Objects from a Borrowed Confession
The intimacy of reading a book can be likened to the experience of a confessional, be it in a church, at the bar with friends, or in bed with a lover. The telling is directed, often hushed, shared in implied confidence. The act of confessing creates a feeling of being chosen. And in essence, it is. In the moment you are reading them, the words in a book create this same sense—though hundreds, thousands, millions of people may be reading it, or have read it, or will read it. With reading, however, it is you who have done the choosing, of whose confession to receive.
I am grateful for the choice I recently made to read Julie Carr’s new book, Objects from a Borrowed Confession (Ahsahta Press). Of it, it could be said that it is itself about confession. But in the process of following this human thesis, Carr has not created a poetry book in the confessional genre, but has given over the contents of a life, as poets and writers do, to the act and idea of confession, with its tandem regret and forgiveness, envy and apology, its Janus head of reflection and visioning. This acupunctural book emerges what we already know in our tissue and chronic pains: “There are, in life, competing passions. And perhaps we choose which ones to live in, or perhaps we only narrate the past” (15). This is, for better or worse, often the case, because, as Carr discloses, “…memory is the only way we know we really were the children we were, and not some other child crawling under a table or dancing on the bed to some other musical score, memory is, in fact, the one method we have for proving the existence of time [. . .]” (84).
Objects continues in Carr’s tradition of dispatching the reader to the powerful yet often wounded and worried world of women. Following the glistening and unraveled thread that also runs through her previous books, 100 Notes on Violence (Ahsahta Press, 2010), Rag (Omnidawn, 2014), and Think Tank (Solid Objects, 2015), she explores the generative lives of mothers, lovers, colleagues, daughters, caretakers, teachers, encapsulated in one line from the latter book: “The beginning of a woman with which another woman with which another woman with which another woman begins” (15). In Objects, however, it feels more personal, and also more philosophical. The straightforward way she drills with words is commensurate with the breathtaking way she unveils the truth with deceptively simple observations: “When two women stare at one another through the body of another, the gaze can be a symptom of pain or of its opposite” (24).
St. Augustine by way of Lyotard. Trayvon Martin by way of Levinas. These are some of the paths we also walk with Carr. These are the dry streams we maneuver. Attempting to fill them (pronouns to names) with life (again), or to understand how self operates, in and outside of its self, in and outside of error: “I began to sense that she was not what she seemed. Or she was exactly that, exactly what she seemed. Was a ‘seeming’ self. All aura. Like a saint. This was good: she was a vortex around which other people circled. We would call this community, but I don’t know how common we were, how caring” (89).
Twenty-one epistles make up the first section of Objects, and these letters set the tone for the whole book, which though the form changes considerably throughout, is, in its 160 pages, itself an epistle. To whom is the question that need not be answered definitely, as it variegates and reflects. For when any of us confesses, aren’t we, at the most basic, releasing it from inside in order to stop the leakage, which may manifest as guilt or unfinished need? And in the sharing, we create a story of something originary, in the process inevitably changing it: “. . . this historian in his beige pants and yellowish jacket says he doesn’t go by the concept of truth but instead, verisimilitude—which he defines as the spinning of tales we can believe in” (38). For in each secret kept or told, each observation made or given, we betray ourselves, our reality, which is little more than perspective with an indefinite article a.
Twenty sentences comprise the fourth section, “Destroyed Works (or, Expanded Cinema).” These sentences make up 18 stanzas of prose, void of punctuation, save a few dashes, question marks, and periods, which end stop. In the “Destroyed Works 2” section, one finds only four very long sentences, where Carr continues this endeavor of sentencing, but here they are fuller, more compound, using the comma to attach, to stretch and extend. The run-on seeks to locate something, moving toward it, gaining momentum, until it runs so fast it must fall forward, and finally, land: “One way to see an object, even a moving one, like a woman on crutches arriving for coffee with her mother and siblings, is detail by detail, first a blur of grey and then the thud and creak of the crutch—[. . .]” (83). And for Carr, words are also moving objects—part of a created and experienced world, whether being read with saccadic or smooth-pursuit movements.
Of the 64 lines of “The Light of Is Is: On Anger,” only six are end-stopped. Presented as propositions à la Wittgenstein’s writing à la Frege, Carr creates her own poetic truth-value and sense here. The six lines that are end-stopped, do so with erotemes or exclamation points. There are no periods here, except within the lines, and few there. It is an end already in search of being a beginning.
Objects, like all of Carr’s work, is genre-defying. She shifts forms so beautifully, she looses each poem / series of poems into the world via the page, and simultaneously almost re-contains, or captures, if you will, the essence that cant’ be caught—this mastery does create something of the magnificent “I” and yet punctured with scholarship and necessary lyric remove, that I forgot I was reading, and at times, simply felt cradled by scorched earth—a Mendieta silhouette, which in its swathe- and grave-like hug and consequent deprivation, makes the senses come more to life. In the act of having chosen to hear this particular confession, I must admit a hint of transference.
“It’s been said that poetry can reverse the movement of time—for when you get to the end of the line, you have to go back to the beginning again” (118). This can also be said the way we tell our own personal narratives, for the way we shift and wiggle within the verisimilitude we call our realities, needing the past to alter in order to redirect the futures we are writing.
In order to grow a story, we must find a beginning, which often comes from the remains of something else, and like the unhearing severed ear in David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet (1986), which begins the investigation that unfolds dark songs and story, Carr understands the place of almost within any narrative, as a sort-of-Schrodinger’s Cat, invoking it as “[a] poem, as yet unwritten, threatening to stay so, most fragile, most necessary: chip of an eggshell, lying in the grass” (95) . . .
To borrow, and alter, Carr’s line: The beginning of a poem with which another poem with which another poem with which another poem begins.
Mullin resides in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Bill, and her dog, Beatrice. She holds a BA in English from Drake University; an MFA in Poetry from University of Nebraska; and a PhD in Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought from European Graduate School.