Caryl Pagel - Abandoned Eyelet, Absenting Fact, Absolute New Bus Stop. Alarmwireseed, Amberweed, Appalling Forgotten Flavor. Army Ant, Arson Day, Asphalt And, Awe-to-Death With Breakage

Image result for Caryl Pagel, Twice Told,
Caryl Pagel, Twice Told H_NGM_N Books, 2014. 
                          
Twice Told is a grave collection of accounts and encounters in which premonitions, visions, whispers, and coincidences circle a dire, unidentified plot. Disturbed and disturbing, over-heard and beheld, Pagel's “perpetual disclosures” chillingly foretell the past and regret the future. How terrifying! How thrilling! Sung in the hushed tones of secret, instinctual, and incremental rhythms, Pagel's beautiful “catastrophic underground echoes” have the urgent intensity of a steady descent down a spiral staircase in a dream. Moreover, Twice Told has “a frantic animal soul” that plays dead to survive its own death. When you put down this book of poems you will fear your own shadow. — Robyn Schiff


In this extended meditation on narrative and its hauntings, “I” has given way
to “you,” who holds the stories of others and tells them—and yet, as in any
form of travel (which telling is, in this book), the borders between any two or
more can blur: and then what happens? In some of the book’s ten Visions,
meditation gives way to gnosis: “One kind of absolute actual ceaseless love is
the one / where you are trying to keep your beloved alive where / ever he
goes you are trying not to let him ever / die […].” Working with care,
patience, and inventiveness, Pagel lets in some of the hardest questions in
this deft and probing book.Lisa Fishman




The idea of storytelling and the questions that surround the idea of narrative – Who has the right to tell a story?  What do we sacrifice on the altar of narrative? Etc. – have long been debated by fiction and prose writers.  But poets, too, should be burdened with these ideas.  In poetry, we often couch a lot of these narrative questions as questions of “voice” or “theme”.  But perhaps more poets should be asking themselves about the nature of storytelling as a medium as well.  It is certainly an obsession of Caryl Pagel.  In her first book, Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death (2012), the question of narrative comes out through poems about ghosts and mediums, poems collaged out of disparate texts, and gaps where it seemed the real story should be.  Inspired by the work of the Society for Psychical Research, Pagel created poems that are truly haunting through the use of page and line space, found text, and a tone of always looking back.  The poems in Experiments are mournful and scary both.
Pagel returns to and expands the theme of haunted storytelling in her new collection, Twice Told.  This is a book almost completely about the lacks to be found in a story told.  As soon as the tale is filtered through the narrative presence, it dissolves.  Every single poem in Twice Told obsesses over the conveying of a story.  Details are repeated over and over again, long poems are only made up of a handful of individual words, voices fade out at the end.  There is no punctuation, only white space, because nothing here can be held true as a statement.

Twice Told (which I assume gets its title from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales) is aptly named.  The “stories” presented here get tripped up on the mysterious speaker’s tongue, coming out in stutters and loops.  Not only that, but Pagel comments on the loops in the poems themselves.  From “Rumors”:


This is the format that gets repeated throughout the book: broken lines, spacing, dashes.  Surprisingly few distinct words are used throughout Twice Told.  Words like “tale” and “story” repeat often, as do passive being verbs.  These choices make the book more than just a rumination of how stories work (or in this case, don’t work) but also how poetry deals in the broken tale, the wretched event described by a faulty speaker.  The poems in Twice Told exhaust me because they are repetitive at times but with a purpose.  Something sad and tragic lies beneath all these broken story-poems and the fact I could not access that thing makes the reading of Twice Told frustrating and engaging both.  (From “The Haunting”:  …There is always more prelude / than tale….  From “The Traveler”: …You are feeling for once / transformed by the narrative and will / not be asked to mask it).

Perhaps the most interesting, and necessary, choice made in Twice Told is Pagel’s use of the second-person in every poem.  The “you” is truly wretched here.  There is no way for us readers to really know who is speaking or if it is one voice or many.  More importantly, we have no verification for the voice, no easy way to point to it and call it stable.  Recently, while thinking about why certain types of narrative poems don’t work for me as a reader, I realized that I am not at all interested in stable first-person poems.  I want a speaker I do not fully trust, and I certainly don’t want to be able to tie the voice back to the author.  Pagel’s poems go the full opposite of this pet peeve of mine; they not only get rid of a stable “I” voice, they get rid of the very idea of the “I.”  To read a poem in second person means I have to constantly ask who is writing these poems, who is telling me these stories.  We have a “you” but who is addressing it?  And the “you” is unstable in a myriad of ways – there is no gender attached, no way to picture the second-person (which might, after all, be our own reflection).  More terribly, there is no way to know how many people (ghosts? creatures?) the “you” represents.  One person?  A couple, a group?  An entire generation?  Is it supposed to be us?  Am I supposed to be traumatized by own ability to forget the event that happened to me, that I have to be told the telling of my own life?  The second-person address means that the reader is always a little bit dizzy in the situation Pagel has placed her.  For example, what do we make of the entirety of “A Little Apparitional”:
Sideways into death you go –
you’re sorry so
you don’t look

On the last page of the last poem (“Olde Main Street Inn”) – the speaker (Pagel?) uses the italicized term Dear Reader, but by this point, it is too late to know if we are the ones actually being addressed.  The “you” is the one who supposedly told the tales first, but then the speaker comes in and appropriates that bit of agency.  It gives the effect of the mysterious speaker laughing or bludgeoning us, pointing out our own misunderstandings and insufficiencies as both storytellers and story-listeners.  In Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death, it always felt like the ghosts were the ones telling the story.  In Twice Told, Pagel turns the reader into the ghost, which is a far more eerie effect.  Nowhere is this more true than in “Mausoleum,” in which the “you” is being told of a vision they have had, the details of which have been blurred but of which the emotional fallout remains.  It ends hauntingly, painfully:
one can always find that loving
feeling by returning to the mausoleum

I worry that this reading of the text makes it sound too dark or punishing.  The opposite is true.  What I’ve always admired in Pagel’s work, the reason she is my favorite working poet, is how she can speak so calmly of the dead and the undead but without a single bit of humanity lost in the process (from “Four Dead Men”: …He was feeling—in / fact—a little apparitional).  The poems in Twice Told obsess over the dead, the archived, visions and ghosts.  But they are poems about being human, about operating in a world that is certainly touched by death but which we combat over and over again with our desire to know others, a desire we can only share through our telling of stories.  Pagel may show how stories fall apart, but the fact that the story is being sputtered and stuttered at all is significant.  One of my favorite poems from the collection, the penultimate “Young Man Afraid of His Horses,” states this plainly in its last line:
You cannot keep yourself from speaking.
Is that persistence a folly?  Yes, Pagel seems to say, but the lack of it is a folly, too. - Beth Towle




