Wednesday, March 01, 2006


ANNA EYRE reviews

Verso, by Pattie McCarthy
(Apogee Press, 2004)

[First published printed in TRAFFIC: A Publication of Small Press Traffic, Issue 1, 2005-2006, Ed. Elizabeth Treadwell]

Emily Dickinson wrote that one should depart from their own departures and "were departure separation there would be neither nature nor art, for there would be no world." For Pattie McCarthy "it begins with departure". Her new book Verso is an investigation into the departure of history or how we perceive of the past in its relation to the present and future. Verso is a book which deals with the left side of the page, the page usually left blank that perhaps fills in more content than what has been inked. McCarthy adeptly confronts the other, or elsewhere; what has been left out or removed from record.

In the first section "otherwise (an eke name)" McCarthy explores the earned or supplemental name as it is a proper noun and that which we come to recognize things by. Yet how can we recognize things as they actually exit or existed through individual perspective? McCarthy sets up a rhythm that is at once abrupt and commanding only to tear it down with immense lyric and emotive metrical freedom. Revealing "I have about as much of that language as a moderately well-behaved dog needs to know" in order to deconstruct and reconstruct its pertinence. She re-presents "a timeline upon which borders are redrawn and disappear at regular intervals." Noting, "if she has sufficiently distinguished herself to be recorded by history : how will it spell her." The section interweaves dense prose on the left page with shorter verse on the right, similar to the ----- form. The pages communicate as much with each other as with one another setting up a dichotomy that stands individually as well as dissolves into one another, creating a third unwritten other.

There is no elsewhere if you know ahead of time where you are going. In essence there is no use for alibi when there is augury. Verso's second section "alibi (that is elsewhere) questions the use of words to construct a defense that at once excuses and attempts to prove. "'In 1878 Thackery wrote: women are not so easily cured by the alibi treatment.'" Nor is McCarthy and her intuitive language slaps against medieval vernacular as well as Old English to reveal the roots of communication in order that we might examine them more.

with maps one could endeavor to prove
one's self alibi

McCarthy is a cartographer of the intimate finding that

elsewhere is still
somewhere--but perhaps not
where the compass is--your
compass has fall to earth & so.

McCarthy's compass needle does not pin things down yet locates them in their continuous transition as well as transformation. Here we "recognize the timeline as an absurd artifact."

If history is what you make of it then McCarthy has made it into a breathing organism in the last section "Piseogs". Here she understands that "there isn't enough blood in my veins to write my name" or for that mater any other. Because name in this section takes on more than "a story told as if it were true" it becomes the language and superstition which surrounded the brutal murder of a woman by her husband, father an others during the 19th century. Instead of purely relaying the facts McCarthy gives us "letters on or near the skin, the better to get into the bloodstream."

Throughout Verso Pattie McCarthy never embarks upon "the linguistic path of last resistance." Instead her consistent confrontation with the language we use to depict histroy or past events transforms the language as well as the event itself. Her search for the other, or that which has been left out illuminates the margilization of women by a history that is narrowly formed by the perspective of single individuals. McCarthy notes that "any song is intentional" and it is "always the same song". To intentionally sing a song and include all that was excluded is to reclaim "a name misspelled in the manifest".


Anna Eyre is a professor of English at UNM-Taos. She is also a reading tutor for middle school students at Taos Pueblo Day School and served as the assistant editor for the 2005 edition of Traffic. Her chap book Metaplasmic was published by effing press in 2004.


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