Emily Carr: Three new poems

She might be an American-born poet who lives and teaches in the United States, but I first became aware of Emily Carr during her time at the University of Calgary, so can’t help think of her, somehow, as a Canadian poet (these designations are so often arbitrary and rather fluid). She has been a finalist in seven national poetry competitions, most recently the National Poetry Series, and is the author of two trade collections — Directions for Flying, 36 fits: a young wife’s almanac (Furniture Press, 2010) and 13 ways of happily (Parlor Press, 2011) — as well as a number of poetry chapbooks, including & look there goes a sparrow transplanting soil (above/ground press, 2009) (reprinted in full in the anthology Ground rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003-2013), UP THE SHINBONE SUPERLATIVES (Horse Less Press, 2012), Resurrection Refrains: 22 Tarot Lyrics in the Form of the Yellow Brick Road (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and STAY THIS MOMENT: THE AUTOPSY LYRICS, ACTS 1 & 2 (Little Red Leaves, 2013). A further chapbook, STAY THIS MOMENT: THE AUTOPSY LYRICS, ACTS 3 & 4, appears later this year with Little Red Leaves, as does a third trade collection, whosoever has let a minotaur enter them or a sonnet (McSweeney’s, 2015). Emily Carr has a PhD from the University of Calgary, an MFA from the University of North Carolina, and later taught writing at the University of California Santa Cruz. In 2010, she was the Writer in Residence at the Jack Kerouac House, and has received fellowships from Camac Centre d’Art, Vermont Studio Center, Writers in the Heartland and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She currently directs the Low-Residency MFA at OSU-Cascades. As one recent iteration of her author bio informs:

She is passionate about the sexual politics of meat, the limits of Achilles’ honesty and the problem of Chaucer’s spring, unposted love letters, cannibal chickens and a ship too late to save the drowning witch. […] Craig Dworkin writes: “The gods here float, as they did for Pound, in the azure air.” Her second book of poetry, 13 Ways of Happily: Books 1 & 2, was the winner of the 2009 New Measures Poetry Prize. TC Tolbert writes: “If attention is an act of care (and I believe it is), then Emily Carr’s 13 Ways of Happily shows us why a love poet falls in love with the world – its wonders, inconsistencies, and failures.”

She herself describes the Low-Residency MFA she directs at OSU-Cascades as something that connects deeply to her own creative work, as well as something that extends from the work she was doing as part of her PhD in Calgary. In “13 Ways Of Distinguishing Our MFA,” a piece co-authored with Arielle Greenberg, they specifically describe the program as one influenced in part by the infamous Black Mountain College, although specifying that they “are not becoming the BMC, we are our own amazing, innovative, holistic experiment that is OSU-Cascades Low-Residency MFA. Now are we blindly replicating the BMC model; we are creating our own vision for a democratic, interdisciplinary, holistic curriculum. But it is crucial to give credit where credit is due.” As they explain:

BMC was a radical model for arts education. There aren’t that many out there: it was in a league of its own. It was a wild success in terms of its lasting influence and the collaborations, experiments and artists it fostered. Disproportionate to its small size, it gave rise to some of the most important artists and innovators of the 20th century: poets Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, nonfiction writer Francie du Plessix Gray, painters Cy Twombly and Willen de Kooning, choreographer Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage. And so it’s a major touchstone for the kind of program we want to be, for the way we want to distinguish ourselves.

Carr’s work favours the book-length unit of composition, utilizing a combination of fragment, collage and the sequence, numbering books and sections, extending a series of poems with theatrical structures and flair across quite a wide narrative canvas. Her poems are pinpoint, precise and remarkably open, reminiscent of the poem-essay extensions of Anne Carson for the way each of her book and chapbook-length works are composed with lyrical and narrative arcs, exploring in quick, abstract and exhaustive detail a particular story or thesis. Unlike Carson, Carr’s is a precision that includes a rich, fragmented lyric, and yet one that equally and openly explores love, loss, desire and heartbreak. In her essay “Rough Notes Towards a Feral Poetics of the High Desert,” composed for an ecopoetics anthology scheduled to appear next year, she writes:

I don’t know how inspiration happens for you, frankly I don’t know how inspiration happens for me; as a matter of fact, I’ve worked hard not to know what I’m doing so I can do it.

This much I can say: it’s  three-dimensional process, proceeding through experience, it involves all seven senses, mostly I have to be moving, on the move, I rarely write about the landscape I’m living in, in fact I don’t write about nature as a rule and I never limit myself to a single landscape or a single place, all of the spaces in which I’ve lived and lots of spaces I’ve never inhabited inform my work, even now, while Indian summer turns too soon to mountain winter I am writing with the Canadian Rockies, and the Monterey Bay, and the Outer Banks, and the cornfield testaments of the Midwest, and with burnt icebergs and flamingoes and wildebeest and feral cats and mammoths eating marigolds and jaguars with their cat eyes flashing and giddyup carousel horses and gods with too many arms and one without any. I prefer not to be located. I prefer not to presume that I can translate a place into the human landscape that is words. I want to be honest about the slippage, about the imaginative freedom it takes to really love a place, to honor all of its peculiar and paradoxical particularness, to give it the opportunity to be an actor (rather than simply acted upon) in the drama that is living, to see the beauty that is there despite our being there.

