Dissecting the Imagined Past

knight

Credit: Pixabay

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

Hear Claire Davis: The Art of the Story

On March 11 at 7:30pm on Pacific University’s Campus, award-winning novelist Claire Davis’ will read from her work. (Get Silk Road Issue 1, Volume 1 to read Claire’s essay, “Stick by Stick” and her interview on the role landscape plays in her fiction.)

Claire Davis’ hard-biting prose and unwavering honesty make her fiction and nonfiction capture what it means to be human. Her writing is finely made and full of surprises. We see ourselves in her characters and pull hard for her to show them surviving their mistakes – which they sometimes do. Davis tells a great story with stunning craft and delivery. When she reads aloud audiences have been known to listen so hard they forget to breathe.

Claire Davis’ first novel Winter Range was listed among the best books of 2000 by the Washington Post, Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Seattle Post, The Oregonian and The Christian Science Monitor, and was the first book to receive both the PNBA and MPBA awards for best fiction. Her second novel Season of the Snake, and her short story collection Labors of the Heart were both released to wide critical acclaim.

Join us! We’ll hear Claire at 7:30pm in Taylor Auditorium in Marsh Hall. www.pacificu.edu for directions

Bonnie Jo Campbell Genre Jumps at Her Reading

Assistant Editors and Bonnie Jo Campbell (lower front center) show off tattoos featuring her book American Salvage, nominated for a National Book Award

Silk Road Assistant Editors and undergrad writers gathered at Pacific U to hear Bonnie Jo Campbell read from her work and discuss how she moves from poetry, fiction and nonfiction when exploring the same subject, in this case the beating and robbing of a man near her home in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We loved the display of her artistry and her electric reading of a short story from her collection, Women and Other Animals.
And, yeah, we dug the tattoos, too!