Online Edition: Summer 2010

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 I Have to Go Back to 1994
 and Kill a Girl

 Karyna McGlynn

 Sarabande Books ($14.95)

 by John Jacob

Karyna McGlynn’s I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, the most recent recipient of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize, shows remarkable talent, even if it must be seen in the scrim of literary experiments performed long ago. McGlynn’s repeated use of columns of idioms and language eventually wears thin, since it was done definitively by Imagist and Objectivist poets and in more recent years by fiction writer Raymond Federman in his novel Double or Nothing (1972) and by poet John Ashbery in his famous “Litany” (1979). But an early poem in the book, "I Want to Introduce Myself, Not Quite Human" shows how sharply she can utilize the technique: a reader can take in the dual closing lines of "spirit slaking from / this bleached body" and "spirit slaking from / damp shorts on a dock, my elver / in the gut of a roller" with equal sense.

McGlynn goes back to that well a few times too many, but is more successful when she allows her sense of image to rally intact around either shocking or mundane elements: "its peg-legs rested on pure membrane // a girl just stood in her underwear / ran the tips of her fingers over her ribs." Halfway through the volume, she starts to explore other voices, as in "They Shared Her on a Chicken White Sheet," a poem in which McGlynn introduces Erin, a swing dancer from Minneapolis whose ankle tattoo fascinates two boys. The poems that utilize character later in the book work best when they exhibit specificity, as in "A Girl Bellycrawls into My Room in Weeds," which ends: "she can only make one long milk blanched face / I mean she's down under the dust ruffle / and taps 17 times on my bedpost, which is a wheel . . ."

Many of McGlynn’s poems are delicious to read, suggesting and selective: "and she only half in the shell of this time / an aneurysm opens its trap, or the devil says: / you will never know her, you never even happened". From its insouciant title to its final words, this debut marks Karyna McGlynn as a poet to watch.


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