Review of Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death, Factory Hollow Press, 2012. 78 pages. $15.00.
Reviewed by Trista Edwards

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 is a Ph.D. student at the University of North Texas studying creative writing-poetry. Previously, she received both her B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, GA. Her reviews and poems have appeared in The Journal, 32 Poems, Mid-American Review, Moon City Review and others. She currently lives in Denton, Texas with her dog, Buster.

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