Friday, April 11, 2008

A Review: pseudophakia by Julie Carter

by Julie Carter
$7.00 (print)
$0.85 (.pdf)

Among clarity, coquettishness, and loss lies pseudophakia’s poetry. A collection by Julie Carter available at, pseudophakia blends clear language with layered and complex imagery. The first outstanding poem in the collection is “Message in a Bottle,” folding the pastoral with the deconstructive beneath its stride. This is immediately followed by an unfolding in the poem “Amnestos” where the speaker realizes the past that she was is no longer the present that she is – Carter’s juxtaposition of disparate poems with similar language emphasizes the “eye within an eye” of poems implied by her title; not only is Carter a capable poet, she is a masterful arbiter of mood. This duality is expressed in her poetry’s absolute insistence of otherness.

In poem after poem, Carter re-expresses her since of being an alien mammal – especially in relation to birds – her speakers cannot see them fall, nor can they forecast birds’ flight because they are bound to the earth. If the collection is taken to be univocal (and how can it not be?), then one imagines the ur-speaker through the frame of “Focus group:”

The universe is robed
in blur for me, in edges ill-defined
and creeping closer. Even ghosts decay
into a shadow family, unlined
by my old astigmatic disarray.
And when they edge in closer, they explode
to pixel-ciphers. I can't read the code.

These poems are not merely reflections of mammals longing to be birds, but insights of a half-sighted person seeking a connection with the surrounding shadows. Through all the poems of death and loss, “The death of a saint,” “Sprung,” “Pick-up sticks,” and “Molt,” it is clear that a death is not worth grief because of the absence of the body but because of the absence of connection.

Halfway through the collection, Carter leaves her modern pastoral scenes and begins a series of fairy-tale inspired poems: “Twinkle,” “Three blind mice,” “There was a crooked man,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” “The boy who cried,” “Three little pigs,” Red riding,” and “Blue boy.” These poems are each connected by a sense of the animation and malignancy of nature – Red Riding Hood is delivered to the wolf by the trees, and Little Boy Blue is suffocated by the cows he drives daily.

The antagonistic relationship between humanity in nature marks a shift from dealing with loss in the first half of pseudophakia to the viscerality of a father/husband’s death in the second half – beginning with the poem “He ate Richard Cory’s bullet.” Each of these poems is the reciprocal of the line from “Antiseptic:” “mortality / is cleaner when there’s no one there to see.”

Carter’s final poem, “Steep,” ties itself back to “Message in a Bottle” – only this time it is not Ohio folding underneath the speaker but “the hillside flinch[ing] underneath her heel.” With this poem’s concluding lines “I brew you in the darkness of the stream,” pseudophakia becomes a massive hysteron proteron in which poems dealing with loss, interpreting loss, and experiencing loss come to us in an inversion of the natural order – with Carter’s poems we are healed before we are wounded – which is how Carter paints humanity in her book of poems named for planting the artificial in the place of the natural.

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