Mnemosyne, The Long Traverse by Carolyn Clark. Finishing Line Poetry, 2013.
Review by Alex Brown
What first drew me to Carolyn Clark’s chapbook, Mnemosyne, The Long Traverse was the title and the cover. I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but I looked it up and suddenly some of the poems started making a lot of sense. Mnemosyne, was the Greek goddess of memory and mother to the other muses. My first thought was that this chapbook would delve into a journey of memory or reach antiquity one way or another. In fact, what Clark does throughout the book is discuss much of her family and home life, often directing poems to members of her family. Some poems dedicated in the epigraph “to Archie” or “to Sarah,” even in the poem entitled “To Montale,” where the epigraph reads “after a family dinner argument regarding poetry”. Clark makes it clear that these poems invoke deep rooted memories of her family and life. Aside from family, Clark seems to note the concepts of living and dying in her poetry as well, commenting on age and maturity.
For me, the chapbook didn’t start out on a strong note. The opening poem, “Of kerchiefs waving,” seemed to me a bit fragmented and abstract. The poem reads very simply “Mine tied to my bag. / Both of yours flew / silently to some god we have known.” What’s cool about this poem is the literal image the reader gets when seeing a handkerchief fly away while one stays secure. In a metaphorical sense, as she describes in the epigraph, the poem concerns her leaving her parent’s home. Where the poem loses me is with the idea of “some god we have known.” To me, this line is very abstract, especially since later on, she includes a poem entitled “Ammons, Ibis, Thebes,” in which all of these are deities. Why not include a specific god here considering they have lived in the same house?
As Clark’s reviews on the back of her chapbook point out, she does have quite a way with words that make her poems sound beautiful and thought-provoking. For instance, in the poem “Homeric Mornings,” the last stanza includes the line “In dusty August / I rise early, / remembering / the earth’s thirst.” Or the poem “Daedalus: the decent” reads “Just so our faith, transparent, / reappears below, with the bubbling / of a crystal brook, running, / running home.” Both of these lines have a deep beauty about them that paints a lovely image in the mind of the reader. As for the structure, Clark seems to prefer tercets over other forms, perhaps due to the uncomfortable subject of memory and loss thereof. Perhaps she tries to distinguish an off kilter read where thoughts don’t feel complete. Most of the other poems are written with fairly regular (if not, then predictable) stanzas.
Overall, Carolyn Clark’s Mnemosyne provided an interesting read for me. Often times I felt conflicted with her use of abstractions and very personal life details that readers have no way of identifying with. But there’s no doubt that she has a way with words that resonate with the reader despite being disconnected from the story the poems tell.
Alex Brown is a senior at Carroll University.