Emily Pettit on Caryl Pagel


I met Caryl Pagel and her poems in Iowa City in 2006. When I arrived there I knew no one. At the first reading I attended in Iowa City, Caryl Pagel gave a reading that moved my heart brain — it blew it up, it built better things. It took me months to gather the courage I needed to talk to Caryl. I was in love with her poems. I was too shy to speak. In her poems I encountered ideas I needed to have regarding a new kind of caring. A caring that went hand in hand with a sort of despairing. In Caryl’s poems I saw things I needed to see, had been in search of seeing. Annuals and perennials to tend to. Systems of classification that could build bold new notions my heart brain needed to navigate. Where do we move with what is haunted? How do we move with what is haunted? How do we move?


Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast. – William James


What William James and Caryl Pagel know is how to help other brain hearts have nuanced and necessary compassion for human capability.


Later — I read that             my body circled around the building & returned through the
opposite             pane Tell me how that is possible; I could not see it but I was there

                                                                                                                                          – Caryl Pagel


In 2008 I asked Caryl if Factory Hollow Press could publish a chapbook of her poems and she put together a stunning chapbook titled, Visions, Crisis Apparitions and Other Exceptional Experiences. I wanted people and poets I knew to know these poems I had the great privilege and proximity to get to know. I knew other people would want to know these poems too. Needed to know these poems too. Then in 2011 I asked Caryl if Factory Hollow Pres could publish her extraordinary first book Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death. I knew other people would want to know these poems too. Needed to know these poems too.


Tell me I’m still here           Am I still here?           YES!
& everyone I know is marching toward
me:           my friends           family           my father’s face
right there & exploding with delight for
having recognized me so — alright!           Laugh?
                                                                       – Caryl Pagel


Good-humor is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature that we take her no more seriously than she takes us. I maintain that one should always talk of philosophy with a smile. – William James


I’ve taught Caryl Pagel’s poems a lot in poetry workshops that I’ve led and witnessed her poems put people on new paths of discovery, new paths of daring, new paths of dedication.


Vision, the idea of vision, a spectrum of visions, what vision might mean is where the work one’s heart brain gets access to through Caryl Pagel’s poems.


Romance & mystery & physiology & psychology & philosophy & truth & knowledge & reality & introspection & emotions & death & life & interpretations & pragmatism & epistemology & biology & the body & empiricism & ritual & reason & experimentation — are only a few of the ideas that one will encounter when one encounters Caryl Pagel’s poems and prose. Everything I know and want to know and need to know about Negative Capability can be encountered in Caryl’s work. I am eternally grateful to know Caryl’s poems and person.

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