Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death, poems by Caryl Pagel. Hadley, MA: Factory Hollow Press. 2012. $15.
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
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.