NEIL LEADBEATER Reviews
Sarah - Of Fragments and Lines by Julie Carr
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2010)
There is a Biblical undertow to this collection. Sarah is representative of all mothers. Carr makes reference to this in a statement included in the press material for the new book: “In the Torah, Sarah is the mother of the Jews, the mother, therefore, of mothers.” The Fragments and Lines that follow are the substance of the book. Biblical narrative or phrases redolent of such narrative appear from time to time to inform the text. In "Landlocked Lines," for example, the line
give me a child or I will die, she said
echoes Rachel’s plea in Genesis 30.1
and in "Lines To Scatter," the last words in the book are an adaptation of Daniel 12.3.
Several of the poems operate on the principle of the “group of three” which again is reminiscent of Biblical patterns of narrative. In "Lines of Refusal," for example:
To the oldest son a scythe, to the second a cock, to the third a cat
Must avoid rivers, strivers and voyeurs
Not gather, not tether, not tie …
…No friend, no grammar, no end…
…No wish, no fission, no sign.
There is a threefold structure to the book as well. Carr divides her poems up into titles that are either fragments, abstracts or lines. To my mind the lines are the most successful poems in the book because they are the most comprehensible. The fragments and the abstracts really do verge on fragmentation and abstraction and, as a result, are not very accessible to the reader.
Word play and soundscapes abound throughout the text and show a considerable amount of ingenuity. "Inward Abstracts" begins with the words
To enter or to inter.
Both rely on the earth. Terra: which in turn rests on thirst.
In "Self-Loathing Lines" there is a wonderful soundscape to be heard in
The imaged aged inner body.
Surprising images break through these poems at times. "Lines for the New Year" opens with this one:
Consider the light, how it offers itself. To the roofs, to snow
as done-for as a shoelace in a dog’s mouth…
and in "City Gravity Fragments" Carr writes of
skylines like silk
bras for businesses
In this collection, it is the lines and phrases that are the fascination. The narrative, which is sometimes made clearer in the prose sections, is an extended reflection on a death and an entrance. The loss of a loved one is captured most poignantly in these lines from "Grief Abstracts":
Since I lost her I stored her like ore in my form as if later I’d find her, restore her.
The deaths and entrances theme finds its connection in the poem "Sarah" where the poet clings to the belief that
if she is pregnant the baby will keep her mother alive.
Carr grounds these poems with references to the natural word—birds, soil, water and sky. More is needed, however, to draw the reader into her world. I longed for a greater degree of clarity in a text that deals, for the most part, with abstraction.
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, essays, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011) The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013) and The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, Bristol, England, 2014).