As a child, I used to take great pleasure in hearing the title of a movie repurposed into script dialogue. I don't know if I expected age (or just adulthood) to melt away this pleasure, but it hasn't. If anything, when Catherine O'Hara (Mrs. McCallister) blurts that Macaulay Culkin (KEVIN!) has, indeed, been left "home alone,” these days I simultaneously start tingling, grinning, and blubbering.
Twice Told, the second collection of poetry by Caryl Pagel, presents its title in "Rumors," the fourth poem in the book. That poem is one of my favorites; here's the opening:
You are telling the story                                You
are telling the story again                    Twice
and I'll stop short to allow you your own Home Alone moment with the book.
I single out these lines, though, to think about what happens with repetitions, specifically the repetition of a title. There's a great old noir, super hard-boiled, called Dead on Arrival. In the last scene, a police officer stamps a report D.O.A. "Mark him Dead On Arrival," the officer says, gruffly, alerting viewers to what we've already been told three times—and, of course, shown once.
Pagel's poems are interested in that reverberation: what happens when a story, legend, rumor, rule, or definition is repeated? What happens when its echoes haunt a person’s life? There’s something uncomfortable about being told something twice, and Pagel capitalizes on the creepy side of the Rudyard Kipling title she amputates. In Pagel’s work, the retelling (the second poem , "Telephone," had me thinking of the party game, an exercise in the perversion of retransmission), is a chance to glance at the in-betweens, the gulf between waking and dreaming, life and death.
Appropriately, many of these poems fancy the punctuation of pause, like dashes and colons. Many poems also favor—and execute expertly—the caesura. "Rumors" is one. Pagel's caesura—visually rendered by a gap which lengthens her otherwise brief lines—is a pause, a pulse, a ellipsis, a bleeding of voices and versions, a scabbing over of narratives and sentences.
In Twice Told, Pagel's diction is ambiguous, at times assonance-heavy and rhyme-coy, peppered with exoticisms from the Wild West and Nebraska. While her language allows many poems to inhabit dreamy, filmic, even folklorish narrative spaces, I couldn't help longing for less of that openness. The stories the speaker tells or retells deserve a stab at specificity. - Joanna Novak





The Badlands

You note there is a hole
for where the heart once was
and a horizon for where the
eye was once and an absence
for where the animals–once–were
watching                                   The bloody buffalo body–once
tender and upright–was pierced you
heard through the heart that is
now the hole in the growing
hollow of a grey frame                                   Your
friend the painter claimed that this
was the wild west and in
the wild west there is nothing
else to be gained but further
destruction                                   Your friend the painter paints
something that is not a bleeding
and something that is not meaning
but instead reveals the vision of
a version of the story that
you couldn’t quite believe had emerged
yet                                   Imagine a massive animal body
slow and wait                                   It freaks and
breaks                                   Imagine the animal body dropped
in death amidst great waves of
winter plains–stained by bitter crimson
notes in an unknown language                                   Imagine
the figure–implied by the hole–that
in this particular case records the
presence of the prey that never
ambled                                   Recall that at first there
was no legend                                   So you started
with fauna                                   You started with the
hunt and knew that if he
could paint the lack of animals
then you could pen LAST–and
BUFFALO–and HEART–and it would
happen                                   You could write of frantic
paths stamped through the badlands and
radical lady sharpshooters and robbers rampant
on the lamb and flowers                                   You
could write of the tallgrass                                   You
could write of the green                                   You
could write of the roiling sea
some settlers saw in the rolling wheat
while walking–famished and desperate–toward
far coasts and freedom                                   You could
mention horizons that signaled flight or
the brittle Midwest landscape that swallowed
families whole–or the circus of
tired humans that–once upon a
time–one could pay to watch
paraded through a small town                                   You
could write of how everything that
dies is eventually archived                                   Of railroads
and radios and posts and the
single survivor whom you both had
decided in her brash and somber
splendor captured the very last buffalo
heart in all the land to
make a bare and daring gift
of it to her sullen lover and–
once disregarded–this action marked the
end of the wild west and
the beginning of our tame days

Four Dead Men

He took a solitary walk across
the region                                   He couldn’t stop he
couldn’t stop he couldn’t pause he
couldn’t stop he sought to circle
the space                                   He needed to circle
the space you see                                   He needed
to see the place you see
he could only fathom the place
he knew you see if he
saw it plainly as he circled
and you heard that he recorded
his thoughts on the walk at
the hospital                                   His walk began–so
the story goes–as the dog
days were drawing to an end

It was the finish of one
mood and his commencement of another
He was going to conclude unmoving
he knew you see he would
eventually break down immobile you know
only realizing in retrospect–after the
act of walking–but before recording–
that he could remember the faces
he encountered if he began to
watch once more–if he took
a walk around the region in
his mind–if he recalled the
damage that he’d done and wrote
it down                                   At that time this
man–this first dead man–was
attempting to make things appear you
see he was attempting to reclaim
that which in his mind had
wholly vanished                                   He was feeling–in
fact–a little apparitional                                   He was
attempting to think himself healthy you
know he wanted to walk himself
well and so he wrote down
what he saw and you experienced
what he saw within the stretched
and spooky spiraling sentences that unraveled
and expanded as a rough path
parallels a road that no one
is headed down                                   They wouldn’t stop
He couldn’t stop                                   He disclosed you
know in prose the destruction of
important historical buildings                                   He witnessed the
wreck of ancient languages                                   He saw
old ruins which recalled him to
new ruins some of which he
was seeing again in his mind
and some of which he read
about and some of which you
were reading about him reading about
and some of which he knew
from the very few people he
had stopped long enough to talk
to                                   This man–this first dead
man–admired the wildest gardens you
know but he also couldn’t stop
imagining his passed friends’ faces he
wrote he couldn’t stop thinking dead
strangers’ thoughts you read he couldn’t
stop                                   He couldn’t stop                                   He couldn’t
stop and didn’t want to                                   You
are shocked now abruptly up from
a page on which he is
describing the interesting history of herring
to see another man hovering–here
in your doorway                                   This other man–
this second man is living and
you love him but he can’t stop
he can’t see–you can’t stop
he can’t see he needs someone
to take him to the hospital
He needs someone to circle his
sickness                                   He needs you and only
you to circle his circles and
he needs you and only you
to attend to his sickness but
you’re not–you’re going to stop
You read instead a book about
a man who has recently been
in the hospital                                   This man is
leaving in part to see the
now empty home of a friend
who had recently passed in part
perhaps because he should have remained
in the hospital                                   Instead this man–
this third man dead–is visiting
his friend’s home just after he
died–a suicide–with the hope
that he–the third dead man–
could inhabit again the tone and
humor and luminous brilliant beautiful significant
wonderful loving tortured sorrowful stagnant angry
awesome puzzled tragic hurtful magic difficult
mind of his dear friend during
the time in which he still
survived–when this man was not
yet ill but lived instead to
write about architecture and remarkable buildings


