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Pebbledash and coincidence

Mara Adamitz Scrupe uses gaps of various sizes between words, as well as italics, ampersands, indentations and line breaks. But she writes almost entirely without punctuation (with the exception of apostrophes and the occasional colon). So the reader’s brain instinctively grabs individual phrases as they arrive: little units of meaning.

I experienced this as a sort of pebble-dash, a storm of fragments that gradually adds up to a whole. Magnalia means, basically, ‘marvellous things’, and the verse method encourages their discovery bit by bit.

The title poem includes what was for me an odd coincidence. Its full title is ‘Magnalia (Instructions for Sewing Simple Slippers)’. The epigraph also supplies necessary information: ‘Carrie Buck was the first person involuntarily sterilized ... and committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded’.

But my coincidence lay in finding a detailed reference to an ancient marvel: the Lamb of Tartary (if you don’t know what is is, do follow the link). Very recently I encountered this self-same creature in a poem by Peter Jarvis. I had never heard of it before — and now — twice in a month!

In Scrupe’s poem, the image of the ‘vegetable lamb’ is a marvel that somehow offsets and corresponds to the awful damage inflicted on Carrie Buck.

Here is the concluding stanza of ‘Magnalia’:

                full in wonder of nature’s       magnalia
the magic lamb’s wooly umbilicus revolves
flexing & sprouts a living sheep that eats to death
the grass path around it       reborn again & again
from its own fallen seeds/ epitomes:
                                    astonishing intricacies &     simplicities

At first the phrases in the stanza quoted above are shrouded in mystery. But bit by bit (especially if you know about the lamb) it adds up, and the connection with Carrie Buck clicks into place. A painful fact is ‘reborn again & again / from its own fallen seeds’, even though the judgement of Carrie was as wrong as the presumed existence of a lamb that grows on a plant.

Poor Carrie Buck. Her sad story offers a lesson, as the poet says, ‘that shouldn’t be but is & / keeps & comes home again & again’.

Helena Nelson