By Catherine Kyle
Another New Calligraphy, October 30th 2017
60 pages, $16
Reviewed by P.J. Dominiski
At some point the premise of multiple realities became culturally ubiquitous. Such conceptions of existence became prevalent enough to spring the confines of their blackboards and computer models—they began to permeate the sphere of culture, consequently becoming part of the framework through which we interpret our personal lives. I daydream often on the idea that every possible outcome of any given situation is canonized in its own iteration of reality. There’s a dimension in which I got that job, one in which I truly live according to who I feel like I am inside, yet another in which I hit the brakes a second earlier and am still driving that gold Jeep around. A multiverse starts to bloom before me, richer for the fact that my shortcomings and misfortunes here are not so everywhere. In her chapbook Parallel, Catherine Kyle poeticizes this concept—one that most of us only fantasize about.
What does poetry look like when that experiential life is native to the cultural condition of multiple realities? Kyle examines themes of loss, abuse, and identity in pieces all premised as alternate universes that often bend and even fracture the limits of reality as we know it. Kyle’s choice to uniformly begin the titles of every piece with “Ode to a Parallel Universe In Which…” does a great deal of work for the larger project of this chapbook. She renders within each poem an entirely new and unique universe—an exercise which affords her a considerable measure of freedom to explore so many existential shades of definitive moments in her life.
Take for example the poem “Ode to a Parallel Universe in Which You Convince Me to Stay.” Kyle opens this piece with a punchline, in the form of a couplet which reads “While I am kissing you/ the world ends.” This sardonic joke is a Camusian absurdity—that had the narrator stayed, the end of all things would have been the necessary consequence. This tone is consistent throughout Parallel, even as Kyle thematically considers identity, and femininity in particular.
In the free verse poem “Ode to a Parallel Universe in Which Heroism Goes Unrewarded” the narrator dictates: “You scoop me up like a kitten. I/ mewl a little and cling to your neck. My skirt spirals/ down, a loose wing.” Kyle handles conventional femininity playfully, at once earnest and paradoxical in the larger context of this conceptually dark collection of poems. Kyle’s universes are more than just foils for what might have been. In many instances, they become stages for some degree of reckoning, especially as she grapples with the theme of abuse.
In “Ode to a Parallel Universe in Which Violation is Weather” Kyle envisions a situation wherein abuses committed against the narrator are manifested as weather formations: “Winds generate when air seeks areas/ not so filled with pressure. Like this./ You must seek something in me. Something/ below my belt line.” I do not read this as a scene in which violations are as naturally occurrent as weather. It is far more damning. This universe is one in which violations are as cruelly indifferent as weather patterns, but most importantly, as readily visible. The narrator’s own exposure to abuse is repurposed into an exposure of the abuser, whose violations become glaringly indefensible—as materially demonstrable as weather.
The pages of Parallel each host their own vividly living worlds, resulting in a collection that feels robustly developed, in spite of its chapbook format. This work is essential. This is a lucid gallery of surreal, solipsistic universes which Kyle imbues with intense anger, arresting sensuousness, and cunning wit. To Kyle’s great credit as a writer, these pieces are as boundless in form as they are in content. She experiments with a wide array of original poetic forms from couplets to prose, demonstrating an authorial prowess that rivals her bustling imagination. What makes Kyle’s work here so significant is that it poeticizes the typically idle experience of fantasizing how alternate events could unfold. What is whimsical in the mind becomes serious and focused on the page—in the very act of assigning language to these theatrical musings. Parallel is a kaleidoscopic diary on the metaphysics of personal history.