Tenderly Urgent: Kim Trainor’s Karyotype

In this book the mummies are our entry point, but Karyotype as an overall title is a metaphor for tracing human connectedness and shared sorrow through ancient and modern times, often in the face of the unspeakable inhumanity of war and genocide. In “On the ordering of chaotic bodies of poetry,” we read about “[p]oems [also] slotted into kingdom, genus, species.” Poems take form in the notes of a coroner on a corpse from a mass grave after the Second World War: “a small notebook was found soaked in the fluids of the body and blackened by wet earth. This was cleaned and dried in the sun.” The voice that speaks to us is tenderly urgent, whether singing in spare lyric, or in the plain-spokenness of prose.

It is worth noting that in her blog, Trainor quotes Seamus Heaney: “… in lyric poetry, truthfulness becomes recognizable as a ring of truth within the medium itself… [and] the unappeasable pursuit of this note…keeps the poet’s ear straining to hear the totally persuasive voice…”(Crediting Poetry.) Trainor adds, “poetry’s ability to document the savagery of the world is aligned with the form of expression; the right form has to be found…” In this book, she has found it.

In “The semantic fields of glass and other transparent materials in the poetry of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński,” she invokes a poet whose work depicts the brutality of war and suggests that love is the only force that can effectively defend a human being against it. On the poet Mandelstam we read the words of Nadezhda Mandelstam (Hope Against Hope – Russian Notebook: Voronezh 1935-1937), “… something of his voice is preserved in the very structure of his verse. Nothing can be completely scattered to the winds.” This poet answers, “But so many are. The ones we will never hear.” In “Ash,” she writes, “you could catch [the burning pages] in your hand like snowflakes/ and read the words as they melted to ash.” (Bombing by Serbian nationalists of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina.)

Of the closing sequence, “Nothing is lost,” Trainor has commented that it “places emphasis on the transformative effects of objects in human lives, which is linked to the poem’s exploration of objects found in the mass graves of the Srebrenica genocide.” It circles, prayer-like, a coda or expanded cadence without narration, and dazzles with its form (strict abecedarius in which each stanza contains eight lines, each line following with the same initial letter), in itself a stunning achievement. Buy this book.


Barbara Myers is an Ottawa writer. She is the author of the poetry collection Slide and has contributed frequently to Arc.



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