Read “Old Wars” – the first poem from the book, on The Volta – and then learn about the poem’s origins:
In the beginning were the old wars, no wars were new and all of the beginnings of the old wars had ended. It was a new old old, at times, but always came an even older new. There are various narrators for every war and not once was it ever you, although you knew all of the narrators’ stories by their abandoned clues. Have you encountered Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Song”? It’s not much like “Old Wars,” but if you’ve read it you’ll know what there is to think of deeply and often. If you haven’t, it’s here. A goat’s head and a little girl. A song and a death. Like a war and very old woman? “The boys thought to have/ Their fun and be done with it.” It is the oldest story in the book. Both narrators ask you to listen, to recall and invest. Both wish to examine the mystery of retelling common tales. In the beginning were the old wars, no wars were new and all of the beginnings of the old wars had ended. It was a new old old, at times, but always came an even older new. Have you encountered Sabrina Orah Mark’s “The Babies”? It’s not much like “Old Wars,” but if you’ve read it you’ll know what there is to think of deeply and often. If you haven’t, it’s here. Babies like soldiers in rows. Another’s past, a past that existed inside of the narrator’s imagined unlived but real life. Like trying to remember if it happened. Like uttering a falsehood to make it true. There are various narrators for every war and not once was it ever you, although you knew all of the narrators’ stories by their abandoned clues.




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Caryl Pagel.jpg
Caryl Pagel, Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death, Factory Hollow Press, 2012.

excerpt: "Jacket" @ Verse Daily
excerpts: two poems @ notnostrums
excerpts: eight poems @ Octopus Magazine



Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death provides a posthumous glimpse into a room where poems are knocking inside the walls and the ascending reader floats out into gaps of particulars, particles, and parts—or “Names you will not recognize” owing to the relentless intercalation of bodiless bodies. Here is spectral evidence to be used in peeling away the argument that we don’t exist. Alternatively, here are “vestments” to clothe that existence, whose character and purpose are repeatedly reshaped atop a discontinuous ridge of occult figuration. Look out for that. – William Fuller



In Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death, the act of naming presses out through the body to the natural world rendering the most poignant questions of the book those that concern agency: what happens to self and substance when the demarcation of names transpires. For example, in “Spirit Cabinet” Pagel writes: “What I live with in      this house    is mine     I did not make it What did     What is     mine made      me.” Here self is house is language. Such folding and unfolding calls to mind Heidegger’s concept of language-as-house-of-being, where “In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home.” Occupying the position of both interior and exterior, architect and structure, these poems perform a threshold demonstrating the necessity of what is made possible and impossible — both — through naming’s articulation. – Karla Kelsey



Astrophysicist Carl Sagan said "Books are proof that humans are capable of working magic." In a world that seems to be deteriorating both environmentally and culturally, and in a world where we feel the symptoms of wanting to define ourselves, Caryl Pagel's poems in Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death speak to the impulse to make magic. Magic in the sense that, as artists, we want to create something from nothing, and we must sustain ourselves on the belief that we are capable of it. Magic in the sense that, as humans, we are drawn to believe there is a world within our own, that there are souls within our bodies, that love may be of an infinite nature.
In her poem "Archive", Pagel writes: "ours is an archival/ generation", but what do we make of information when we are given so little to collect? What happens when we hear what sounds like a voice through a wall? How do we explain levitation? What exactly is a soul and can we photograph it? What is our relationship to real bodies or imaginary bodies? It is this push and pull between our desire to make sense of things and our desire to look beyond the empirical. In "Anchor", Pagel writes "I notice not/ the mirroring of gnarled // systems underground but I have seen the/ drawings." Perhaps, like roots, the things we cannot see also sustain us.
Through Pagel's ample use of caesura, the spaces she creates in the poems invite the reader to wonder what may fill the space. As a visual artist uses negative space, Pagel also uses space in her work to create a sense of mystery for the reader. The experience is similar to reading a moth-eaten journal or ancient scroll: what is left out is sometimes the most intriguing aspect of her poetry. What remains is a kind of hybridity between what is known, what can be guessed, and what we want to know. Pagel's use of rhyme, scattered internally throughout the poems, reminds one of seeking to translate a muffled sound, words spoken underwater, or from a far corner of a forest.
Drawing on images of Victorian spirit photography, the occult, levitation, Emily Dickinson's herbarium and cryptozoology, among many others, Pagel ushers us into a world exists just beneath the surface of our own. Like Plato's ethereal world of forms, we cannot completely access it, but we are only allowed brief glances, shadows on the cave wall. Like the ocean that makes up the majority of our planet, we seek to unveil the mystery. This phenomenon may be best described in the poem "Those That are Possessed by Nightmare", a compilation of several esoteric works. In it, Pagel beautifully vivisects these words, as if borrowed from something read and something dreamt: "As creatures who thrive in the deep waters of the ocean, bodies may represent deep emotions. They may also symbolize…intuition…"  - Denise Behrens



Well, it’s another love story: the body and its death. We walk with it, we feed it, we give it poems to keep it quiet, if only for a little while. It, here, is of course a word confused in its antecedence—the body or its death? The truth is that if I’m only given x-number of hours, I have no time for poems that don’t linger with the big questions—that don’t dig desperately, don’t try to hold on despite everything, and with claws. Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death is not a book that is going to start a war in this country or any other. But in these long minutes of living, Pagel’s poems come like the comfort of paper in a coat pocket—they are what we’ve been thinking of all along: what are we doing with these bodies we sit in every day, and what will happen to us when they vanish in the evening?
            Arranged in three sections, Experiments combines inspiration from the great ghosts of American poetry—Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman—with an investigation of the intersection of faux science and the lovely beyond—in particular, the West’s obsession with séances and clairvoyance at the turn of the nineteenth century. Considering the title—Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death—it’s almost as if Pagel is asking, Talk to me when I’m gone? Look at how Pagel works to scare us in “Visions, Crisis Apparitions, & Other Exceptional Experiences”: “Lenora / Piper was struck on the skull with a rock she / began her clair- // voyance by crying      SSSara… There is so much breathing in these poems—it’s so close you would think it’s at the back of your neck. When she removes most of the punctuation and encourages silence with caesurae, Pagel is putting to use some of the same techniques that Hollywood horror does to make us uncomfortable—to displace us from the familiar elements. Needless to say, it works. Sometimes I read Pagel’s poems and I just want to go home, to get away from here. But then I realize I am home, this is it.
            The isolatable heart of Pagel’s work lies in her Botched Bestiary series, whose poems appear periodically throughout the book in moments of intricate flashing. With roots in Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings as well as Steve Baker’s discussion of “botching” hybridity in The Postmodern Animal, these encyclopedic “entries” are part quoted erasure, part patchwork. Here Whitman’s cataloguing comes into play: What is a body and how must it operate? What are its habits? How can we prod it, how can we measure? In the entry “Those That Are Not Immediately Ill,” Pagel answers, “‘There are only a few important rules for a body to remember….’ ‘The good bodies skitter and dance.’ ‘The better bodies laugh.’” And in “Those That Wish Closer Than,” she writes, “‘If a body want[s] to know more about the body: bury the body in the desert.’” And at the bottom of each Botched Bestiary entry, we are given a series of possible common names for the body described; sometimes I hides among the fanciful beasts—the sayers, dragons, and chimera.
            Holding Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death—a square book the size of a head, its cover painted with antlers and bone, its translucent pages that seem to predict the next poem before it happens—I think I have found another thing to tether me to this world. More poems to keep the inevitable silence at bay, no matter how frightening in the meantime. - Sarah Crossland



