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Friday, September 5, 2014

Time Travel: Theory and Practice by Katie Berger -- a review

I recently devoured and re-devoured Katie Berger's Time Travel: Theory and Practice.  Berger is a Nebraska native who just finished her poetry MFA at Alabama.  The dry, academic title is accompanied by graphs and figures (see image to the right).

But the poetry itself is anything but dry. The poems read as if Kelly Link had written a book of slipstream poetry regarding time travel. Link, though, tends to treat life in service of the tropes whereas Berger does the tropes in service of life. It is a somewhat intimate look at the poet persona as a young woman looking back at her roots. How does one look at or accept memory (i.e. time travel) of one's past?

The dramatis personæ: Berger writes of her poet persona, "I possess a distinct memory of flying." Paul, her time-traveling conscience (and friend), corrects her, "You try to remember." And the grandfather, who seems a muse, a being who has traveled through much time (an almost mystical being whose car can be seen four miles away), and perhaps a system (or the old system) of orderliness in the chaos of the everyday.

Berger's persona attempts to construct a time machine out of such everyday items. These lists of items represent an ordering of life, an randomness to forge a way to penetrate the past. Even the geography shapes the persona from...
"the Great Plains
"Plain, yes.
"Great, no, never!" 
"Open landscape lead to... an acceptance that no geography can conceal anything."

The humor is subdued, which in part reminded of Link:

You had to memorize the law of gravity for it to have any effect whatsoever.... 
I once memorized the blueprint for a time machine.... 
I found the blueprint to the time machine when my mind was filled with
Siberian tigers
Indian elephants.... 
It was an air purifier, ok?... 
I have either memorized the blueprint for a time machine or an air purifier.

Below is a sample from the collection although it is actually the fifth part, not the first:

Some perceived flaws may be that certain sections could be omitted. Also, there is no travel to the future. On the one hand, this could not treat memory; on the other, it would encompass the idea of time travel and life itself (we are forward-looking people). This might have given a less linear feel as well.

Nonetheless, it's collection well worth getting your hands on, for those who like Kelly Link, poetry, interstitial speculation, mixed with the everyday.

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