Dissecting the Imagined Past


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

Showcased Writer: Vivian Wagner

vivian_wagner_photoInterviewed by: Bre Hall

“Concealed Carry” from Issue 12

Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Pinch, Zone 3, and McSweeney’s, and she is the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music.

When did you find writing? Or, when did it find you?

I began writing on a manual typewriter when I was a teenager in the California mountains, describing pine trees and blue skies, granite and willows, chickens and dogs. I loved the magic of words, the way they both reflected and created the world. Growing up in a sometimes chaotic household, I found refuge in writing. It was a way for me to make sense of things, to order things, to question things, to shape my reality.

What motivated you to write your nonfiction piece, “Concealed Carry”, and submit it to Silk Road?

Since my father’s suicide several years ago, much of my writing has circled around his death, and “Concealed Carry” is part of that work. I was estranged from him for a number of years, but he always read my published writing, and sometimes I’d get emails and letters from him commenting on or reacting to my essays. Now that he’s gone, my writing still feels like a conversation with him. I sent this essay to Silk Road in part because I liked the name of the journal. I’ve always loved the way that the Silk Road, as a historical and mythological entity, breaks down boundaries between notions of “East” and “West.” My father was from Hungary, and I’m fascinated by the way that region is a crossroads between Asia and Europe. Since this is an essay about my father, Silk Road felt like a good home for it.

“Concealed Carry” can be considered a shorter piece of writing. Did you find it difficult or easy to keep the story brief?

I feel most comfortable, lately, with flash nonfiction and lyric essays. I like their momentary nature, the way they allow me to focus on fleeting details. Since I’m still in the midst of grieving for my father, I find it difficult to write long, coherent narratives about him. Maybe someday I’ll be at that point, but for the time being I’m more drawn to writing shorter pieces.

What do you think is the most rewarding part of writing?

Writing every day keeps me sane. When I don’t write, the universe starts to unravel.

Do you consider nonfiction your genre of expertise or do you dabble in other genres as well?

I feel most at home with creative nonfiction, though I’ve become interested recently in the intersections of nonfiction and poetry. Some of my essays, like “Concealed Carry,” have become so short that they might be considered prose poems. I like hybrid genres, and I enjoy experimenting with new forms, new approaches, new ways of seeing the world.