Pagel explores death and what comes afterwards, or doesn’t. Her poems mimic thought-patterns in composition, moving from idea to idea, linked by similar themes. In “Table Talking, Pagel describes the metaphysical scene of the late 1800s, beginning with formative details of William James, one of the earliest proponents of psychological study in America:

 It is the influence of the loss of father’s leg
that biographers credit William James’
early & lasting interest
in finding a form
for spiritual inquisition beyond

religion beyond his field of study—science—beyond
psychology      The red hopping-hot hot-air
balloon bobbed over the barren
field before it dropped
to the floor of a barn      It was probably


not the leg directly although his father did believe
his own childhood tragedy represented
the constant undeniable
force of evil in
this world…


In the first stanza break, Pagel implies multiple meanings, but it is her use of caesura throughout that is truly interesting. She avoids classic punctuation in favor of a more controlled, meaningful spacing in order to set off ideas. The italicized image breaks from her biographical sketch, much in the way the supposed appearance of a spirit would surprise the participants at one of the séances Pagel describes later in the poem.
“Those That Require Warning” is a prose poem selection ostensibly from The Botched Bestiary. There are several selections from this throughout the collection. This ‘Bestiary’ seems to be some sort of field guide to unusual beings. This one seems to be a warning against consorting with bodies: “Recall the bloated gray bodies pulled off [of] the bodies.” it begins (the brackets are Pagel’s). “Bodies can have a wide variety of effects, with varying levels of inconvenience.” she continues, later in the poem. In another section, “Those That Operate From Deep Space,” Pagel continues this focus on the body, this time focusing on the bodies’ movements through water and the effects one has on the other. “Most bodies that live in water make light,” she tells us. Here, Pagel seems to be getting at the old battle between head and body, spirituality and sensuality. There are pros and cons to each; the bodies are dangerous and unsavory, but after more consideration there is also something positive to them: they make light when they live in water. Water is often seen as a purifying element, and the creation of light could be interpreted as a divine action, so perhaps there’s something worthwhile in the body which shouldn’t be ignored.
 The book is very attractive, in terms of layout and organization. It’s broken into three sections, Visions, Crisis Apparitions, and Other Exceptional Experiences. Each section begins with a quote that clarifies the theme of that section. Pagel’s poems are interesting, thematically, and well-written. They are graceful upon the page and a pleasure to read. I’ve been excited about a couple recent publications from Factory Hollow Press. I’m interested to see what they do next. - CL Bledsoe



If there is one question that Pagel’s collection Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death illuminates, however may not answer, that is what is the impression we leave upon our immediate world after our departure? What do we, in fact, transfer from ourselves and leave for others to recognize as something that once was the individual? There must be more than our former physical shell that encapsulated a biological, living agent of experience as some of the collections’ poems (“Taxidermy,” “Spirit Cabinet,” “Archive,” and “First Impression”) implore. The poem, “Herbarium,” illustrates this ponderous dichotomy of human agency and sediment in a series of alternating sub-sequenced “Transcriptions,” “Correction of Identifications,” and “Modern Equivalents.” The second “transcribed” section poses a perplexing, potentially liberating, and at the same time potentially daunting, thought from the speaker: “The impression left upon a / leaf preserved leaves nothing Or / nothing my mind / collects”. Impressions, both physical and ethereal, surface repeatedly throughout the collection. In this particular instance impressions are not rooted or visible but evade substantiality. Here, nothing is preserved in physicality or in the mind; it is only has if the title implies the speaker should have done certain tasks there would be more exacting evidence of existence.
Even the syntax that Pagel employs in the poems ironically embodies the eluding nature of what is typically understood— whether that be the structure of human language or our understanding of our own earthly presence. In the subsection of “Herbaruim” titled, “Correction of Identifications” the speaker claims physicality, yet while still negating parts of that physicality:
I is steam with no leaves I
is body with
no mind I blooms in sight of pressed steam still
yet blooming When first did I
inhabit the body that pressed this body I mean when
first did I inhibit it
Mis-named have I

The negatation of conventional sentence structure and verbage adds to the overarching question of what are we left with in the absence of what was a known—a way of understanding? What is the impression we are left with if there even is one at all? Even the question of inhabiting and inhibiting the body lead the speaker to declare that he has misnamed himself. This also seems to negate even the subtitle (Correction of Identifications)—no corrections have taken place; by the end there is still error to be found.
“The Clothes of Ghosts” pays close attention to impressions, however, in a slightly different manner. The speaker states: “No ghost goes back it seems / without a garment or / outward dress / The vestment / is invested in what’s / seen or manifested”. What is seen or manifested relies on those left behind to determine—whatever sediment the dead has bestowed. The collective we in the poem also expresses a self-awareness to what “realized” and “accounted” in the “spirit-body” for by the living. The collection produces many questions about not only what the dead leaves us but how we extract meaning from what is left behind (love, memories, anger, regret, the physical body, etc.) and, in fact, impress upon the departed not the other way around. “Taxidermy” embodies the want to make the dead what the living desire—something still tangible, present, and comprehendible: “The flesh still appears the flesh of the living I can tell you.” Even the act of taxidermy is a human attempt to suspend death, to keep the living as it once was. This is surely a collection of preservation, a collection on how we anchor the dead to this world and attempts to identify what it is the dead exactly leave. - Trista Edwards



Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death concerns itself with liminal states, the between and beyond that haunts the here and now. It is apparent from the opening lines of “Levitation,” the book’s first poem, that the very experience of having a body is going to be difficult and complex in this world of ghosts and shadows:
It is night & I am lying — my body level — low along the floor       until I take a hold of me; I slowly rise Each scientist in the     room reaches for his pen (breast pocket) at once (13)
The speaker’s levitation is experienced as an uncanny split in her self-awareness; an “I” takes control of a “me” to produce the mysterious motion, rising from the floor and eventually floating “out an open window & into       the evening” (13). The scientists, meanwhile, behave in machine-like synchronicity, reaching for their pens in unison and drawing the standard, unanimous conclusion that everything they’ve seen “is made: string smoke mirrors” (13). So who is pulling whose strings? The speaker is eerily both present and absent, the object of the investigation and woefully unable to investigate herself: “Tell me how that is possible; I could not see it but I was there” (13).
In this poem, and throughout this collection, the body appears uncanny and alien — both to those inhabiting it and those observing it. A series of poems called “The Botched Bestiary” draws on a variety of source texts and replaces the names of specific animals with the word “body,” to intriguing effect: “The body from North America was considered . . . extinct in the 1980s but recently it has resurfaced. Little is known about the body, but what is known is very strange. It can grow up to three feet in length[,] and when handled gives off a smell like lilies. The body is believed to be able to spit in defense” (16). These archival assemblages challenge us to think in unusual ways about our own human bodies, but their cumulative effect is curiously deadening: instead of a rich and varied “bestiary,” these animals are stripped of their identities and appear as blank “bodies,” which perhaps they are. Like the levitating woman and the mechanical scientists, animals are animate without awareness — a state that suddenly appears uncomfortably close to “undead.”
In addition to bodies without names, Pagel gives us names without bodies in a poem titled “Common Plant & Animal Names (Existing & Not Existing).” This alphabetical catalogue begins this way:
A
Abandoned Eyelet, Absenting Fact, Absolute New Bus Stop. Alarmwireseed, Amberweed, Appalling Forgotten Flavor. Army Ant, Arson Day, Asphalt And, Awe-to-Death With Breakage.
(28)
Some of these names are real (“Army Ant”), some sound real but are not (“Amberweed”), and many sound (and are) completely absurd. The poem works as an amusing, fanciful litany — but to read it is also to realize how much humans have projected themselves on the natural world, understanding it in their own terms. If there is a plant called “Forget-Me-Not,” why couldn’t Pagel’s inventions “Lie-To-Me” or “Magnificent Not” also be real? If such names are arbitrary, they are also intriguing, inviting questions about both the namer and the named.
Each of the three sections of this book begins with an epigraph about names, suggesting their centrality to Pagel’s concerns. Perhaps the most interesting is the one from Jacques Derrida, who writes that names inherently signify their own longevity beyond their bearers, “announcing a death to come” (33). All names, that is, are destined to end up on tombstones — or printed neatly beneath a specimen in a naturalist’s collection. In one poem called “Herbarium,” which Pagel explains was written with Emily Dickinson’s girlhood gardening album in mind, the identities of the namer and the named are perilously intertwined. In this section, the specimen seems to speak on its own behalf:
 CORRECTION OF IDENTIFICATION:
 I is stem with no leaves I
 is body with
 no mind I blooms in sight of pressed stem still
 yet blooming When first did I
 inhabit the
 body that pressed this body I mean when
 first did I inhibit it
 Mis-named have I (40) 
The pairing of the first-person pronoun with third-person verbs (“I is,” “I blooms”) suggests an object struggling to understand itself as a subject. Like all specimens in an herbarium, it is suspended in a two-dimensional imitation of life, its fleeting bloom fixed for eternity in “living” color. The shift from “inhabit” to “inhibit” shows how serious misnaming can be: one letter makes the difference between the presser and the pressed. Pagel’s investigations of names, bodies, and classification systems reveals them as a complex series of containers “inhabited” by the elusive spark of life, constraining it while also being its condition of possibility.
One reviewer has read Pagel’s frequent use of gaps and caesuras in this book as similar to “a moth-eaten journal or ancient scroll,” inviting the reader “to wonder what may fill the space.” But I don’t see anything missing in these spaces; syntax, ideas, and even words flow smoothly across them. Here are the final lines of a poem called “Occult Studies”:
one more soul could crack the surface (No) Why not collect your own                 throat in order to
answer yourself later from beyond We are a scientist                                         We say: “you are not
your body you inhabit it” No name can contain this in-                                                  visible protest (65)
I read these gaps instead as the thresholds with which the book is so obsessed: the chasm between life and death that is so profound and yet so narrow that Pagel can write “I held his hand / I did not / know when it was over” (53), and the chasm between subject and object that collapses in a construction such as “I blooms.” Particularly in the several poems that are both right- and left-justified like this one, Pagel seems to have created separate spatial regions where words can interact with one another along a different axis, in new combinations, as though in another world alongside the “real” one. From start to finish this book howls, rattles, and whispers like a ghost trapped in the walls, reminding us that a different, stranger world may be closer to hand than we realize.
- Erin McNellis


Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death takes place where scientific exploration, archival research, and poetry combine. When I read her work I’m reminded that all imaginative writing is a quasi-scientific experiment into the way meaning accrues. Here the poet puts forth a hypothesis of swerving, clanging syntax, and caesura. An inquiry is made into the void and something is carried back.
These poems continually find new gestures for entering the unknown, new schema for staring into a shadow until something almost nameable appears there. Her work gets at the heart of so much poetry: the desire to communicate differently, the desire to join the worldly with the other-worldly, to take what may only be glimpsed and pin it down and stare at it, to imbibe that energy and then leave through an open window. At the heart of this, I think, is the attempt to make the imagination real, to translate it from ephemeral to tangible. As such, these poems’ gift is twofold: as documents that we might watch and learn, and as an implicit call toward experiment as a means of writing and living—such that we might transcend like they do.
Looking at the interview we have compiled, I am struck by Pagel’s great, green hope for what words might do and her companion belief in literature’s ability to bring us into more contact with what we can barely know. We corresponded for a few months this winter and spring, and I was frequently afraid of stumbling in the attempt to keep up with her intellect, her reading, and the ways in which she synthesizes ideas across disciplines, genres, and whole centuries. But, similar to the speakers of her poems, she was a patient, friendly guide.
Jack Christian How did you get started working on the project that became Experiments? How did the book get its title?
Caryl Pagel I remember that the poem “Table Talking” came first and was written while reading a biography of William James that I found in the Provincetown public library, which led to an interest in the Society for Psychical Research—a late-1800s group of renegade scientists who investigated many of the ideas I was thinking about: apparitions, patterns of grief, clairvoyance, collaborative research, testimony as proof, etc.
The title is appropriated from an essay by Hereward Carrington, one of the members of the SPR. Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death suggests the extreme and crazy generosity of certain scientists (or artists) who commit everything, including their own body, to their life’s work (or in this case, literally, to death’s work). The title phrase also brings to mind W.G. Sebald and Sir Thomas Browne’s writing on burial, Japanese death poems, taxidermy, autopsy, telepathic testing, operating theaters, and ultimately that moment (in art and writing and love and life) where something transitions from living to dead—a moment ripe for experimentation and soul expansion and magic.
I like to imagine writing as a physical body of work born of the mulch of the mind, made of salvaging and re-harnessing old and unforgettable phrases, mistaken memories, fleeting feelings, ways of knowing, suspicions, and unanticipated association. In this way one might make a gift, or circuit, of death. There is Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade, Whitman’s “look for me under your boot-soles,” or Niedecker’s “Time to garden / before I / die— / to meet / my compost maker / the caretaker / of the cemetery.”
JC I like this idea of making a gift or circuit of the “death” of certain texts. I end up thinking of this as a function of what I call—or, what gets called—the mythopoetic imagination, and yet you are more interested in science and the language of science, the expansion and exploration of its practices. Do you or did you want to write away from the imaginary and confabulatory?
CP Well, much of science is imaginary, or hypothetical, even if it progresses by way of evaluation and the accumulation of evidence. It is also extremely collaborative. Science is a body of work that all scientists work on and toward, lending the discipline mythopoetic aspects. Researchers fabricate stories or taxonomies that evolve toward greater “truths” through collected observation. But we know that scientific findings are debunked, disproven, disregarded, or revised and that it is not a field of absolutes any more than story-telling, any more than the organization or palimpsesting of narrative fact in history, religion, and philosophy. Think of taxidermy or embalming or organ transplants: scientific procedures that finish in the fantastic. I know someone about to undergo surgery for which doctors are printing out a 3D replacement shoulder bone fragment. That’s medical technology and also only recently fathomable.
In the case of the SPR, these scientists practiced legitimate, scholarly research on apparitions, visions, post-death communication: all possible inventions of the imagination and outcomes of things that—we would now claim—can be explained by chemistry, pheromones, psychology, and physics. But what awesome mysteries, or myths, arise out of systems?! It is the employment of forms and (the illusion of) rationality that often spawns the greatest drama. This is a very Victorian idea, that the most conventional structures can result in scandalous and chaotic outcomes, that when there is no room for error each misstep, mistake, or messiness creates fireworks.
Consider the form of the ghost story: every detail must appear absolutely controlled, believable, and measured so that when the ghost materializes it can transform our sense of what’s possible regardless of reality. By rejecting the premise, by saying IT’S NOT REAL, we make it so. We envision the absence or impossibility of the thing into being. Like daydreams or nightmares or memories, these intangible experiences and exceptional perceptions are essential to the ordinary lives of humans and yet are often dismissed as only imagined. The border between fantasy and knowledge, credible and incredible, mind and body is so thrilling and thin and terrifying to negotiate.
JC In your poem "Archive," you write: "ours an archival / generation." I wonder how, and what it was like, to make art from archives? Could you talk about your process for making these poems?
CP Most of the poems in Experiments were born in formal dilemma. There are sonnets, elegies, fables, syllabic verse, surveys, field notes, and indexes. The archival nature is both thematic and structural. The “Botched Bestiary” series was written after reading Jacques Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am and Steve Baker’s The Postmodern Animal—a book dedicated to purposefully damaged, reconstructed, or altered animal bodies in postmodern art. I was thinking about the ways contemporary visual artists approach post-human or hybrid bodies and how collaging, reorganizing, and archiving create alternative shapes and interpretations of life. This resulted in an experiment of stitching together excerpts from other texts while replacing specific animal names. I wanted the process to be transparent, corporeal, visual—to leave a scar or mark.
JC Makes me think of Frankenstein, and also Jed Rasula’s This Compost, particularly where you mention the Whitman lines and “mulching.” There’s a Victorian, fin de siècle aura and energy to these poems. In what ways did you want to revise or update these notions in light of postmodernism, the twenty-first century, etc—possibly toward our post–millennial concerns?
CP Frankenstein, yes! I would attribute a fin de siècle energy to much of what I was reading while writing Experiments, including Hawthorne, Wharton, Poe, and Perkins Gilman. For me, I think, it was less of an updating and more of an attempt to reconcile certain contemporary artistic procedures with age-old questions, timeless horrors.
JC Also, would you consider these poems Romantic? I’m suddenly conscious of not wanting to box you in to particular terminology . . . but this is what a person does on the edge of what one knows.
CP “On the edge of what one knows” is the trance this book was written under! I love Romantic poetry, but am more influenced by our good old ’merican Transcendentalists and even more so by the mediums, clairvoyants, spiritualists, and visionaries (mostly women) who practiced story-based performance art during that same time period. Unfortunately this kind of work—part fiction, part psychology, part theater?—is predominantly documented through transcript and audience testimony rather than first-hand accounts. These seers created intimate literature-based transformation through careful scripting. A medium “translates” or “divines” (writes) telepathic and apparitional narratives or codes for their audience, creatively exceeding the perceived limits of language and logic. Shouldn’t there be a literary movement attributed to the visionaries?
JC When I was first introduced to you, you were teaching a class on documentary poetry. I wonder if you could say a little about how and why you designed this class and how the idea of documenting corresponds to your own ideas about poetry? Would you consider the poems in Experiments documentary? If so, how? If not, then what—is there another term you'd use?
CP I taught a class on documentary literature at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. My students were extraordinary. When I began teaching that class I had already finished writing Experiments, which I wouldn’t consider documentary per se, as it was the act of engaging with the challenges of that book that led me to the term. I was employing several documentary strategies, but it was only after the fact that I was able to recognize this. It’s an example of how a class came out of my thinking about process, and then what I learned from my students directly led to my next writing project—a collection of linked essays that are very much influenced by the conversations we had.
JC So, what is documentary technique to you? What documentary strategies did you employ in Experiments? What were some of the questions you and your students generated?
CP We did record a messy list of qualities, and I have my notes, which I’ll excerpt below, but I hesitate to place too much weight on this sort of definition. We prized the muddled, enigmatic liberty of the form.
That said, we decided that documentary works might be recognized by:
1) The “hand” of the artist: a relentless haunting of the subject by its creator in which the author announces their presence through mark-leaving, self-reflexivity, annotation, or other transparent structures. The author inhabits the role of interviewer, curator, instigator, educator, collector, and/or director. 
2) Rawness, chaos, instability: methods are unpolished, unproduced, occurring in unedited real-time, candid, rough, and blurry. The style is slippery, associative, quick, and nonlinear. An audience will abandon expectations of perfection, purity, conclusion, plot, or chronology. Documentary works contain elements of multiple disciplines and borrow from other genres. 
3) Research: the author is motivated to seek out further information or investigate accepted ideas, authority figures, or modes of knowledge. Research attempts to disrupt assumptions and concepts of permission or legitimacy by incorporating appropriations, sampling, and found material. The facts are well documented. The audience witnesses the research process as it unfolds, as well as moments of doubt, confusion, or failure.  
4) Pointed purpose, physicality: documentary works are clear about their intent. Unlike straight journalism, they are not meant to be objective or impartial. Often the author means to demonstrate, educate, perform, prove, or collect something. They might expose, reveal, or aim for a reaction—documentaries desire to make something HAPPEN. They aim for real-world or physical consequences and rely upon the material (text) of the world.
JC Can you say more about what you’re interested in exploring in your linked essays? Give a preview?
CP The essays are weird, heavy, spirally things that twist together twice-told tales, coincidences, walks, happy hours, vacancies, apparitions, art, confusions, lady thinking, bad jokes, and places I’ve recently lived. The first was recently published in The Mississippi Review and would constitute a preview.
JC What does it matter if something is documented as opposed to imagined? In other words, what’s the intrigue?
CP It’s strange, right? To be honest, I don’t think it matters. Like most forms, it’s a way of grounding oneself long enough to launch. Perhaps, quite simply, I am looking for ways to recall the physical world, to de-apparitionalize, to tether myself to material so that I don’t drift away, and to work against my normal tendencies. And yet, like other genres that have appealed to me throughout the years—punk rock, ekphrasis, lyric essay, goth—the label loses meaning once you start to see the whole world through its lens. Maybe that’s where imagination takes over?
After all, what isn’t documentary? Are Dara Wier’s “Inside Undivided” posts? Is Please Kill Me, the oral history of punk? Is The Artist Is Present? Wisconsin Death Trip? Moby Dick? My suitcase? The Internet? Isn’t “documentary” just a way of involving the world and its matter in art—a counterpoint to so much navel-gazing? The form encourages a walk, a talk, an action, a book.
JC I think you’re exactly right. It doesn’t matter what gets called documentary because everything is, in this way of speaking, but I like the idea of the documentary impulse, and here for so long I’ve been wanting to call it a genre.
I want to talk a little more specifically about the poems themselves. Often it seems like you’re writing with a swerving compression:
a shriveled spine pressed to spine near rotten

