A Careening, Psychedelic, Magic-Carpet Ride
Reviewed by Laury A. Egan, Summer, 2018, Ithaca Lit
In an epigraph, poet Karla Linn Merrifield signals a primary theme of her most ambitious work, Psyche’s Scroll: common traits of creative people are “…an openness to one’s inner life; a preference for complexity and ambiguity; an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray; the ability to extract order from chaos; independence; unconventionality; and a willingness to take risks…” [Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman in Quartz] An apt description of Merrifield herself and certainly of this roiling tour de force of poetic fireworks.
“Are you in the mood to let us occupy your mind?” the poet asks. Reader, take note: this is required if you delve into this complex work, one that holds a mirror to our worst tendencies, hatreds, prejudices, cruelties, and hypocrisies as well as showcases our joys and reverence for life. In the beginning, Merrifield blends in her own biography, starting with the story of her preacher-father, who physically and emotionally abused her, and then continues with a series of other painful relationships she endured. Perhaps because of her father’s maniacal beliefs, Merrifield’s atheism was forged (or she came to this view through intelligent analysis). Regardless of the origin, she throws some satiric spears at religion, especially as it is practiced in America, and merges with commercialism. In a quietly lacerating piece about Black Friday at a Florida Walmart, she writes, “Santa Claus, the season’s savior in faux-velvet drag,” and adding, “Jolly, jolly greed; jingle-bell blindness.”
Throughout the book, when she returns to her own biography, she exposes her numerous scars, wearing them like insignias of experience that support her right to be a truth-teller, one who can hurl labels back at our intolerant labelers, those who hate anyone who they consider “other,” i.e., not of the same race, religious and political beliefs, gender, or sexual orientation. In this regard, Merrifield represents many of us who are appalled and sickened by the deterioration of our country’s human and democratic values. Yet the book is also leavened with joy, humor, and the celebration of nature. Merrifield has always been a naturalist poet, an ecological champion, who extolls the beauty of the world; here she dons the mantle of eco-warrior, fighting for the environment (among other diverse causes), but despite the occasional edge, she often resorts to playfulness: “Can the rainbow name its seven colors? Do matter, antimatter, dark matter matter?” She also employs her trademark lyricism: “Orion reclines on his side on a chaise of moonclouds, cirrus wisps scrim his sword.”
Psyche’s Scroll is a deep dive into the poet’s life and, in many ways, into the lives of women. The work is honest, chaotic, darkly humorous, gritty, surreal, and stuffed with Merrifield’s knowledge of history, literature, music, nature, and myth. Is it a manifesto or is this a channeling of her inner self into words, perhaps even beyond the realm of her own understanding? A loving paean to her mysterious muse? As she wisely writes, “The search itself means its meaning.”
Laury A. Egan is the author of the psychological suspense novel, Jenny Kidd (Vagabondage Press) and the collection, Fog and Other Stories (StoneGarden.net Publishing.) Her two poetry books, Snow, Shadows, a Stranger and Beneath the Lion’s Paw were issued by FootHills Publishing. She lives in New Jersey.