September 4, 2008

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Elegy For the Floater, Teresa Carson, CavanKerry Press, 2008, 96 pages)
By Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

New poet Teresa Carson is angry and has a lot to get off her chest — mainly how badly messed up her family was. Elegy For the Floater is like a Russian novel, with a lot of badly flawed characters, all orbiting an unstoppable tidal wave of tragedy. In this case, the collection, which is really one long thematic poem, is centered around the drowning suicide of Carson’s brother.

But there’s a lot more going on here — a mentally ill mother, a violent father, the narrator’s rape as a teenager and her subsequent destructive behavior. All poetry is biographical in some ways, but this is specific memoir poetry. In general, it just doesn’t work. Technically, Carson is proficient, but her form is too strict (the final capping poetry about her brother’s death is written as a series of sonnets). The path she chooses here is just too mined for a new poet to have anything interesting to say that hasn’t already been said.

Carson shines when she breaks out of traditional form and style and plays with the context and heft of her words. “Weights and Measures,” for example, is a list of the sizes and weights related to her dead brother - “Left lung: 403.4 / Cinder block #1: 41lbs” - and “Discarded Revisions Two Through Fifteen” is, presumably, a series of snippets not used in the final series of poems that describe Carson’s rape. The lines are even crossed through — a more fitting and looser form, giving substance to the poem because it was at first disregarded.

There is a very good poet somewhere behind Carson’s need to purge herself of a past that clearly haunts her. Free of this therapeutic need, perhaps her second collection will reveal the poet instead of the trauma victim. C-Dan Szczesny