Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, January 11, 2013

Caryl Pagel, _Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death_

AN EXCELLENT BOOK--in fact, I think I am going to try to review it elsewhere in some more worthy corner of the internet, but I have a Poetry Week to keep rolling as well, so I'll say just a few things here.

Like a couple of my favorite individual poems of recent years, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's "The Informant" and Peter Gizzi's "On What Became of Mathew Brady's Battle Photographs," Pagel's poems in this volume (her first, I believe) evoke encounters between traditional conceptions of the supernatural and modern scientific inquiry.  Though the two tendencies are diametrically opposed in most circumstances most of the time, when 19th century investigators tried to photograph the spirit, or document appearances of ghosts, the two ordinarily distinct conceptions of the universe trundled uneasily allied down the same road for a bit. There is something of the spirit of William James or W. B. Yeats in Pagel's book--or of, what the hell, Robert Fludd, or Paracelsus, or Robert Burton.

Formally the poems are utterly contemporary, disjunctive, paratactic, with frequent appropriations and re-fashionings, yet they magically exude the air of an attic full of daguerrotypes, yellowed envelopes with spidery script,  and butterfly collections.  Consider the long-ish poem "The Sick Bed"--its poetic feels perfectly contemporary in its silences and absences, yet contains no word that would have been unavailable to Emily Dickinson.

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