dried and new but by what process?
Many poems, “Occult Studies” for instance, make use of roving caesuras, as in:
. . . We are a scientist We say: “You are not

your body you inhabit it” No name can contain this in   –visible protest
In lines like these I’m aware your speaker is working against usual structures to get beyond quotidian experience. Earlier you mentioned the “attempt to reconcile certain contemporary artistic procedures with age old questions.” How much do you think about needing or wanting to make language move differently in order to get after what you’re after? Is it sacrilegious to ask how you write the trance?
CP There is the psychic/spiritual trance and the trance of writing. Maybe they are the same? If a trance is akin to hypnosis or mesmerism or even sleep—a sort of levitation, or distancing—then writing (rarely, but at it’s very best) and reading (all the time) create this condition in my body. I like the way Sven Birkerts writes about the metaphysical transformation that occurs during the act of reading in his essay “Woman In The Garden,” and I often wonder at the ways I will “fall into” this state without meaning to or, in other instances, be completely unable to create it.
The roving caesuras are one example of making language strange: they work as puncture or punctuation—gap or gape or stop or blank—as silence, stutter, and shatter. I imagine each lull as a ghost or hole in the surface. Also they split specific measurements, creating dissonance.
Poetry is one experiment that can change the way your brain works, or it is the name for becoming a medium between the spirits of language and the physical page. But who knows? Earlier tonight I was reading the introduction to Hereward Carrington’s Your Psychic Powers And How To Develop Them (1920), and he warns: “Do not ‘introspect’ or reflect too much on your own inner, mental conditions. You must learn to live outside your head, so to speak,—in the outer world. Do not constantly wonder what is going on within your own brain. If you do, you will surely lead yourself into difficulties later on.” - Jack Christian


From a tiny red notebook, Caryl Pagel watched “improvisational tales unfold in real time”. This act taught her to receive things that “stun her” in a thinking map delineated by structures of physical manipulation in which the brain tucks and pockets content. Twice Told,recently published by H_NGM_N Books, is a flexing flock of poems that gather “the vision and presence of another”.  She states, “To read or listen carefully is—at its best—to inhabit the vision … of another.” The present receiver is altered by the interaction; a multiplication of the self that bears memory, passion, and perspective simultaneously. This metamorphic narrative changes our tales, our recollection; the internal structure of our self-identity. Another associated circumstance with embracing other is empathy. These empathy exams can, if one is not careful, “eventually make a wreck of you,” although at the same time this act carves out parts of yourself for others to find comfort; essentially the same places that you yourself are seeking as well.
The concentrated loop of Twice Told has much to do with the life and death cycle. The repetitive notion of life in a concentric dream is each individual’s interpretative taste. So the reflection of our reception of these qualities shifts from each story, each evaluation; each interaction. As Pagel asks, “how much care is too much? And for what end, and to what purpose?” This “captivation” is savory, but also needs to be regarded with self-care so that the self is not swallowed up in the other. She asks, “Is care the clearest expression of love? How is it related to freedom? What is the right amount of care for someone who is sick, or in danger, or angry, or depressed? Does requited care matter? Can you harm yourself with care for others?” These questions are at the heart of Twice Told. The answers are by no means readily handed to you on your grandmother’s holiday china. They are ones of endless vision. Perhaps the central message is in the permutation of circles.
Caryl Pagel is the author of two books of poetry: Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death (Factory Hollow Press, 2012), and Twice Told (H_NG M_N Books, 2014), as well as the chapbook Visions, Crisis Apparitions, and Other Exceptional Experiences (Factory Hollow Press, 2008). Caryl is a poetry editor at jubilat and the co-founder and editress-in-chief of Rescue Press. Her poetry and essays can be found in AGNI, The Iowa Review, Jacket2, The Mississippi Review, and The Volta. This fall she will join the faculty of the NEOMFA program in eastern Ohio and serve as the Director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center.
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Ghost Towns-page-001
 What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
When I was little my dad had, or I remember he had, a tiny red notebook that he’d scribble stories in. This is how I learned to read: by watching improvisational tales unfold in real time. We’d practice sentences as he invented them, creating a secret (so I thought) tether between the two of us. I was extremely disappointed when in kindergarten all of the other children began chanting the alphabet and I realized that language was a public and communal tool, not a private puzzle between me and my Pops. Once I recovered from this minor trauma I knew that I wanted to write. A few of my all-time favorites are Inger Christensen, Emily Dickinson, Lorine Niedecker, and W.G. Sebald. They are compelling in part because as I have changed my relationship to their work has become increasingly bewildering and bizarre.
. Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
The teacher who altered everything was Dan Beachy-Quick, who I was lucky enough to work with at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago about a decade ago. Others whose conversation, presence, and practice have transformed my approach to writing are Amy Margolis, Amber Dermont, Robyn Schiff, Emily Wilson, Elizabeth Robinson, and Madeline McDonnell.
. How has your own work changed over time and why?
My work shifts every time I read something that stuns me. I am frequently impacted by sentence structures or sound, by something that physically manipulates the way in which my brain receives content. Most recently an essay I was working on was affected by Renata Adler’s Speedboat.
. Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
Absolutely. The poems in Twice Told engage the creepy gothic narratives that I (we all?) grew up re-reading and obsessing over: “A Death in the Woods,” Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Ethan Frome, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” The Haunting of Hill House, etc. These days I probably read more fiction and nonfiction than I do poetry and most recently I’ve been writing essays. I should also say that one of the greatest gifts to my practice has been the opportunity to work alongside visual and performance artists at both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where I went to grad school) and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (where I taught some of the most inventive students I’ve ever met). The way the makers at both of these schools dealt with perseverance, chaos, humor, form, and difficulty continues to affect the way I write and teach.
. What are your plans for the future?
I’ve been working on a collection of linked essays for a few years now. The most recent one includes rambling on Sir Thomas Browne, addiction narratives, deception, Fleetwood Mac, Kurt Schwitters’ Mertzbau, George’s Buffet, ice patches, and a particularly bleak year I spent in Iowa City. I’m also in the process of boxing up my books in order to move to Cleveland at the end of the summer where I’ll join the NEOMFA faculty and serve as the Director of the CSU Poetry Center. I can’t wait.
. What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
Well, it’s hard to ignore the fact that so many of our contemporary game changers—the most compelling formal innovators, risk takers, experimenters, and thinkers—have been women. I think of the rangy, genre-bending, thoughtful and inventive work of Chris Kraus, Joan Didion, Maggie Nelson, Dara Wier, Renata Adler, Abigail Thomas, Lauren Slater, Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, Lucy Lippard, Rebecca Solnit, Mary Robison, Sabrina Orah Mark, and Lia Purpura, to name a few. And, too, distinctive first books by wonders like Rachel Glaser, Andrea Rexilius, Suzanne Scanlon, and Hilary Plum. I’ll also say that while I (and every woman I’ve ever known?) have encountered the peculiar horrors of gender bias (such silly insult!) in writing and publishing (M v. W!) my spirits are buoyed by the brilliant lady editors who work so hard to shepherd strong writing into the world—people like Emily Pettit, Sandra Doller, Rusty Morrison, Janet Holmes, Kathleen Rooney, and Joyelle McSweeney, again to name only a few.
. Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?
Some of my recent favorite books are: Hannah Brooks-Motl’s The New Years, Amina Cain’s Creature, Anne Germanacos’ Tribute, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Kiki Petrosino’s Hymn for the Black Terrific, Sasha Steensen’s House of Deer, Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, and Michelle Taransky’s Sorry Was In the Woods.
. If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

