Poetry Readers Challenge discussion

Reviews 2012 > Eva-Mary by Linda McCarriston

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message 1: by Nina (new)

Nina | 1036 comments “According to Linda McCarriston, poetry exists for reasons beyond displays of linguistic or lyrical talent. It can address institutions of public power. It can serve as grounds for intellectual inquiry.” In McCarriston’s role as professor at the University of Alaska–Anchorage’s low-residency MFA program in creative writing, she encourages students “to consider poetry’s role as public speech.”
(interview in TriQuarterly, http://triquarterly.org/interviews/li...)

Eva-Mary is a powerful collection of confessional poetry, public speech at its finest. People frequently cringe when they see the word “confessional.” McCarriston does not rant and rave, the poems do not show even a tinge of self-pity; they are honest and brave in the details they reveal. She addresses interpersonal violence, incest, and childhood trauma openly and explicitly, demonstrating the power of poetry to witness and chronicle the imbalance of relationships.

These poems also reveal the pain caused by silence, as other adults in the speaker’s life fail to protect her.
I told
the priest in confession, the priest Father Welch,
who came to watch the Sox and drink iced tea.
He told me to mind my father.

The second poem in the collection is an exquisite snapshot of how our judicial system dealt with domestic violence in the 1940s and 50s.
Your Honor, when my mother stood
before you, with her routine
domestic plea, after weeks
of waiting for speech to return
to her body, with her homemade
forties hairdo, her face purple still
under pancake,
(To Judge Faolain, Dead Long Enough: A Summons)

“Dismantling the Castle” reads like a curse to an abusive father. It starts:
May all of your children be writers,
or makers of movies, or sculptors
and continues:
May they write your stories
for you, as you told them to their flesh,

Abuse tends to be generational, a way of life handed down through families. The collection begins and ends with the same poem, perhaps signifying the speaker’s refusal to continue the cycle. In “Hotel Nights with My Mother,” she talks about, as a new teacher, observing her students for signs of what she endured.
I was watching them all

for the dark-circled eyes,
yesterday’s crumpled costume, the marks

In an interview with Bill Moyers, McCarriston says “poetry allows the individual experience to strike like lightning through the collective institutional consciousness and to plumb the depths of actual communal experience so that what people don't want said in fact gets said, and in a way that is unignorable.”

The poems in this collection strike like lightning. McCarriston speaks the unspeakable in a voice that allows the anger and pain to come through, as well as the possibility of survival. Readers without similar personal history are equally engaged, as we are all part of a global community.


message 2: by Jen (new)

Jen (jppoetryreader) | 1568 comments Mod
Excellent review, Nina. I appreciated the link to the Moyers interview. I think McCarriston had some interesting points to make. You bring up two words in the review, "confessional" and "witness". Do you think of them being the same or different kinds of poetry? I was wishing I'd read it before so I could take one position or the other about it. From what she said in the interview, I get the impression her intention was more poetry of witness--a desire to expose an injustice and thus change the society.

message 3: by Nina (new)

Nina | 1036 comments I think of them as different. I think of confessional as being personal, and witness as being.....well, witness to something in society, an injustice, etc. but not necessarily something that happened to the speaker. A poem about a friend or neighbor who has been abused would be a poem of witness, a poem about abuse "I" suffered is confessional.

message 4: by Jen (new)

Jen (jppoetryreader) | 1568 comments Mod
So she has both in this collection? Or perhaps they all are both?

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