Jay Besemer reviews THINK TANK by Julie Carr


Solid Objects, 2015


Think Tank
Julie Carr
Solid Objects, 2015

Julie Carr’s compelling book-length poem Think Tank is a nested conversation comprising many voices within a context or page-space that feels both interior and geographic. The interiority could variously be experienced as a cerebral one (this is within a mind), a somatic one (mind expands to embrace bodily realities), a social one (body/mind with other body/minds), a poetic one (the page), or all of these at once. Actually, the “all of the above” interiority may well be the most complete experience of Think Tank. This way of sensing and knowing the book resonates with what the book itself does, and with what it says. Alternate voices speak freely in (and around) the interconnected interiors of Carr’s effort:

“And then the wind turned into a voice and said
………you know that round place at the center of your mind?
………Of this new pain you must make verse (25).”

Without reading too much into the word “pain,” this segment suggests an origin for the poetic imperative that is both inside and outside the body, and is connected to somatic experience but not determined by it. It’s a key concept for the book.

The plurality of voices involved in Think Tank is sometimes overt, as in directly-quoted elements from other pieces of writing. Carr includes a helpful page of notes attributing the sources of quoted text, where we discover that César Vallejo is one of her primary interlocutors here. Several questions are sparked by this choice. To what degree is any such poetic text a conversation with others, especially other texts and poets? And how, ultimately, is individual identity itself actually inclusive of those we care about—or those who have somehow influenced us? I don’t mean the question of whether our identities are determined by others, or are changed by others. I mean the possibility that the sense of self includes the other people in our lives—as the self, as part of the self. What if we actually contain our loved ones, our mentors and students and heroes and adversaries—and they contain us, too?

That question is the main one Think Tank seems to ask. The poem is not only populated by poets; it also contains kids, various named presences, a mother beyond the one implied by the poet’s “I”, and a couple of recurring characters. There’s “a man,” who bumbles through the text variously (and sometimes comically) walking into things, places and people. There’s an “asky little girl” who practices her gymnastics routine here and there throughout the text. Expansive extra-bodily space also becomes evoked through references to domestic interiors (bathtub, bedroom) and types of buildings (hotel, NY gym). The experience becomes one of a blurring of poetic space with lived space, as the mind becomes the page becomes the body in the world.

A multiple selfhood also creates the space for its complement: a blending or cancellation of certain markers of individual identity. It feels noteworthy that the book begins with this:

………“I woke with no
……………….disordered under my
arm (1).”

The phrase “utterly disordered” is fascinating here because, despite the heavy cultural weight put upon the word and concept “disorder,” this does not feel like an emotionally fraught awakening. Rather, it signals entrance into an unusual type of experience. This is emphasized and clarified much further on, by the line “I want your voice in my poem, which is like I want your body in my own (52)” and again a few pages later, with a shift to third-person: “My hand through his skin to the source/of thinking (59).” We are not presented with a distressing fragmentation of identity, something un-chosen and out of control. It’s more deliberate; intentionality and desire are asserted with the “I want,” and the unapologetic, active penetration by the narrator of the skin of a male personage. More than just an acceptance of multiple selfhood, this indicates a refreshing cultivation of multiplicity.

Current discourse on the function and practice of poetry—on poems, poets and poetics—engages intensely and at times overwhelmingly with questions of body, authenticity, and authorial presence/privilege. At the core of many conversations rests the issue of who is allowed to speak. Some poets take a predatory stance toward other bodies, other identities; others jealously (and appropriately) guard their own bodies and voices against the former approach. In many ways, the poetic body and the physical body are the same: a poetic violation is a trauma just like a physical violation, though the method and the context differ. How can one make and live poetry without violation? How can the honoring of the (many) selves be made welcome in innovative poetics? Julie Carr’s Think Tank exceeds reductive parameters of allowable speech through complicating the concepts of identity and voice. It’s refreshing, fascinating, and endlessly inspiring.


Jay Besemer’s most recent poetry collections are A New Territory Sought (Moria) and Aster to Daylily(Damask Press). As Jen Besemer, he also authored Telephone (Brooklyn Arts Press), Quiet Vertical Movements (Beard of Bees) and Object with Man’s Face (Rain Taxi Ohm Editions). He contributed to the groundbreaking antholoy Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics(Nightboat)Jay writes critical texts for a number of publications and is a teaching artist at Chicago’s Spudnik Press Cooperative. Follow him on Twitter @divinetailor.

Born and raised in Cambridge, Mass, Julie Carr is a poet, publisher, and professor, living in Denver, Colorado with Tim Roberts and their three children. She is the author of five books of poetry: Mead: An Epithalamion (University of Georgia Press, 2003), Equivocal (Alice James Books, 2006), 100 Notes on Violence (Winner of the Sawtooth Prize, Ahsahta Press, 2010), Sarah—Of Fragments and Lines (a National Poetry Series selection, Coffee House Books, 2010), and RAG (Omnidawn, 2014). Carr holds a BA from Barnard College, an MFA from New York University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. She is an associate professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she teaches poetry and poetics from the late 18th Century to the present, including poetry in collaboration with the other arts.