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Splits and Fragments
Back Through Interruption by Kate Northrop. Kent State University Press, 2002. 63 pp. $14.
Kate Northrop’s Back Through Interruption won the 2001 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, judged by poet Lynn Emmanuel. The poems within echo Wallace Stevens, another Pennsylvanian who, like Northrop, looked upon landscapes and wrote about them in moments when they stood uninhabited but bearing the signs of us, plump with nothing. Northrop’s landscapes make oblique reference to stories which are recounted in somewhat greater detail in other poems, but which on sum leave a reader feeling as though having overheard only a part of a story. The interruption of the title is also an opening, less a break than an opportunity through which to go back and reconsider. As Emmanuel asserts, the breaks in these poems, the interruptions, are where identities split, or understandings.
Consider the opening lines of “Affair with Various Endings,” a poem in which the speaker continually comes back to a relationship which ended years before, to a lover whose death she knew to be impending, and something she could not endure: “Perhaps the last of the light/ lifting this evening from the field of wheat // means something.” The uncertainty of the lines marks the narrator’s sense, long after the events she recounts, that more is left to discover. She remembers details, and on saying them, avers an existence of the story somewhere: “If I say your hand / on my thigh, the truck still idles // beneath us.” But the intangible stories come back through the tangible details of the landscapes in which the affair is recounted. She writes, “I’ll go to the garden where we met . . . where I will never see you . . . or hear aloud the way // you said my name. I’ll turn/ and turn again, // but you’ll be gone, nothing filling up your space.” After the speaker’s conjuring of the lover, after the uncertainty of details and their questionably fixed nature in memory and place, after the realization of how the story comes back to the speaker, the “nothing” is a thing, made so by her loss and evocation.
In “Iowa & Other Accidents,” the poet describes the memory of an accident, and its persistent existence in the present tense, “the car you will always describe as oncoming.” In doing so, she sets the tone for a collection which holds its memories, stories, and images in the same raw way that our minds often hold them: “the accident / always there, about to happen.”
Northrop is the assistant director of the influential yearly conference at West Chester University, “Exploring Form and Narrative: Recent Trends in Contemporary Poetry,” a conference started by Michael Peich and Dana Gioia, and one known for its trumpeting formal verse. Northrop, however, in Back Through Interruption, accomplished in her poems a suspension of memory and the past through means necessarily anti-formal. The collection includes a few poems which present themselves in slant-rhymed quatrains, and one or two which reveal that they may have been, at points earlier in their evolution, sonnets. However, Northrop’s formal concern (and constraint) is metrical, governed by the breath and its usual patterns. Lines enjamb or break in ways that disrupt, or interrupt, our more typical cadence. By the poems’ forms working against the expectations of speech, their forms reify the sense of interruption present in the abstract images, the multiple possible identities and meanings in the poems, and the complicated forms of stories and landscapes themselves.
Gabriel Welsch is a regular reviewer for Slope.