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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On Karen Garthe

Karen Garthe -- "Victorian Reading" in Jacket 13
Three Poems in Between A & B
Five Poems in Word for Word
Standout in LA. in Omniblog

Garthe's primary investment is in associative and sometimes even elliptical poems formed with indented lines, the atypical use of punctuation and other 'signs', the use of italics, and an unusual use of capitalization. She also makes use of a lot of apparent concrete images that become complicated and not easily resolved.

What I've said so far is true of a lot of poets. What seems to be Garthe's personal and particular relation to poetry?

We could begin with enjambment In "Victorian Reading" only two lines end with a punctuation mark. The result is to shift our attention from one teasingly elliptical image to the next. For instance, the sixth and seventh lines are connected, "monument" and "preservations" cover similar semantic ground, but the specific connections are not spelled out. She keeps us from forming strict images, in this instance, by the off-beat use of adjectives. What is a "fanning" preservations? an "image" monument?

Perhaps the most interesting adjective comes at the end of the poem, "solid" charade. I feel this states what the poem has been doing. It feels fairly solid with a cursory reading, but the closer you get to it the more fluid and unsettled it becomes. Many of the references are not clear. In the 11th line, does "its" refer to "intervention" or "phantom"? In the fifth line does the word "sift" reference "rain," "leeward," or an understood you? Or does it connect up with the next line?

Garthe does not, of course, give us enough information to answer these questions. So she clearly intends for us to notice the questions the poem creates and look elsewhere for a way of coming to it. We could consider the title, but I frankly can't see its relation to the poem.

The poem itself seems forboding: possible negative harbingers abound -- 'pugilists', 'emaciated', 'barriers', 'fugitives', 'Tendrils', 'ravine', 'poor', 'low', 'Professing'. There is also combination of human and natural words in this list. And rain is coming down. In one way, this poem may be investigating the ways we try to read nature and to bend it to our conceptions. There is a frustration with this "professing," and it would seem to lead to a "charade," a "coining / breath off the pond."

Garthe lineation helps to create this possible reading by giving many important words multiple references and by moving us through the undulations of perception and its frustration.

Whew. That took longer than I thought it would. I guess I should just concentrate on one more by Garthe. Perhaps "Frayed Escort" would be good, since it's the title poem of a collection that won a prize.

In this poem right away, in the very title, we have an unsettling adjective/noun combination. I don't know what precisely "frayed" might be getting at, but it certainly has a negative connotation.

Etymology might help here. "Escort" is derived from French, Italian, and Latin words, and it comes from ex+corrigere — to make straight. Now, if we take this into consideration, a "frayed" escort could not make straight. And, in the contemporary meaning of the word, to accompany, this escort would not be too good.

In fact, the entire poem has a haunted feeling. It seems to be a lyric of lost love — "Old Love takes a sibling / Companion." This line may or may not be referring to an ex-lover falling in love with an actual sibling, but it clearly points, given the context, to the pain of the speaker who has lost her love to someone close to her.

Words pertaining to numbers also pop up: "odds" is repeated, "mortgaged" appears and "ransoming" ends the poem.

The speaker, in a profound sense, does not feel secure, she is mortgaged and ransomed. She is vulnerable.

What is most interesting to me about Garthe's poetry is that she often breaks off thoughts and images in mid-formation, and immediately directs her concerns to something that is not clearly connected to what comes before. While we shouldn't exaggerate the similarity between what her poems do and how we think, in some ways it does mirrors our thought patterns, our hesitancies, our questionings, our necessary openness to fluidity. And our insights, which come suddenly, always provisional, and always open to adjustment, and readjustment, and forgetting.

The definitive is an invention of the conceptualizing mind, which itself is an invention.

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