Thursday, August 30, 2007



The Paragon by Kathrine Varnes
(WordTech Editions, Cincinnati, OH. 2005)

Review in linguistic and visual conversation with Kathrine Varnes’ The Paragon in the style of her poem “The Great Refusal”

[The text of this review is intended to be in 20-point type as one definition of paragon in regard to printing is a 20-point type.]


Form is the negation, the master / of disorder, violence, suffering; / even when it presents disorder / violence— / suffering— ? These lines are the lines from Varnes’ final dialogue in “The Great Refusal.” She makes the philosophic language concrete, translating form to containment as with Mason jars and concluding with silk scarves and a ring box. While the final poem is extraordinary in its juxtaposition, the penultimate poem, in which Varnes put her experience in dialgue with Adrienne Rich is perhaps the greatest achievement of the collection. In recounting Rich’s words, The distance between the universe of poetry / and that of politics is so great, . . . . that any shortcut / between the two realities / seems fatal to poetry, Varnes injects her own experience in the forest and the fear from the leap between the two universes as exemplified by raspberry jam, birthday cards, unread manuscripts and silverfish.


Imagine answering the telephone and someone says, Hi, this is weird, but I’m so-and-so’s second wife—. With these words, Varnes begins the second section of The Paragon which contains a “fence” of sonnets with forty-two interlocking sonnets plus a coda. Subverting the traditional content of a sonnet sequence—love or the pursuit of a lover—and instead addressing the lost love affair through a divorce, Varnes packs a broad emotional range into this sonnet sequence though it ends effortlessly and as though contained in a single telephone call with these words. (His next ex-wife hangs up the telephone.)


The paragon is a model or pattern of excellence and that word as a title seems appropriate for a new formalist poet. In The Paragon, Varnes demonstrates her formal chops; she proves herself to be a match, to parallel or rival, in short a paragon. Varnes writes quatrains, terza rima, sonnets, and a triolet with equal ease. I’m just telling you “Like It Is;” Here is a spray of heliotrope / in a fuchsia bloom.


Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. You can learn more about her work at


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