulate into the single-work Rag, Carr articulates and critiques an incredible amount of brutality, in hopes of understanding it, and possibly even ending it altogether. As she writes: “But if poetry’s sick it’s because it’s never enough to lie back in the snow, to let / the snow fall into your mouth and eyes. All children eat like that, like they’re / receiving a cure.” Hers is a work composed, in part, from the perspective of a parent of young children, specifically girls, and fearfully aware of the variety of ways young girls are assaulted in the wider culture. As she writes: “My county likes the torso gendered female, anyone’s hands, male necks, and / baby eyes [.]” In an interview conducted by Rusty Morrison, included with the press release, Carr responds to the title, writing:

Rag: a worthless or sensational newspaper, a discarded bit of cloth, a torn fragment, a slang word for menstruation, a degrading term for woman or girlfriend, a piece of syncopated music, to tease, taunt, or insult. All of these meanings were in my mind as I worked on this book. I wanted to write a book about women and girls, one that recognized vulnerability and suffering (which is not the same thing as victimhood). I wanted to think about how our films, myths, fairy tales, and other media represent girls and women as fragmented, broken, even mutilated. But I also wanted to re-appropriate the term for its power. It’s a nasty word, in a way, not that far from “rage.” Thought of as a verb, it speaks back with “ragged” rhythms. The rag takes marching rhythm and twists it, syncopates it, so the rhythm isn’t regular anymore. That breaking or teasing of rhythm lets a whole lot of things happen, a whole range of expression becomes possible, not all of it nice, not all of it regulated.

Through a measured, precise lyric rife with anxiety, grief, domestic abuse, parental fear and remarkable clarity, Carr weaves together a collage of brutal fragments to compose an articulation of what remains. Responding to real-life violence that surrounds us in culture, and surrounds her more directly, hers is a skill that allows the accumulation its incredible power, without allowing the text to completely overwhelm. More than a simple showcasing of examples, Carr’s is a text that works to critique such forces, pushing a book-length meditation of perfect lines and sections that explode with a remarkable force.

Today it’s like this: I am drugged under my coat and hot. The suicide book could not attract me and neither could string theory. I was attracted only by the slit in the curtain and the other drug. What is a mind that can do so much, know so little? I might give one up. The visit to the tax guy took Tuesday. Dragging his pug the flame goes out. His busy scarf lifts in a wintery spin. Next the duck pond is frozen, took the weight of five kids without comment. I thought it dicey and cautioned and grabbed for I’d read the stories of boys unable to find that hole. Thinner to the east and all the ducks convene in the one puddle remaining. Rang my searching friend to hear what she’d found. What is it to mend a mind? The site of the shooting’s where Laynie shopped. Mailman’s still cheery at the door with a jog.

Solid pound of meat’s in the box. I’ve read the stories and am still a constant pulse.

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