Karin Falcone Krieger on An Eye in Each Square by Lauren Camp & Extraordinary Tides by Pattie McCarthy

Lauren Camp’s poetry is remarkable for its ability to bend time, its unexpected word choices and collage of extreme landscapes, ordinary events and bold feeling statements. Pattie McCarthy’s poetry is grounded in time and the musicality of keeping time. Both authors have published new books which embrace the metaphor of the line, of timeline and of shoreline, the line in art and the line in poetry, and the line which we have crossed in recent times.

An Eye in Each Square (River River Books 2023) Camp’s 5th book, includes the specter of Agnes Martin, the 20th century Abstract Expressionist artist who created spare and pale hued paintings in New York and later in New Mexico, a geographical life path traveled by Camp as well. The references to Martin and her work run through the book like the faint lines central to many of Martin’s paintings. Even in digital reproductions, the more the eye is trained to the line, the more the viewer can inhabit the spare refuge of Martin’s work.

Camp’s introductory poem “Must Learn Neither” launches the journey with an uncharacteristic hint of narrative: 

The curt country and my family. Every ache size, every shape.


To reset, I’ve come to the distance, to watch the ocean repeat

how to unfinish. I’ve brought with me a light jacket and a thick book


about Agnes Martin. I’m not sure 

why I packed it, what it celebrates, but I know the artist


and her simple lines against excess...

Camp, our author/narrator, describes leaving behind everything that had burdened her to travel to the shores of Sitka, Alaska for a retreat. She has traveled light except for this book, acknowledging the randomness of its choice. Poem by poem she turns her feelings in the light of the seashore and bounces them off of Martin. In the diurnal “Trusting Space:” 

Everything is changed.

Or is it?

– In a cottage, I am reading

A prophet – she has drawn hurt, a line erased many times.

In “Marrow” Camp writes:

A ship in the bay. Stomped grass, all bluff

against salt-moaned land. The delicate line true


to a faltering, a history. Beneath sun-clawed clouds. I kneel


to read the lugging claim of sand: tithing.

The author/narrator expresses her world-weariness yet remains fully aware and attuned. It speaks to Martin’s self-sacrifice and self-exile from the New York art scene. This gathering of textures, the edges of what is speakable, the emotional collage in words, is an impossibility achieved. In “Meticulous Answer:”

I want to set down my mind.

A miniature lullaby.

Watch the sloshing water, lost

list, crisscrossed waves, a glass pane.

One day shows me desire

to keep out excitement; the next

I could suck up all wonder...

Lauren Camp once told me that in her previous career as a visual artist she had written the object labels for her pieces at an exhibition, and a visitor asked her, “Who wrote these poems?” 

She told the woman “I wrote them. They are descriptions of the artworks, not poems.” 

“They are poems,” the woman countered, and after that Camp turned toward words as her primary means of public artistic expression. 

While I had wanted to see an Agnes Martin painting in person before I wrote about this book, the day I went to MOMA there were none from the collection on display. I was forced to rely on Camp’s intuition to divulge Martin’s edges and contradictions. Camp the former visual artist is aware this is emotional terrain. As she looks back at Martin’s life she also looks back on her own, such as the satisfaction of paying her own rent for the first time, across the country from her bewildered parents in “Course.” These weavings of memory, family, the tidal landscape of Sitka and the ghost of Agnes Martin make for a dynamic book. How fortunate we are that Camp made such a brave leap, to trust that later in her life, while enjoying a successful career as a visual artist, that the poetic line was the one she turned to. Martin when in her 50’s left her successful art career in New York and built her own stone house by hand in New Mexico. Martin with her love of enforced strictures and solitude, would have enjoyed the trip to Sitka. She and Camp both made space for the silence to hear the conversations between the subtle lines, the manifestation of bigger ideas.

“When you are tired of witnessing/let ghosts walk you back.” (“Advancing”) 


Sarah Hardy’s remarkable poetic work Comfort (Spuyten Duvil, 2022) explores the pride and peril of female domesticity in the 20th Century. She credits poet Pattie McCarthy with inspiring the shape of the prose poems within it, rolling rhythmic incantations in solid blocks of text that mark the passage of time. I was eager to discover McCarthy’s work.

McCarthy’s most recent, a chapbook, extraordinary tides (Omnidawn, 2023) is a departure from her earlier, more dense texts, each poem consisting of five couplets, spanning a period of months from 2019-2021 and divided into sections that are ascribed tides and seasons. The imagery of the seashore and the musicality of her lyric fill a bigger space than the slim book contains, like open pearlescent sky of Kate Kearn Mundie’s cover art, an oil painting of moored sailboats in a harbor.

there is no perfect 

line except the wrackline

which is infallible

McCarthy declares in (untitled yuletide). The wrackline, that marker of the highest tide where so many sea things accumulate, is a delightful metaphor of this book. It journeys up and down the beach through several seasons and it is always there, even when the author narrator strays from the shore, as in this sequence from “neaptide: spring”:

& I have been inland awhile

the virgin of the dry tree


The tidal shift is not

seamless – even


the neaps mark

circatidal margins

Here McCarthy draws on a kind of catholic personal mythology that has informed her earlier works. It is daring to write a book that dances the shoreline, when it could so easily fall into a pattern of recognition. But instead something miraculous happens here, by palimpsest, by invocation and by remaining so spare. It is an intriguing voice: profane and process-oriented language juxtaposes vocabulary of the natural world. The author narrator stuck in COVID quarantine is looking at old photographs:

longer stretches of evening & stiff

contagious fiddlehead curl


our whole longlegged 1970’s is in every

photo of you as a child – we know


there’s nothing better to do

McCarthy recently curated a reading for the Brooklyn Rail entitled GAW (“Grown Ass Women”). Here a litany poem on being a certain age ends:

I am ‘watching Brexit in bed’ years old

I am so pure I am a bore

Anything but boring, these poems create delight with word sounds from mundane and family life and the seashore. The stricture of the 10 line poem makes for reliable rhythms that carry the book along, with the great uncluttered white space of the pages evoking the sea as well. 

Lauren Camp and Pattie McCarthy are established poets who have achieved balance between looking inward and outward, into the past of fully realized lives and into the present with wisdom. The shoreline settings of these books offer delightful images, refreshed with each author’s wild mind linguistic experiments. 

Karin Falcone Krieger’s recent prose, poetry and visual art are in The Decadent Review, Tofu Ink, Hunger Mountain, Viewless Wings, Heavy Feather, The Colorado Review and in the anthology, “A physical book which compiles conceptual books” (Partial Press, 2022). She published the zine artICHOKE from 1989-2008, taught freshman composition as an adjunct instructor for 20 years, and was an adjunct union representative. She has an MFA from The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa and is a master gardener who occasionally types poems in public space. Links to these and other projects can be seen at www.karinfalconekrieger.com.