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Poet's Sampler: Carolyn Koo

Carolyn Koo's poetry arises from the most universal concepts-the struggle of light and dark, absence and presence. In "The Ear as Aid to Vision," for instance, "There is wildness allowed: the song aloft longer in the absence of light." Light is breath and life; the song, which is elegiac, resonates longer in light's absence. Appearing at a time when the transgressive and overdetermined are major modes, Carolyn Koo's poetry takes the risk of beauty. Beauty radiates from the crevices and missing parts of the world: "water full of boats of half-dead treasure." Because she writes in a comparatively pure poetic idiom, hers is a radical innocence, a singing in the dark. The mood is operatic but without opera's grandiosity.

While Carolyn Koo is obliquely of the company of Ann Lauterbach, with whom she studied as a graduate student at Bard College, hers is a more essential nature. She has read John Ashbery and Lyn Hejinian, among others of a postmodern profile, at a respectful distance. In reading her work, I am always led to the grasping of a phenomenal absence rather than the elaboration of indeterminacy. This is a poetry as far from fetishized experimentalism as rose petals from chromium rods. Attracted to shadow, to paraphrase her poem "Missing Parts One Through Four," we become part of a mind that has penetrated the dark.

Her poetry has lyrical intensity; feeling is first. But the real drama of her writing lies in its extravagant intelligence. It is a pleasure to be in the company of a mind so alert to the world as word.

--Paul Hoover

Poems by Carolyn Koo

The Ear as Aid to Vision

Missing Parts One Through Four

Images Varying My Own


Not Fever, Not Dream

Reading in Bed

The Ear as Aid to Vision

There is a wildness gravity allows.
She shut her eyes and held the shell first to her own ear.
She stood where earth's tilt curls a fist around ankles.
She slept where rushing night air broke
against rocks and woke looking into eyes, frog, great

breathing creature. She built letters of wet strands and weeds
stirred into the song, the salt filled throat,
the stretched spheres pulsing out of crevices in bark
hollowed for a clear note the instant it lives in the air.
There is a wildness allowed: the song aloft longer in the absence of light.

Missing Parts One Through Four

limited, limiting clarity

There is nothing we won't do for light.
Flowers arc toward the glass, and she,
with her hours at the glass, looking.
The conclusion we draw from the drawn
shade is conclusion, that light is held
swollen in the body, shut behind it every
point of entry. So I don't press my eye to the door
she set the cloth along the long
threshold and cotton to stop
the one arc of orange,. for the key.

sleep away an epoch

I take little things from you for my dreams:
a vein, a wall. They are clear and don't murmur,
they are clean. Unraveling bedding to stitch
my own skin, always partly open, grabs air, holds blood.
A forest is just another room- The map
was perfect except for what it included
and where it left off.
I make and remake, am remaking the map.

boats are dry

It's too late to be in a boat, past green
flash, and from the path we only sense
there is water. In dark near water smooth bark
keeps time--- heart quickens if throat stops, tree
frogs stop when they look at you.
Water full of boats full of half-dead treasure:
Fish knocks into boat knocks into rock.
Birds die for love of reflection, attraction to shadow,
and we lean to look at the face.

everything breathed

Pans catch water all over the house-
Outside there are drapes of rain
we catch in our mouths. Out from under intimate
awnings, everything breaks into parts. This beginning
begins to feel like a mere
rehearsal- mourning doves love rain,
strain to stay broken a half-step apart.
Everything is built on bones and rain,
bones and rain are breathing.

Images Varying My Own

Discussion begins on the body; a moon-curved mole on your arm foretells storms and, again,
there is no use in knowing.

If we reach a point of mind, it is time to take a walk,
to take in a long green lawn in pressed white,

Or, allow me to lounge in the boat while you move us through water,
sleeping with its weight of little turtles, thick green

Exhaustion that follows the tangled attempt to explain.
It is a forward looking body, but

Unquestioning. When you wrote the tree is a tree, not a metaphor, where did you lean?
And does a blue draped on a lamp dim my understanding or is it the room

Preparing for a long wait? The aged eye learns to seduce through absence,
weaken assumptions on the nature of desire, let

Breath stun steam from the cold. There,
above the limber stalk of my neck,

Invention becomes a tree, knotting its roots beneath
the armor of distance. Fog stares at the veins of a lake,

At least that's what you thought in May:
The spiralling light's momentary radiance almost makes up for the dark.


Her plot at night picks up
in white flourescence the line between
see not see, want not want, bats rapid shudder
in intent repetition. She said,

Trains pull you under if you stand too close
I know what would make me happy
Let's sit on the swing and eat mulberries off the tree

Dipped in a bowl of sugar. The grass is flat
where the pool used to be. The yard slopes down to the track.


Everything is safe, everything
is owned by me. The store sells what I want
you to eat, clear eyed, fast, stitching
wine colored velvet and gold
cord for the wine car window. He said,

A hammer is a Pullman screwdriver
There is never a second when everything rests
I built a little shed for my collection

When lights in homes came up with the chill
they bore darkness with gradual ease.

Not Fever, Not Dream

It began the way it always did: with division.
Stars wash out of the lines she believed,
ripping sheets in a clear but unfindable pain.
Her mirror becoming river, she becomes
her daughter and daughter's ache slips over their eyes.
Constellations unshaped behind it, a storm obscures,
makes drapes of explanation. It was in this light
when the car knifed the brush, a balm of sage and rain
sticking to skin the way it always did.
Nothing invented can match
what senses together invent
when something breaks that shouldn't-
Cells and it's felt over country.
She ran her own hands under water to cool
a child's burn: I've been where you most fear to be.

Reading in Bed

I came back out of the dark and thought
you were singing, one over another
no discernable song you made
what I'm making curves cutting through blur:

The sea gates locked but he leaned to smoking alone on the deck or mornings in still dark kitchens she was sorry to have married but rain rains through his mother driving to the dock parked on the soft beige blanket made her think of the first swallows hurtling light at the ship set apart by the time they knew we are sinking

There is no real dark above ground
and diggers die grieving the yet to be found.
Kill the light behind the screen-
we even read shadows.

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