Carla Sarett, She Has Visions (Main Street Rag, 2022)
Between ‘Once, dying bees fell on me as I slept naked’ and ‘All I have left is | my departure’ is Carla Sarett’s transformative debut collection that interrogates grief, reality, the realities of grief and the griefs of reality.
The collection, like the poet, is in search of meaning. Following a life-shaking moment of grief, the foundations of life and death are unstable; previously sturdy landmarks have been uprooted – or vanished. In the collection’s opening poem, the poet wonders, what if,
[…] I forget what I am supposed to do
with all of this living and dying
and everything in between
Throughout the collection, there are more questions than answers – and deliberately so. She Has Visions is full of places and empty spaces. ‘I slept through most of Idaho,’ the poet states, ‘I missed the Snake River, the cracked black | dunes the astronauts trained on’. In absence is presence and in the present is absence. In many cases, the landscape is still standing but has been hollowed out: ‘No one’s playing at Oracle Park’.
Sometimes betweenness becomes an end point: ‘I waited for you at baggage claim until there wasn’t any luggage | […] You got lost somewhere between Terminal A and Terminal B’. Everything in between is the emotion, the personal stories and struggles that get blurred by cold, hard facts.
Temporal vagueness goes hand in hand with spatial nothingness: ‘April is not the cruelest month | […] This month is’. Although details are left out, the reader feels their force with acute precision. Misplaced calendars and repeated reference to Times Square bring a hyper-awareness of time into further relief. Memory imposes distance at the same time it brings closeness, reinforcing that the remembered events happened ‘a lifetime ago’.
I woke up thinking of a poem I had written,
Aphorisms abound – ‘goodbyes never happen once’; ‘Only the living | need space and time’; ‘Everything’s new here, fresh from ruins’ – though the language always maintains a freshness that defies old patterns. Like its surprising guest list – John Wayne, Greta Garbo, Hecuba – She Has Visions is a patchwork of reality, imagination and myth. It is a collection that will leave the reader changed too.
Carla Sarett, She Has Visions (Main Street Rag, 2022). Available here:
Conversation with Carla Sarett, author of She Has Visions
Daniel: She Has Visions explores many realities, with imagination, myth and memory all cleverly interwoven. When writing these poems, did you have an overall “vision” for what you wanted your debut collection to look like?
Carla: Many of these poems were written in the crucible of grief following the sudden death of my husband in December 2018. That year then flowed into the global lockdown for COVID. In that period, I changed into the woman who wrote these poems. No one has been more surprised than I at the change. This book is for Paul Messaris, forever and ever and ever.
D: One of the most interesting / intrusive / human aspects of reading poetry, for me, is gaining access to the innermost thoughts and feelings of another person. But literary devices and poetic masks can cloud the words and leave a reader unsure how to respond to the first-person voice. What are your views on how personal lived experience translates onto the page? Does making a “real” event / person / feeling into a poem obscure or illuminate them?
C: Meditation gives me a framework to think about “personal lived experience.” We feel alone in moments of grief or alienation; but these feelings are themselves shared.That is reality. Every moment is fleeting – we inhabit a sea of different feelings and thoughts. Grief, I learned, isn’t 24/7 – it ebbs and flows in random ways.
To me, a poem attacks the randomness of feelings; if they were orderly, they’d become an essay. A poem makes order from a clash of ideas and feelings. I take a tour of The Alamo, and I’m crying. I look at a Bronzino painting and I see my dead brother. My walks through city streets become wells of memory. The poems in She Has Visions (even the surreal ones) do contain “real” memories, but refracted through the lens of loss.
So, to your point that the first-person poetic voice can “obscure” experience – I think I’d say poetry is a form of changing the experience. In She Has Visions, I am changing loss into …well, whatever my new life is.
D: That’s very moving what you say about the randomness of grief. As you say, poetry, like grief, is a complicated landscape of both solitude and shared experience. Within this contradiction is a battle, apparent too in how you described poetry as ‘a clash of ideas and feelings’. How does this idea of combat present itself in your poetry?
C: I do feel that if there’s no clash, there’s no poem. I have to be grappling with some bit of paradox, as in many of my poems about paintings. In ‘Saint Sebastian’, I view the Mantegna, and afterward am seized with “my departure” – the image offered the sublime, but now I’m thinking about food.
So, on the one hand, we want to experience the pure present – but that moment is (paradoxically) crowded with memory. I think in a lot of the poems in She Has Visions, I am trying to sift through the layers of loss, whether they’re aesthetic, personal or cultural.
D: I get what you’re saying about the multiple layers of the (ever-shifting) present. I also think this applies to how we read and respond to poetry: we can react differently each time we approach a text from a different temporal or spatial reality. As you write new poems (and books), do you feel like you are “recording” a particular time and place? If so, where do extra-temporal “events” (visions and hallucinations) fit into this?
C: I don’t feel that I am recording in a journalistic sense as I write. I don’t worry, for example, what did I really wear? But I am building on incidents and the emotions that accompany them. A good example in She Has Visions is the poem, ‘The Fourth Floor’. I’m riding my condo’s elevator, feeling my age – and then drift into “visions” of burials of Bronze Age women. So, the colours and beauty of the burials become my focus. The leap (i.e. to the Bronze Age) is what my brain just “does” whether I’m writing or not.
D: That’s fascinating, thank you, Carla, for such insightful answers. I notice you’ve released two more chapbooks this year. Can you say something more about these?
C: I love chapbooks, and what they offer – continuous threads, a burst of writing. WOMAN ON THE RUN (Alien Buddha) is a set of poems inspired by the themes of film noir – danger, cities, loss and of course, femme fatales. The poems sit at the intersection of feminism and noir, and the tone is stark and edgy. Some micro-poems too.
MY FAMILY WAS LIKE A RUSSIAN NOVEL (Plan B Press) is a series of memoir poems about my childhood and my older brother’s death. The poems (often prose poems) swerve between the a child’s point of view, and an adult’s, between enchantment and knowing.
D: Thank you, Carla!
C: Thank you for these thoughtful questions. They made me reflect on the “why” of writing poetry.
Carla Sarett, She Has Visions (Main Street Rag, 2022). Available here: