“I unroll into a grub. A grub with the mind
of a girl, a girl with the lips of an insect”
Even metamorphosis is transformed in Katherine Larson’s first book, Radial Symmetry, which was chosen by Louise Glück for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. The lines above come from a dream poem titled “Risk,” in which the speaker is transformed numerous times by imagination, by adulthood, and by science.
In these lines, imagination and biology are at odds, yet the speaker seems at home in both worlds. The back-to-back repetition of “a grub” and “a girl” emphasizes the separate realities while highlighting their simultaneity. Is she a grub? Is she a girl? In fact, she is both. A grub with a girl’s mind and an insect’s lips: a state of being that will, according to the poem, be challenged, though not undone, by her extensive knowledge of science. As Glück writes in the foreword, “Intense sensation–I suppose the accurate word is pleasure–is not subjected to overt judgement or intervention.” The artist, the dreamer, and the scientist are allowed to live together in one body and in one mind.
The line breaks, in addition to the repetition, accentuate the strange hybridism. “A grub with the mind” allows one to linger with this idea of larval insects having not only a mind but “the mind.” The grub is seemingly elevated from a lower level organism to the ultimate intellectual being, a thought that creates its own pause. After a moment of mental digestion the reader learns that the mind does in fact belong to the girl, but the possibility of an alternate reality still resonates. The line break that follows leaves one pondering the lips of an insect. But insects do not have lips. The reader must imagine something that does not exist outside of these lines.
Larson challenges ideas of what is possible by presenting the impossible, the beautiful, and the emotional as fact. In Glück’s words, “Statement [in Larson’s work] has the force of inescapable truth.”
More Katherine Larson:
Update: Larson’s Radial Symmetry wins the 2012 Levis Reading Prize