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Karinne Keithley Syers Reviews Julie Carr’s Electric Fifth Book
Polymath Karinne Keithley Syers reviewed Julie Carr’s fifth book of poetry, Rag (Omnidawn 2014) for Boston Review! Tyrone Williams has writ of the prophetic Rag that “the twin towers of the American empire, fathers and husbands, fall onto the bodies of children and women.” More from Syers on this “organism,” as she calls it:
As public form, a vibratory nation poem must offer images of power. Carr attends to power as a physical phenomenon—not a concentrated possession of a governing center or feature of a social contract, but a mundane, structural aspect of municipal space. In the book’s opening pages we read:
Alcohol sped to my eyelids
How power moves when hidden underground
A red flag marks buried electricity
But I’d thought it was buried everywhere
Buried power becomes one of the book’s recurrent figures. In one section Carr retells one of Grimm’s dark fairy tales, in which a stepmother cooks a boy into a stew and feeds him to his unsuspecting father. The daughter, “crying tears of blood,” carefully wraps the bones and buries them beneath a juniper tree.
Then the tree began to move—how power moves when hidden underground.
inside of the body—
This is just one of Carr’s many recapitulations, joining electrical lines with vital force, joining the growing tree with her description of verse as a “casting and recasting of the inside of the body.” From the opening page, violence has been both a condition of life and a component of renewal. Carr’s first epigraph, from Barbara Guest, reads, “I wonder if this new reality is going to destroy me.” Her second, from Guillaume Apollinaire, concludes, “O Tattered-one the rivers mend you.” Carr’s registration of violence and renewal—the reality that destroys and the river that mends—shows writing (another way of placing pieces next to each other) to be one means of surviving as a civic body, one way to “cast” the experience of inhabiting the larger structures of which we are a material part.
Near the beginning of the book, one line hangs high on a page: “—but is grieving a politics?—” The question is answered with white space and a single line below: “a civic lyric on the house floor.” Is the floor on which the lyric lies that of a private home or the House of Representatives? Is it on the floor to make demands—as grieving becomes a politics for parents of our nation’s many victims of violence—or simply to be discarded underfoot? Carr doesn’t answer these questions explicitly, but she suggests that grief can be demanding and discarded, useful and useless, and also none of these. In her vision political life is only one of the many forms of organic life, which itself has no political argument.
A gorgeous review, and we can’t wait to read the book. Read the review in full at the Boston Review.