Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Jay Robinson
Dear Editor,

When D.H.Tracy writes of Cate Marvin's Fragment of the Head of the Queen ["Four Takes," September 2008], "for all the presence of the poems, one is left in mind of what they cannot talk about rather than what they can. I can infer only in general terms what she feels—frustration, rage, disappointment, righteousness—even though the book is principally about her feeling," he no doubt accurately summarizes the book. However, Tracy arrives at this conclusion by way of at least one false assumption, while also misunderstanding the purpose behind Marvin's ambiguities. Let me be clear: I'm not accusing Tracy of being callous or capricious. In fact, his review taught me a few things about Marvin's second book. As Tracy deftly says, "her style is comprised partly of ancillary, thrown-off gestures—the lines are bristly and seem to radiate from the armature of the poem rather than be it, like sparks flying tangentially off a grinding wheel."

However, when Tracy turns playful at one point, he makes a mistake: "The book is part voodoo doll, to be sure—I suspect when it came to press some ex-boyfriends somewhere got spontaneous nosebleeds." Not only is this a stereotypical characterization, it is a false one as well, because it assumes that the speaker of the poems is Marvin herself. While the poems might be rooted in previous personal experiences, nothing explicit or concrete ever connects the subjects of her poems—whether male or female—to any real ex-boyfriend, because the characters have been mythologized. In fact, Marvin's poems are successful precisely because they remain committed to an aesthetic that believes in what Tracy finds unsettling. She writes narrative without a center, poems that prove more true to life because their speakers and plot lines wander in the gray areas, in the places, as Tracy says, where she can explore "what [we] cannot talk about."

Wooster, Ohio

Originally Published: October 24, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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