Why? Because I believe it is possible to make the world we are living in the world we choose to live in rather than the world that, simply, is. Because I believe the basic project of sentient beings is to grow the world. Because this is how we start making decisions that matter.

Sometimes I call the poems that come of this impulse fairytales; other times I call them science fiction. I always call them love poems.

Chosen by Cole Swensen as winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize, her 13 ways of happily, subtitled “books 1 & 2,” extend a thread from Directions for Flying, 36 fits: a young wife’s almanac of domestic dissatisfactions, references to sparrows, and such long threaded ideas and phrases carved and re-stitched in the most unusual ways; less a quilt than a rag-doll, stronger than the sum of its individual parts. So often new writing replicates what came before, but Carr is one of the few who actually makes the language sing and spread like new, twisting new light out of the endless dark. She teased us with the tagline, but might there ever be further books to her 13 ways of happily? Are these but the first two of eleven still to come? Or is she like the late Alberta poet Robert Kroetsch, and endlessly attracted, however the collage or quilt of her work might interconnect, to the possibility of beginnings?

you see how
easy it is...
the lonely
herself to
bobs out
broken up
& up, this
ness— (“draft 5, half a wishbone expressing / with broken breast the truth.”)

The stunning, articulate fragments of Carr’s poems etch their odd way into a narrative of sorts that almost work on the microscopic level: thousands of tiny pinpricks that accumulate into something larger, something unbelievably grand. When, in her 13 ways of happily, she writes, “aimless wasteful & drunk the sun is lunatic logic but lovely yes like / lemonjuice,” something happens, something that can’t entirely, immediately, be understood. The flurry of her language is, as the back cover attests, a “profound stillness,” one that reworks and reinvents into a broader, larger canvas, managing to somehow morph out into the entirety of her work, as each new publication potentially another fragment of something larger than itself. There is something of Robert Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes or bpNichol’s The Martyrologythe poem as long as a life—to Carr’s poetry, composing self-contained works that broaden all that came before. More recently, as she writes out the story of Achilles in the two-act STAY THIS MOMENT: THE AUTOPSY LYRICS, ACTS 1 & 2:

ACHILLES wants to get drunk, dance,
drive around, fuck. Against the full moon
belly he moves his toes, his teeth.

I shall Achilles says have my music
for nothing—



However it began it ended
like that: Achilles vows to be different,
& never at the mercy

of a woman.

The two sections that make up the short work are wonderfully self-contained, but how might a further chapbook volume containing two further sections (“acts”) later on this year extend what has already seen print? I am curious to see. Her poems fragment and stretch in such a way that everything might somehow interconnect; it is simply a matter of figuring out precisely how.

The three poems below are included in the forthcoming McSweeney’s volume of “divorce poems,” whosoever has let a minotaur enter them or a sonnet, a collection that will even launch with a specially brewed Minotaur Beer, “developed by the poet in collaboration with an Oregon microbrewery.” As the press release for the August 2015 launch offers: “How does a poet fall out of her marriage and back in love with the world? […] A singular flow of bewildering brilliance, Emily Carr’s swiftly flowing sequence of love poems—divorce poems, really—engages the very real problem of romance in an age of reality television, celebrity self-help, smart phones, student loans, and men who for all they love you don’t know how to love you (anymore).” 


                                               ) like a goldfish in a gladbag—


already the sky is drowning in its own translucent
metaphor. gravity endlessly in ambush. pronouns expand
like flesh to the emptiness.
rain falls in sheets, glazing a red wheelbarrow
for the hell of it. the first & last men breed
jaguars & gamma rays.
a woman sitting in an orange tree kills it to the ground.
in her intelligent fingertips, an elegant cigarette.
telephones ring over navyblue seas.
automobiles howl, heredity forms in a raindrop, wavering in
tongues of satellite & spacecraft,


                              the world



                                               ) lord/


salt water leaps like fried diamonds, tiny windows open & close in
the bird flap.
an alligator makes bass note brackets: b flat.
all the angels are thundery, or drunk.
in the salt flats, fried chicken
& juliet flowers,a string quartet of damselflies fishing from
shadows of translucent black/                                  prayer.
a fever trills in the fruit trees.
he flips a mooneyed mackerel. lord/


                              have mercy


                                               ) rot to the bottom soil of true


chickens & dogs enter milky graveyards.
a pine tree bounces off a yellow cloud. a weather balloon
mounts a lighthouse.an elegant man
in a black suit goes out, marking silhouettes.
telephones carry words underwater: dreamy.a tendon falls still curled
about the other questions.
the joint of bone,a dotted line.
in greasesodden buns burgers fold slightly over our thumbs.
we grow mistyeyed, nostalgic.
a wet alphabet trembles in our spine. what we
ate—who we ate—


                              & how we prevailed