“she’ll be / empty”
Think Tank sloshes. Its poems are many things best understood as one thing. The elements of Think Tank find commonality in their manifold qualities of containment. Although the thought seemed reductive to me at first, and again as I declare it, Think Tank is indeed a tank of think, for think. The aspects of its content are, or speak of, vessels, of interiority and exteriority, and of the boundaries and membranes between. From the level of the word to the covers of the book, bits jostle and churn, alone yet together through the connotation of their edges and the spaces between.
Carr cultivates an understanding of two primary, archetypal vessels, the body and the book, through a range of other vessels dappling the text: hole, can, water, train, sea, net, kettle, pool, sweater, oval frame, headphones, omphaloid hollows, husks, cave, walnuts. The plurality in this list is helpful for understanding what it means to Carr’s text to be within a book, how we might be able to understand it as a book, and concurrently what the body is and does in space. All items in this list of vessels do not at first appear to be vessels, but by sharing an edge, which all things do, which all things must, they become vessels that define contents and not contents. The sea is a vessel that keeps out the air and land. The vessel needn’t be a conventional something. It needs only to be not nothingness, “zero on the left and zero on the right,” as Carr writes.
In this pluralistic understanding of the vessel, of body or book, is the inverted permission that a vessel’s contents may be on its exterior, “A room, a moor.” One might describe such a vessel as an object within a context, that context is the vessel. But no, context has no edge, the body is the edge, so the body is the vessel of its context. Carr asks halfway through Think Tank, “You know that round place at the center of your mind?” She does not dwell on conventional aspects of place with definitive luxury. For Carr, a place is where nothing is, because where something is would be a thing, and not a place. The thing is what contains the place. Place is emptiness. Place is the medium. Place is a midst. Place is the grammar, the poesis, and the connotative capacity defined by the vessel.
The vessel does not only restrain. There is ambiguity in the envelope. Carr develops a position on the commerce required between to provide a more nuanced characterization of the book’s form. The image of the door that opens Think Tank is not assigned directionality. In darkness the door does not provide light, it doesn’t provide escape. It is simply a threshold. A refrain in Think Tank, “A man walks into…,” that classic joke opening, is appended with solid, impenetrable objects, “a table,” “the ground,” “his daughter,” “his coat.” These refrains call into question the notion of edges, of boundaries, and power differentials. We sense that this form, this book, these things that are not us, are capable of admitting us into themselves. The book, or another person, has this effective permeability. “Open that chair or that bit of floor so I can get in / to that Out world,” Carr writes. In this way, the poem folds in on itself, a Klein bottle, a topological quantum paradox of what is contained by the text and what is containing the text.
Carr’s text itself is fragile, unstable. “I’m afraid to speak so full of blood.” This fragility impacts the liberty of words. Although this fragility could be seen as limiting, Carr capitalizes on it to texture her language. Early on in the book, she tips her hand about an idealized voice for this set of conditions. “Spinning out of emplotment and derivative lexicon, sweltering lexicon / toward what slush she dream?” The image of the text is a dream slush. Slush is formless. Thus, the voice exhibits a hesitance to speech, a hesitance to draw lines within constellations.
Think Tank is a book-length poem composed of poetic bits, some truly fragmentary, some discrete lodestones. Each is pithy. Some are so strained, so broken, as to almost fall apart. Others are quite round. At the end of the book, the acknowledgments to various journals that published individual poems from Think Tank provoked me to wonder about the fragments, or the poems on their own. What resonance, what texture, what form would they declare in the absence of the book in which they slosh? Assembled within one cover, Think Tank is a heterogeneous mythical animal. Its disparate themes, images, and subjects become contained by a silhouette. The constellations of words resist internal completeness. Carr rarely indulges in the conventional ways that the English language promotes wordplay. Her rhetoric is of choking rather than singing. When she sings, it punctuates or startles. “A part of a whole, apart from a hole, is the pit of the soul / the apex of the soil.” Otherwise, the oddity in her disrupting the melodic potential of language makes it uncomfortable, holds resolution at a distance and forces readerly miscibility and involution. Carr employs parataxis, not ellipsis. But this trepidation is also a form of perfection. It is the perfection of breathless elision. Here is a piece reproduced in full:
Kettle boils, boils now
ddddddMaligned and languishing in an upstairs room: a lacrimal dimple
ddddddtrips the obscene
Honk geese: soprano duck, duck
hobbles, belly first, a girl-falcon spins
ddddddrebuffs the rough draft
Too long, my husband’s sweater
ddddddsleeve. My patience no: threads of what
warms a baby’s unrivalled calamitous
hour. Full sob
ddddddtranspires to rust the pendulous rug
ddddddlong in arms, short on time
now gone to
ddddddsorrow: cap’s cracked and leaking
dddddddoor doesn’t open: exit through mirror, o
The pithiness and obscurity of phrasing stretches and borrows from within, does not shrink. The bits bleed and leech. We have less an accrued sense of meaning than a total sense of meaning that begins once the book is finished and closed.
