by Jessica Lynn Suchon
“Memory’s Looming Furnace”: The Traumatic Entrapment of Elisa Karbin’s Snare
The word snare requires a reader to assign it a definition as either noun or verb, either a mechanism that captures or the act of catching. Elisa Karbin’s debut chapbook of the same name is self-aware, a living consciousness—both noun and verb, the unbearable memory and the equally damaging act of remembering.
Snare is a book that baits the reader with non-linear trauma narrative told through gorgeously dark, rhythmic lyricism. These poems oscillate between the micro and the macro, the self and the transcendent everything.
Karbin writes: “This morning / the poem on the page was a love poem to my / skin. No– an ode to how I bit and clawed, or / an elegy to my guilty body, breaking in waves, a new crack for every year; a eulogy.”
Something inside of Snare’s speaker has both died and cannot rest. The reader can’t help but trust this type of complex honesty, to trace its unravelling revelations.
The first poem reveals itself to be self-aware, opening with light falling onto the page. “I don’t want to begin the story in media res,” the speaker claims, though of course, she does—detailing the world while hinting at a larger, more concrete act of violence. We read the poem as the speaker writes it – follow her through her process and memory while considering all of the same horrors and questions.
After a traumatic incident, Karbin’s poems ask, where is the boundary between the body and the world? What still belongs to us? The speaker in these poems frequently transcends the boundaries of her own body and dissipates into the sensory world, yet sometimes she is so viscerally present within herself that the reader, too, feels as though they are entrapped alongside her in her body. “Let me divide myself” the speaker begs, and so she does, into both an interior and exterior that hold so much beauty and menace.
During the inciting incident of trauma, as noted in “Prelude” there is a “hush in viscera,” but there is also a carnival song being stretched and warped, the “wet ink of water.” The reader returns again and again to the pier where the speaker experienced sexual assault, and with each visit the pier reveals another painful, intimate detail. Each time the reader finds themselves there, they know that something sinister is coming, but the details of it, when revealed, still surprise and shock, demonstrating Karbin’s gift for transforming silence and quiet into something thunderous.
Anaphora is one of Karbin’s most affective uses of rhetoric. The recollections of sexual assault cycle through the speaker’s head, repeating themselves with slight variance. Certain details of the trauma— the smell of soot, a mirror, an ever-watching blue iris, blood the color of poppies—live within the speaker like a virus that she cannot expel, and she revises the moment again and again in her mind, each anaphora shifts, taking new yet familiar forms as the reader moves through the manuscript.
In “Deep Spring”—a poem divided into three columns that work mimic the braiding of the exterior and interior, Karbin uses line breaks that create a complex relationship between the speaker and the world; how in the “dark humming spring [the speaker] vibrated with yes, yes, yes.” While the image is beautiful, it is also foreboding, quickly turning dangerous and resentful when the speaker directly addresses the ‘you’, declaring “your thickness inside me, like sickness was never welcome.”
Snare is an ode to the carousel of memory, of acknowledging that the way those who have traumatized us and the violence that they inflicted never truly leave our lives or our bodies, Karbin’s speaker haunts as much as she is haunted.
Elisa Karbin is a lyrical wonder and this collection’s melancholy song is one that will trouble the reader when they least expect it, all of its best lines churning in the shadows of their memory.