Objects from a Borrowed Confession
With Objects from a Borrowed Confession, poet Julie Carr has undertaken an expansive reexamination, amassing a project written over the last ten years that approaches the subject of confession from within the confession itself. Carr neither mounts an apology on behalf of confessional poets (there is no apology necessary), nor does she offer readers a straightforward critical appraisal of confession in writing itself. Rather, the poet approaches her topic as a theme worthy of consideration, offering fresh insight to what it is about the confessional text that can provide catharsis for one reader just as easily as make another uncomfortable.
A one-sided epistolary novella whose speaker writes to an ex-lover’s ex-lover begins this volume, and Carr charges these unanswered, unanswerable letters with inquiries that permeate the book: How do we understand grief, obsession, the very nature of forgiveness? Why confess? Whom does my confession benefit? For whom do I intend it? Carr’s lyrical prose guides the reader through these questions by way of inhabiting shared spaces and experiences. The poet’s dexterous handling of these shifts between essay, epistolary, poem, and memoir, allows each movement within the book its own unique music––melodies, which, taken in whole, create intoxicating harmonies for the attentive listener. The result is a book emotionally complex and intellectually thrilling, brimming with crystalline prose and formal expertise from one of contemporary poetry’s most distinct voices.
“Objects from a Borrowed Confession vibrate/s with analyrical fervor, situated intimacy shared, a profound anti-generic communicability running over every edge, terribly beautifully trying to get at something. Having been given an all-but-impossible range of revelation, Julie Carr offers careful and intense imperatives for telling sung strained, estranged, touchingly, with an absolute precision of touch, hands laid on what she hands, all up in all she gives, having put her foot in it, too, dancing words with absolute flavor, preparing a table for pleasure and necessity improvised in contact, turning toward everything in turning toward you.” —Fred Moten
Copyright © 2017 by Julie Carr
I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a child I was timid and also threw tantrums. Some of my earliest memories are of anti-war protests when I was three. Around that time I watched Dustin Hoffman shave. Moved to New York when I was 18 for college. I worked as a contemporary dancer throughout my twenties. Performed in churches, parks, schools, abandoned buildings, parties, bars, and on stages. Rode a bike across bridges for a decade. I was always writing, sometimes for performance, sometimes in a journal, and eventually for publication. NYU for an MFA, UC Berkeley for a Ph.D. I studied Victorian Literature because I’d read most of it when I was a teenager. My first child was born in Manhattan, my second in Oakland, and my third in Denver. First book published in 2006. Two others in 2010. Others followed from there. My husband and I dreamed up Counterpath Press in Brooklyn, and started it eight years later. We’ve published a lot of books (over 40) and hosted a lot of events (100s). Now we also grow a vegetable and fruit garden with others. CU Boulder gave me my first and only academic job. My students are poets, performers, intermedia artists and scholars. I live in a house in a purple state. My mother died in 2015. My other three parents are still alive. Our dog is named Colfax, after the Avenue.
The works in Objects from a Borrowed Confession have been written over a stretch of approximately ten years, in and around the writing of various other books of poetry and prose. They all share a common obsession with the theme of confession. I became interested in this theme partially because the term “confessional poetry” carried such negative connotations when I was “coming up” in poetry, even as poets considered “confessional,” especially Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, had been so important to me as a young writer. The situation was similar to being a hardcore punk kid while sometimes listening to Joni Mitchell in my bedroom. I wanted to think about what the Language Poets and the Conceptual Poets had against “confession,” but I also wanted to see why confession was so important to our broader culture. Obviously, in the age of Facebook and the memoir, everyone is a confessional poet, and I wanted to explore that impulse and the attraction we have to one another’s secrets. On a more philosophical level, I wanted to understand what the act of confession has to do with intimacy, empathy and subjectivity.
The opening piece, “How much do we want to know and how far are we willing to go to get it,” is an epistolary novella written from the point of view of one woman to her ex-lover’s ex-lover. The letters are never responded to, but through them we learn of the first woman’s obsessive interest in her old rival and we explore the erotic dynamic that can exist between two women who have been, as one of the letters puts it, “hit by the same strong wind.”
The following piece, which shares the book’s title, is a condensed narrative about the accidental death of a little boy. Through this narrative the piece asks questions about the border between the living and the dead, and so prepares the reader for other explorations around the theme of death and grief that are to come.
The center-piece of the book, “The War Reporter: On Confession” is an essay that takes up the letters of war reporter Martha Gellhorn and the art writing of T.J. Clark in order to directly pose the question: “Confessing, does one ask to be forgiven, or instead, to be recognized, even, one could say, made”? The essay concludes by considering that what we most need to confess to is our desire to be alive, for liveliness, even in the face of another’s death.
The book includes playful moments as well such as the extended sentences that make up a series I call “Destroyed Works (or, Expanded Cinema).” These are the lightest moments in the book and I include them because they offer a reprise from the heavier topics of other essays while occupying an ambiguous place in the whole. I hoped a reader might ask herself what these winding sentences have to do with confession and might conclude that all writing, no matter its content, is in some way an “object of confession.”
Another longer piece, “By Beauty and by Fear: On Narrative Time” is as close as the book comes to offering a “poetics.” This essay takes up my twin terrors: American gun violence and my mother’s Alzheimer’s diseases, exploring the insomnia that I suffered as a result of these terrors for one particularly bad year. The essay thinks about what poetry and sleep have to do with each other while considering the desire for narrative (as opposed to poetry) as a symptom of fear.
After shorter pieces on anger and envy and an experimental memoir that plays with Rousseau and other Romantic writers, the book concludes with a letter to philosopher and poet Fred Moten. This letter directly takes up the question of the borders of the self when that self is bound to others through love or friendship, or broken open by heartbreak or loss. I consider this letter an “afterthought” for it brings more directly to light the problem of selfhood that has been running through the book all along in sometimes less direct ways.
Finally, the idea for this book is not only thematic; it is also formal. I wanted to explore prose forms in as many ways as I could while writing a cohesive book. The book tries to blur genres and disciplines, placing poetic line against memoir and criticism against dream in ways that I hope are both disorienting and pleasurable for a reader.