Carr’s command over the contents of Think Tank is as vigorous as the level of fear and trepidation articulated about the exterior of the text. “These experiences are absolutely unwriteable which is why I am putting / them here.” Words enter the outer world of irrational others, of decay and chance. It is the swimming medium of us, the reader, and the world of our children.
As a man, I cannot, without distortion or privilege, directly understand Carr’s meditations on motherhood, on isolation, on fear. In fact, I am not sure others, even women, mothers, can. Those are the mysteries of the other. Everything, everyone is other, exterior. Everyone is separate and silent and more removed than is possible. “What black butterfly, voiceless with its fourth-person narration / is the real world?” But, as a reader, and secondly as a writer, I can understand, and I can empathize with, and I can ascertain the paranoia, the life-giving, the confusion of the book’s being in itself. And only through this am I able to return to those alien mysteries, and only to understand them mediated, and only a shade more exposed in their vessel. Is Carr always referring to the text and its fabrication? Almost certainly not. But we must indulge in the metaphorical thickness that allows it to do so at any moment. This indulgence gives more concrete gravity to the other characteristics she may be addressing. Carr writes at her most explicitly metaphoric when discussing writing, or life-giving. As all that we can truly access is the book, the book and its writing being a metaphor give us explicit and immediate ways to reconnect with her more personal meditations.
A way of empathizing is important because Think Tank is a very personal world. In the same fragment that Carr articulates the “slush she dream,” she presents a mechanism for content, “Playing games with harm in order to transform wounds into things.” Carr approaches or indulges in the difficult, the painful, in order to make it physical. A poem is the wound, not the pain. Yet Carr retains them both, forcing us to adsorb the wound, disallowing us access to the lasting pain. This is pain that comes from without but is also manufactured within by self-imposed silence. The self is only not nothingness. “I am not not a formal feeling not not a blank.” In this silence is a sense of guilt about what is suppressed, either by strength or by external pressure. Carr juxtaposes playing with her daughter, “the daughter,” against a sexual fantasy or dream, and the envelope of a building. The vessel seals off from others. It restrains the flow of information. But it also restrains action, or enforces inaction in this case. The selfishness of keeping, of holding or containing, affects the way things are set free or released. In the silence spaces of Think Tank is dread of life-giving and persistence even in acts of selfishness and withholding and introversion.
This withholding is beneficial and dangerous: beneficial in that it protects from cruelty and vagary, but dangerous in that it does not prepare the offspring, the book or the child, to fully confront the world of chance and change. “Today the children leave us. With foolish vaporous generosity / we let them go.” There is always a fear in what we release into the world that it is not ready, that it is still too little of its own thing, that she, the daughter, “the sick girl,” is still that inert matter she was formed from by her maker, that she is that close to being only that inert matter. “Clay in her // fever, wandering clay.” Only the children in Think Tank are not anonymous. Even this is not always true. Carr writes, “There’s this baby,” as if it has not yet attained enough separateness to have a name. The poems are not given names, yet the book is. But this also is a fear of letting things be separate, the fear of the poem or the child alone in the world. What might the child go on to do? What traumas might the child suffer outside of our control? Released into the world, what might happen to all the things we can no longer hold onto?
In a key sequence of poems, Tim, presumably the poet’s son, is in a swimming pool when another boy drowns, “A very quiet / disappearance.” The two boys are objects together in the vessel of the pool, and through the vessel’s inclusivity, Tim suffers a trauma as well. It is a trauma of the shared medium, a trauma of proximity, a trauma of being adrift together in this placid vessel. But it is a trauma whose itch he cannot scratch, separate from him inside the drowned boy. The trauma is his own, but it is secret even to him.