I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl by Karyna McGlynn

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl
Sarabande Books
Perfect bound, 74pgs
ISBN 978-1932511765

Link to Purchase

Reviewed by Valerie Wetlaufer

Opening the pages of Karyna McGlynn’s eerie and fantastic book feels like entering into another world. With the title I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, we expect a specific narrative framework, but instead we feel hazy, straining to remember or understand the memories in our head. Even the format of the poems reflects a beautifully disjunctive state, like waking up hungover and trying to figure out where you are. Some poems are bifurcated down the middle, or split into thirds; others roam all over the page, and some are serpentine. We never know what the next page will bring. These poems want to disorient you in that way, to keep you in the same state as the speaker, though one suspects the speaker knows far more than she lets on. In her forward to the book, Lynn Emmanuel likens McGlynn’s poems to conceptual art of the 1980s, and this seems an apt comparison as the vague familiarity of the text comforts and mystifies.
As one would expect from the title, we time travel when we read this book, but we do not find what we expect; the murder predicted on the cover has already taken place. Somehow, we are out of sync with time, toying with the Ouija board’s Planchette (the title of the first section) seeking to confront that which has already disappeared. The poems bear this out, nostalgic but never sentimental; memory is both hazy and crisp depending on where it is directed. “I remember her eyes, but not her name” the speaker tells us in the first poem, “Ok, but you haven’t seen the last of me.” In dreamlike lyrical description we get a fragmentary view of this “her” — hair, nails, an eiderdown coat, ivory busts of composers, covered bridges and scarves.
As the book progresses, the accretion of this strange collection continues, brief bits of evidence wash up, facts are slowly revealed, but are they facts at all? This is a world similar to “Twin Peaks.” Who killed Laura Palmer? Who is the girl in 1994 we already know to be dead? The logic of David Lynch operates in these pages; if he wrote poetry, this would be it, but better. Details are revealed then taken back; we are frequently shifting from one foot to the other, unsure of the narrative unfolding; even punctuation ungrounds us. In “A Red Tricycle in the Belly of the Pool” a young girl, we are told, races her tricycle around the bottom of an empty pool:
she looked over her shoulder, lost her balance
ripped her hands & knees on the blue concrete
the one limb of the live oak curved like a question
would she need stitches again
there was already ink under her skin & iodine on her tongue
or was it the other way around
she could see black thread bunching
sewing centipedes under her skin
her throat burned and she couldn’t move her legs
it wasn’t a tricycle
it was something she couldn’t get her foot out from under
she hated to stop or lose her shoe and, I’m sorry
the pool was full of water
Ominous sexuality, shifting landscape, threat looming — as one poem’s title suggests, we do want to warn her, the her who is the speaker, the her who keeps showing up, panties bloody and discarded, crawling on her belly or overturned. This is, as the cover proclaims, “film noir in verse;” we don’t expect a happy ending, but we can’t look away.
Just like a good movie, one doesn’t want to spoil the secret of the twisting, turning plot. This book in no way feels unplanned or messy, but carefully misleading and deliberately evasive, the better to intrigue and entrance. In the penultimate poem, “I Invented the Paleolithic Circumstances Beneath This,” the speaker tells us “I leave myself a note pinned to the sheet ‘You did this.’ / I did, I invented the ash jibs of this room I cannot leave.”  We know how she feels. This book entraps us, and we thank it for the pleasure.