Dissecting the Imagined Past
When I read a poem, the first thing I look for is strong and impactful imagery, something that captures my imagination and runs away with it. Kenyon Review’s latest online edition, The Poetics of Science, Laura Kolbe’s poem “Dissecting Blade” gripped my imagination tight and did just that. With a strong sense of how childhood can affect a writer in the present day through the opening “Every past-less child has a favorite false world,” I began to reflect on my own past and how it might have shaped my writing.
Right from the beginning, I’m carried off into the lands of make-believe that I traversed through my childhood, playing the hero wielding a sword of justice. The rich history Kolbe evokes, calling upon ancient Greece to more European trappings pulls me deep into the poem with lines such as “the violence of knights, or of more ancient men crouched/on dark heaths or Greek coasts,” drawing me away from the outside world. This displacement from reality is only temporary though, as the last stanza instigates a real world setting where the victorious sword is a scalpel, a weapon that can teach, a multipurpose tool.
Kolbe’s manipulation of imagery yanked me into her poem headfirst and had me back in time when I was in my own “favorite false world,” shifting me out of my current reality. Much like Silk Road’s upcoming issue on displacement in its variety of forms, Kolbe uses the concept of displacement as a nostalgic tool. The narrator is separated from their present and drawn into their childhood dreams to better illustrate the importance of their skills with the modern-day blade, a scalpel. Moreover, the phrasing of “every past-less child” signifies an even stronger sense of displacement from both the past and the present. It shifts the reader and the narrator from the present into a more imaginary past through the strong imagery and symbolism of a sword, which Kolbe uses to effectively invoke both a strength of will with the present occupation and the desire for something more. This desire for more stems from the “past-less” childhood and the idea of the imaginary realm which gives a “holy” sense to wielding the scalpel in the present. The idea of donning “the bridle and the robe” roughly mimics both a knight readying for battle as well as a priest readying for a sermon. These images then illustrate how dynamic and fluid the imagination can be, especially when relating it to Kolbe’s studies in medicine. And while the “sunless dream-light of the lab” isn’t the battle fervor setting of the past, it is still something that the narrator and reader can cling to and find immense meaning in.
For me, reading Kolbe’s poem opened quite a few doors into my own childhood and how the imaginary battles to save my kingdom relate to my current path as a writer. While I still look to the past and the worlds I created, my writing now looks towards all the possibilities in future fictional worlds and how they could affect me later. And while I may not wield a scalpel like a sword, my pens and pencils attempt that level of precision and mastery on the page.
By: Gillian Reimann