. The opening poem, “Old Wars,” in your manuscript TWICE TOLD, negotiates how memory, sense of self, and communication fracture in stifling societal climates. The rupture follows repressive measures. We read, “They were on a dusty / black road being marched to death / and you know this because the / narrator is delivering this information within / a story via another story—a / story told by the same old / woman who may or may not / have existed whom he may or / may not have met on a / train who may or may not / but most likely was a part / of the war             She was not / a hero […] There are no / heroes here.” Could you please allude to how the poem expresses multiplicity in identity, memory as story, and the puzzle as not one of “heroes,” but of “monster and master”?
To read or listen carefully is—at its best—to inhabit the vision and presence of another. Through this process one necessarily multiplies the self and bears many memories (or passions, or perspectives) at once. One can be, in fact, possessed by a story; their very body taken hold of, which is simultaneously a gift and curse. Empathy, although rightly associated with a certain kind of bravery and courage, can also eventually make a wreck of you. A many-selved monster. When writing “Old Wars” I was thinking about (or am at least now thinking about) the ways in which we are transformed by the narratives we read and recall, the ways in which stories become us, and us them, and how one might begin to remember (or suffer) others’ tales as if their own. I’ve long been enamored with writing that acknowledges this act of captivation.
. In “The Traveler,” the opening stanza reads, “The only fact to continue to / bear is suffering and the suffering / itself is what one requires to / exist—it is purely grief that / prevents one from vanishing completely.” Some of us our survivors, some of us are not. The traveler evaluates this wisdom from a stranger, but the intimate encounter surpasses the definition of someone we do not have physical personal history with. How is this poem addressing the personal / public sphere of intimacy and how does this relate to suffering?
I’m fascinated by the role of the traveler, often the first indication in gothic fiction of a framed narrative. In so many 19th century novels, for example, the reader receives the story through a stranger’s point of view. In Wuthering Heights we learn of Heathcliff and Catherine’s tumultuous romance through Mr. Lockwood, a stranger, who hears of it from Heathcliff’s housekeeper. In Ethan Frome, too, the narrative is conveyed by an outsider passing through town who hears it from, if I remember correctly, a shopkeeper. Story as rumor or hearsay; as something that necessarily includes both the personal and public spheres of intimacy.
. In the poem, “Four Dead Men,” we meet four individuals. One man, “He needs someone to circle his / sickness He needs you and only / you to circle his circles and / he needs you and only you / to attend to his sickness.” But the “you” in the poem does not. One man dies from a suicide and returns to help is friend. He has the hope that, “the third dead man— could inhabit again the tone and / humor and luminous brilliant beautiful significant / wonderful loving tortured sorrowful stagnant angry / awesome puzzled tragic hurtful magic difficult / mind of his dear friend during / the time in which he still / survived—when this man was not / yet ill but lived instead to / write about architecture and remarkable buildings.” The juxtaposition of these two life stages presents the desire to embrace the remarkably complex stifling and incredible beauty of our darkness and our light, love and madness, linear and dissonant multifarious experience of both life and death. I am interested in how you pair patriarchy to this conversation? How do you believe the fear and embodiment of death to also be the stimulus to “circle his circles,” not in the approach towards death, but as a vehicle later negotiated in death towards life?
The various circles—“the first of forms,” so says Emerson—that occur in “Four Dead Men” via repetition of subject matter and phrasing mimic an obsessive sense of looping that I found inescapable when writing this book. The cycle of life and death of course and also the circling that occurs in the at-times faulty and obsessive logic or repeated narratives of those who struggle with mental illness or addiction, and how easy it is to—purposefully or not—slide into someone else’s orbit of anxiety. Dependency shifts one’s experience of time, whether that dependency is on another person (many new mothers, so I’ve heard, experience an alternate sense—or speed?—of time after giving birth) or on a substance or idea. I was curious about this manipulation of time as well as the relationship between dependency and care, which is perhaps an idea related to your question about patriarchy. How do women—willingly or accidentally or reluctantly or forcefully—inhabit care-giving roles that threaten independence or creative autonomy? I have no answers, only more questions, some of which were the impetus for “Four Dead Men,” such as: how much care is too much? And for what end, and to what purpose? Is care the clearest expression of love? How is it related to freedom? What is the right amount of care for someone who is sick, or in danger, or angry, or depressed? Does requited care matter? Can you harm yourself with care for others? And on and on. You see the loop. I was also at this time steeped in the work of Thomas Bernard, who I find to be a fascinating writer, and whom I had just discovered was a hero of my hero, W.G. Sebald. In part this poem responds to fictional relationships in his novel Correction. I was interested in investigations of the disturbed, addicted, possessed, and pathological, and how those investigations might be expressed through relentless and oppressive sentences, creating—through endurance, doubling, recollection, endless revisions of thinking, second-guessing, and duplication of phrasing—ripples of paranoia and a sort of frenetic or frantic engine. - womensquarterlyconversation.com/category/caryl-pagel/




Caryl Pagel is the assistant director of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, co-founder of Rescue Press, and an editor at jubilat. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death is available now from Factory Hollow Press, and at Prairie Lights Bookstore.

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