Inside the Castle, 2019
Paperback | 132 pp.
En avant! But poems live because of being two, not being one, just as a book lives because of being two, not being one. Wait, go back, start again. Okay. Joan Didion started with “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.”[i] That’s surely at least broadly true as a citizen of postmodernity who is trying to contend with the multiplicity of voices in and around us at all times. So, Jameson calls us “schizophrenic,”[ii] but that’s a faux diagnosis, nothing clinical about it, not even close, really, so why are you starting a book review with a recollection of things the book isn’t, a recollection of what’s not? Because—But poems live because of being two.
In Carrie Lorig’s The Blood Barn, a hidden thesis exists. It is not ourselves that tell stories to ourselves in order to live; it is stories that live in order to tell ourselves. Let us understand what this means for Carrie Lorig and The Blood Barn at first by glimpsing a brief moment nestled early in the textual project.
“I’m here / I died and you can’t take any more / with you I
died / and there’s nothing left for you to decide”[iii]
The ‘I’ in question can multivalently be read as Carrie Lorig, or as Carrie Lorig’s speaker, or as the voice of the titular barn, or as the voice of the book itself (so, what, a poem has numerous ‘I’s, but a poem is only living because of being two; what it is before it is read and what it becomes when it is read). The ‘you’ in question can multivalently be read as Carrie Lorig, or as Carrie Lorig’s speaker, or as some ‘you’ character, or as the titular barn itself, or as a record of a response to the book’s existence, or perhaps even as speech directly to the reader. This brief exchange is both a recognition of the transactional reader-writer relationship and the intensive author-creation relationship. Who is here? “I’m here,” says the book, here, both the ‘I’ that is the Lorig-writer and the ‘I’ that is in this case the Morgan-reader. “There’s nothing left for you to decide,” who to decide?, you, a disembodied person – nothing left for the ‘you’ that is the pages of the book to decide, nothing left for the ‘you’ that is the reader to decide; the book has made its decisions, the Lorig-writer has made their decisions, and there are no decisions left.
(How to recreate the sense-datum relationship of The Blood Barn? How to write against austerity and haphazardly lazy reading? By writing clearly but with as much difficulty as The Blood Barn itself, to make this process difficult, to dislocate the you-reader from the Morgan-writer.)
Not being one. Lorig’s book exists contemporaneously with all of itself. There are five poems in this book, and they are all called the same thing. Extrapolating a little from the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, naming is a process of ownership. “kinship statuses are not set by the begetters of persons, but by their namers.”[iv] These poems are kin with each other, most certainly, but this may not be because Lorig is unilaterally the mother of these poems; these poems are kin with each other perhaps entirely because they are named commensurably. Lorig’s book uses word-forms to construct a literal body, breathing, coursing with blood, transforming the ‘I’ from abstract correlative linguistic fury into an embodied self. The ‘body’ is pages, nonetheless, the ‘body’ is a body. As a book lives because of being two, Lorig’s book lives because it constructs itself as a body spun around a centralised heartbeat.
On the opening page of the book (too beautiful, too dense, too complex to reproduce in its entirety here, you’ll have to take my word for it), Lorig proposes that the oldest cell in the human body might be located in the brain – the cerebral cortex – that the oldest cell in the human body might be responsible for the idea of possibility. Lorig here acts in counter valence to the words of “tradition / canon [saying] we must continue to preserve and praise memory / as if it were the only thing”[v] by positioning the materialism of the body as a counterforce to the ideological fetishization of feelings and subjectivity.
It is no wonder, then, that Lorig’s book itself is materialistic – big, colourful – a body of its own making, spinning itself into being a little more with each page turned (do not be fooled, it has already spun itself into being before you got there).
The materialism of the book becomes increasingly complex as Lorig’s ‘I’-image and ‘you’-image evolves. The Blood Barn presents outtakes paperwork from Dr. Amy King’s office; so the body itself is the titular blood barn, or at least parts of the body, the painful parts, but, yes, the book itself is an anatomical construction. Eventually and ongoingly the book includes numerous multimedia constructions laid down in print; but the attentive reader should be reminded that multimedia constructions laid in print are not multimedia constructions at all, the text remains printed securely on the page, even if that text is an image-text, or a text-image.
We would all do well to remember that even a letter is an image, a word, too, and that even absence is an image, could be a word, too; at least emptiness is something to be projected upon; Lorig’s book is unique in that where it is empty the emptiness is always formed. The book frequently exerts effort to impose itself upon any given page – the poems are not merely poems, but they are also geometries upon the ‘blank’ canvas directory of the page. The book is a process of making real something immaterial. Lorig’s text is the type that makes you speak to yourself, to say—Wait, go back, I have written this all wrong. I have read this all wrong, start again. Okay.
[i]Didion, Joan. (1979). The White Album. In The White Album, 1.
[ii]Jameson, Fredric. (n.d.). quoted in Modules on Jameson, online.
[iii]Lorig, Carrie. (2019). The Blood Barn, 13.
[iv]Sahlins, Marshall. (2011). What kinship is (part one). In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 17(1), 3.
[v]Lorig, Carrie. (2019). The Blood Barn, 11.
Josiah Morgan was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2001. Josiah has been involved in the Aotearoa performing arts scene his entire life. He is a member of the Court Theatre Youth Company and studies Anthropology and English at the University of Canterbury. He is the author of ‘Inside The Castle’, ‘Circles’, and ‘Sola Virgo’. Josiah is a monoglot, but would like to speak Maori and German soon.
Carrie Lorig is the author of ‘The Pulp Vs. The Throne’ (Artifice Books) and ‘The Blood Barn’ (Inside The Castle). Her chapbooks include ‘The Book of Repulsive Women, which was selected by Lily Hoang for the Essay Press Chapbook Contest, Reading as a Wildflower Activist (H_NM_N), and NODS (Magic Helicopter Press).