by Yerra Sugarman
“Better the hard / unreachable pain / in a phantom limb / than this senseless / sleeping flesh,” Patricia Carlin writes with the distinctive freshness and wit, playfulness and wisdom, irreverence and awe of her debut collection Original Green . Innovative with craft and subject matter, she builds her poems from understandings and oscillating truths that the seeming contradictions of paradox can engender, as in ‘Evening. Or Morning.' where Carlin reveals that “along the fault there's periodic slippage… / Grays bleed out beyond the picture's edge.” She takes into account the resonance a word's multivalence can achieve (“hard,” “senseless,” “morning”) and comprehends the revelatory precision of aphorism. Carlin also conjures the previously unsaid with vivid imagery and surprising tropes like the box turtle, a symbol for the book itself, for home, the Platonic cave, a whole/hole that is Nothingness, origin and return, “the voyage out… a homecoming,” for Being exceeding trope and reality confounding representation. Thus she considers how pointless physical existence is when sheltered from difficult feelings comparing it to the inaccessible, yet meaningful, pain of the spirit, unknowable but through faith. Her poetry, unmitigated by the facile irony contemporary poets often employ, transports the reader to epiphany with its attention to the material world. Carlin, poet/thinker/mystic/seer, pleads for the fugal presence of the metaphysical, positing an immaterial reality that transcends appearances, yet streams simultaneously in counterpoint with the physical: “Like snow dissolving / Like a single flake falling to join the one undifferentiated white sheet.” She refers to this polyphony with wit and awe in ‘Never Together, Never Apart,' a poem comprised of two columns that can be read separately or together and metamorphose into prose poetry: “it's all the same to us—the music of chance, of dissonance, of harmony—a fugue only we can hear.”
Bridging the temporal and spiritual, Carlin asks poignantly: “If ghosts / have no bones / what do I feel when they hold me?” Although she is well-versed in the history of ideas, invoking Heraclitus (the “weeping philosopher”), Plato, Berkeley and Boethius, Carlin never merely explicates philosophy, but rather embodies thought and perception so that her poems enact awareness, rediscovering Being, things-in-themselves, as when silence is a trope for the unchanging and sound for flux of matter: “All around / a river of noise is flowing through silence. / The grass / is dripping with wild white / trumpet-shaped flowers… / You don't come from here to go back / you are here. ” Carlin's translucent language, prosodic skill and invention with such forms as sestinas, add to the inevitability of her poems. Through what Heidegger termed Angst , she discovers our finiteness, our radical Nothingness, “that we are meant to die.” And although her paradigmatic Eve sows “discontent, spreads groundless rumors / of a lost original green that no one made,” the poet understands “what remained constant / …turned out to be the original point / of departure…”
A scholar of 16 th and 17 th -century literature, Carlin experiments with and develops the line of the Metaphysical poets—especially Herbert; Emerson's Transcendentalism; Dickinson's lyric compression; Oppen's Objectivism; and what Stevens called “American Sublime.” Other poets with whom her work discourses are Anne Carson, Elaine Equi, Marie Ponsot and Marilyn Hacker. Patricia Carlin is an innovative poet with a mature vision and voice; her path promises to be distinct.
BIO: Yerra Sugarman's first collection of poems, Forms of Gone , was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in 2002. Her articles have been published in the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature , and her poems have appeared in The Nation , Barrow Street and, recently, in 100 Poets Against the War . She has taught creative writing at the Pratt Institute, the City College of New York, and she is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Humanities at New York University.