By Greg Bem
How deep can a poet dive into their own memory? What can selections of memory become when brought together, when affixed, when sharing the same intentional space? Nicole McCarthy, in her debut, cross-genre book, answers this question with prose, journaling, erasure, and generative text. The result is an experimental landscape that explores the psyche. Memories atrophic and recessed form an exquisite topography.
The poet touches upon what is lost, what is found, and what is present. The book is a mélange of possibility; it is a fixation of multiple realities. She grasps trauma, grasps the structural damage of Alzheimer’s, she brings to bear what can be cherished and finds niche intersections with what is necessary.
Memories that haven’t gone through the consolidation process yet are like clay waiting to dry—they’re vulnerable to malleability. (page 21)
As memory is fluidic and staggered, so is the McCarthy’s form. The book opens with paragraph of memory, the summoning process of the poet emerging from the first page. The work immediately becomes a blurry flux of the ecstatic, the pensive, and the sorrowful; tone is temporary and a totality.
Though it’s not ever announced, the book expands page by page by way of experiment and investigation. The poet’s process remains veiled, but McCarthy’s ethereal fragments further open and push through a commitment to exploration. An exploration of personal and shared history. Of family. Of past partners. Of self. But it is more than a mere push, more than force. The poet undergoes a process of submersion. Textual works transform into visual. Visuals splice back to text. Collage appears and disappears.
I was just crumpled bones in a moonlit room. (page 73)
Out of the pages comes consistency. Comes acceleration. Comes phasing forward. Comes being in sync. But occasionally a title appears: Manipulate. Falsify. Manipulate. Falsify. Otherwise, the reader is left submerged alongside the poet, the blur book-length, moment-to-moment, obfuscation adjoined to clarification.
McCarthy raises questions of authenticity and integrity; when we don’t have the whole picture, what does the whole picture we do have mean? How do we reconcile with memories spliced together? To what do we owe their thematic presence, their trends, the string of memories as a story that feels bound but is tenuous, always collapsing and restructuring?
Can I clear the state then? (page 36)
The poet’s prescription is one of endurance until the abstracted emergence arrives: by the book’s end, any sense of conclusion is warped and undesirable. The book as document, as entity, was always conclusive. Our journey through McCarthy’s archival wandering is satisfying because it is a whole, it has been put together, it was, poetically, summoned.
You can find the book here: https://heavyfeatherreview.org/portfolio/a-summoning/
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com