Free Clean Fill Dirt, Caryl Pagel’s third book of poetry, is a study in disruption, interruption, and ruin, tracing geological and historical palimpsests via caesura, fragmentation, echo, and humor. In these rigorous, formally adventurous poems Pagel calls upon the playful, unsettling sonic sensibilities of writers such as Lorine Niedecker, Russell Atkins, Frank O’Hara, and H. D., as she ties the music of place to personal inquiry: “There is / something in the way / of the thought,” the narrator posits: is it sound, desire, violence, or image? Pagel dwells in the anti-ordinary ordinary strata of Midwestern mythologies, emergencies, landscapes, and crises. Using a blend of ecopoetic, visual, and archival modes,?Free Clean Fill Dirt?is a collection of poems making intimacy of deep time and vanitas of vision.
About the Author
Caryl Pagel is the author of two previous books of poetry, Twice Told and Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death, as well as a collection of essays, Out of Nowhere Into Nothing. She is an editor and publisher at Rescue Press and the director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Pagel teaches creative writing at Cleveland State University and in the NEOMFA program.
Caryl Pagel’s Free Clean Fill Dirt manifests a rare and sustained vision for the sonic capacities of poetry to excite transformative processes in its readers. Hers is a prosodic practice that reminds us that the human body, comprised of water, is (we are) excellent conductors of sound. This collection invites us to be joyful participants in pronouncing seemingly chaotic rhyme schemes, but always within the poem’s logic, holistic and unbound—and in balance with the other formal elements of the book’s local and other-wordly (which may be interior) charms.
The “city’s past’s past,” the doomed ecology, “growling,” strangers, stirred speech, predictable rhymes, a “dearth of mentors,” video of a twelve-year-old boy being shot in the park, warnings, pre-owned plots our souls are tethered to: “what kind of poem / Would you / Make out of that?” wrote Langston Hughes. Would you, like Pagel, take in a sign in “gravekeeper’s window” like Free Clean Fill Dirt? These are poems that say: if caskets are without windows then their exteriors will be embellished. Taking seriously Hughes’ question Pagel’s FCFD crafts from the evidence she comes upon (its shards): a documentary, projective, found, sought and eco-poetics that takes the things as they exist and makes from a “conventional means / of making” something much wilder. Come see the daily and the buried be unburied. Come for the vastness of the within here.
Strange country, and so ordinary about its strangeness—Free Clean Fill Dirt really makes you wonder if everything is destined on our planet for an early, earthly, grave. What I especially love about Caryl Pagel’s latest book is that she asks an important question: “Is it / simpler to accept such fate when one / is what one / calls a woman?” Hinting that women across history are used to neglect and disappointment from the personal, cultural, and to the global, I consider if this is a strength when responding to ecological disaster. Will women, as caretakers and nurturers, be required to rise to the occasion to save what can be salvaged? What if we have mixed feelings about it—”if / it is the end can we / claim we clung / to it?” In the four stages of grief, this is a book grappling with acceptance and what comes after that.