Reviewed by Glyn Pursglove


Karen Mac Cormack is based in Canada - in Toronto. Born in Zambia, she has lived at various times in the U .S.A., England, Greece, Italy and Mexico. In an interview with Stephen Cain (Queen Street Quarterly 3.4 (Winter 2000), pp. 53-61) she says: “I don’t identify with geography in terms of a sense of ‘place’ being core to my creativity. Certainly the fact I’ve lived in many different places (as well as travelling extensively) has contributed to my perception of how and in what ways and degrees ‘difference’ manifests culturally, politically, personally”. Implexures is an exploration of both her own personal background and, more extensively, her family background - though not merely in terms of ‘where’ she ‘came from’. The sense of identity that underlies the text is more complex than that - as suggested by the text’s title. As an adjective, implex describes a work which is “involved”, “having a complicated plot” (OED); as a verb it means “to entwine”. The OED records the noun implexure in one sixteenth-century text, and defines it as “an infolding, a fold”. I can bring to mind only one literary use of the word, in Jane Barker’s Poetical Recreations of 1688, where, in her “Farewell to Poetry”, her new fascination with anatomy is celebrated in the following terms (after talking of a number of medical writers):


Now Bartholine, the first of all this Crew,

Does to me Nature’s Architecture shew;

He tells me how th’Foundation first is laid

Of Earth; how Pillars of strong Bones are made;

How th’Walls consist of carneous parts within,

The out-side pinguid, over-laid with Skin;

The Fretwork, Muscles, Arteries, and Veins,

With their Implexures, and how from the Brains

The Nerves descend; and how they do dispence

To ev’ry Member, Motive Pow’r and Sence;

He shews what Windows in this Structure fix’d,

How tribly Glaz’d and Curtains drawn betwixt

Them and Earths objects[.]


Mac Cormack’s concern is to locate the ‘implexures’ of a different kind of anatomy, of a different circulatory structure - that of identity, family and language. The implexures are tangles (“Time tangled” begins the books epigraph from Bryher) and twists, folds:


The sheets were blue by what the streetlight outside the window provided. Other rooms in that house were cold, despite whiskey, gin, various recordings of Callas, Costello. Pitted streets deviated at the front door, vectors arrived at surface one. Through the years of twists and numerous preoccupations the folds eventually converged and so from profiles to full frontal view the angles curved to meet. Intensity’s understatement. An overlay of rain, June sunshine, bombs.


Everywhere in the text there are convergences, flowings together, twistings on a common core, times, places, memories folded in on one another - “The wind as confluence of surfaces tangled if unseen by any ‘poetress’”. Making use of published sources, family letters, her own letters or journals (I presume), Mac Cormack’s implexures have about them a quality that feels unforced - ‘‘‘Language as primary environment’ applied to re-reading letters (one’s own and others) the decades interleaved on every surface to blur and redefine the living in & of perception’s architecture”. Whether noting the gender of old English nouns (“the word for woman was neuter, while that for snake was feminine’’) or wittily discoursing on the etymology and history of  the word charm, Mac Cormack is never in danger of forgetting that every individual word is already a vehicle of implexed meaning. To make more complex folds from these folded meanings is to attempt an activity (of implexure) which, in Mac Cormack’s hands, is never less than exhilarating for the reader and which, after all, mimics (which ‘isn’t to say that one precedes the other) another kind of social implexure (which we - loosely - call experience and memory):


   Perhaps the reunion or similar event (memorial, funeral, wake)

   provides an extreme example of the fold when twenty or (many) more

   years separate meetings of those referred to as friends. Sweet

   expectation the deceased will walk through that door to the

   microphone evaporates when the word (death) comes to mind. This

   experience is combinatory, not definitively an echo, yet certainly a

   partial grafting of the remembered “known” with an introduction of

   accrued difference.


Implexures is a fascinating text, not afraid of ‘difficulty’ but not seeming to indulge in it for its own sake. A fluid sense of time, place, individual and family generates complexes of meaning and feeling with which most readers will be able to recognise (whether in terms of difference or similarity). Mac Cormack’s use of the sentence and paragraph, her ability to use both structures in a very accomplished and thoroughly traditional way and, elsewhere, to challenge and subvert orthodox assumptions about their processes and purposes, makes for constantly thought-provoking writing.


Glyn Pursglove

Poetry Salzburg Review

7, Winter 2004/5