Domenic Scopa's Review of QA
by Sarah Xerta and Elizabeth Schmuhl

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Sarah Xerta and Elizabeth Schmuhl, QA.

QA features a question/answer dialectic between two intimately close friends, lovers, or the speaker herself, engaging in a self-interrogation, with the intention of “swimming from the darkness to the light” to the “island” of some sort self-knowledge. The ambiguous identity of the second interlocutor lends wonderful multidimensional facets to the relationship between the text and readers. However, the absolute knowledge of the identity does not particularly matter, because the actual ignition of a self-conscious path towards meaningful responses holds more value than the means by which the speaker advances herself. The means can change, yet the journey and its lessons always remain steadfast in their consistency. Powerful writing, and the deployment of various poetic devices, with the pristine skill of a surgeon riding the high of two Red Bulls, can certainly be found in this chapbook, but this review will expound upon the content of a book, the journey. Here, the journey seems like an attempt to define some issue related to the speaker’s selfhood.

Very early in the chapbook, the speaker declares that she is “too often a prisoner in [her] mind” and that she would like “to go to the water more,” to escape her own skull-sized kingdom. The water suddenly manifests as a symbol to the unbounded freedom of mental and physical locomotion that the ocean so often offers, yet this freedom poses as a frightening situation: “It’s the last day of August, and of course I’m already half-plunged into the darkness,” and “Already I feel night coming over me…a blanket…I feel exposed.” Even the speaker’s dream (of travelling to California) evinces this idea of the ocean, with her longing “to be licked by salt water.” In contrast to this breadth and freedom, her prison of selfhood, represented by “a city of grit and dried, dead flattened rat” reminds the speaker of “the orchard” where she can remind herself of death, and “flash the word death across [her] eyes.” This fervent whim to both escape and remain embodies the sentiment of ambivalence so prevalent in the late poems of Plath−the compulsory need to rend the restrictions binding the speaker’s mind, yet the inability and fear of forming a new identity because the old identity was so inextricably connected with the old restrictions.

Notice how the destination of the “island”, at the beginning of the chapbook, is an undefined and unspecified “universe.” “Universe,” the response the speaker gives when questioned: “If you drew a map to your heart, what would it look like?” This highlight’s the speaker’s will to embrace the entirety of life, rather than just herself. The interrogator retorts: “Did you know the universe doesn’t have a center?” Despite this fact, the speaker attempts to “create worlds” (by answering questions and “swimming” forward) which helps her “survive,” depending on “which side of the mirror you stand on.”

The mirror, another image so crucial in Plath’s poems, appears in several forms throughout the chapbook: the literal object, the undisturbed surface of water (or the shattered surface of the choppy ocean), a camera’s lens, etc. Mirrors and glass symbolize this key conflict of the confrontation between reality and the illusion of reality, and the speaker’s self with the speaker’s projection of her self. Several experiences that pock the speaker’s life are present throughout the middle of the chapbook, and shed various lights and layers on this key conflict; however, I will not depict these moments so readers can revel in the unexpectedness of these moments without my intellectual rambling. Interestingly, the culmination of this chapbook fails to provide an answer, only another problem: “if X=the ocean and Y=me, solve for poetry”−in other words, solve for the self, for expression (both artistic and linguistic), for a self-engaged process towards self-realization. Despite the presence of a new problem, the speaker still defines the problem, allowing her to begin a new journey, and reach another problem to be worked out. But that’s another journey. And another chapbook.