Sunday, March 26, 2017


Karyotype / Kim Trainor
London: Brick Books, c2015.
99 p.

This brief, elegaic work really caught me as I read it this week. It's another collection of poetry inspired by scientific themes, in this case, the karyotype (essentially a picture of a person's chromosomes).

At the heart of the collection is the Beauty of Loulan, a mummy found in China's deserts, along the Silk Road. Trainor uses her fascination with the Beauty of Loulan to focus on many aspects of human life, from the sweep of history to the smallest element of what makes us individual.

She illuminates family life, both her own and as a bigger theme, via a viewing of a documentary on these mummies -- and describes the Beauty of Loulan, and the scientists examining her, in poetic images which nonetheless almost made me queasy at times, as they exhume and pick her apart.

But another aspect of this collection, alongside the woven strands of DNA that provide poetic inspiration, is Trainor's look at the woven textiles that are also found with the mummies. The references to weaving, both physically and more poetically, infuse this look at personhood and history. I kept thinking of the wonderful book Women's Work:the first 20,000 Years, which explores textiles and women's history, and the vital place that these skills held in cultures from the very beginning -- and which is by the same author (Elizabeth Wayland Barber) who also wrote a book just on the textiles of these mummies, which inspired Trainor's poems.

In the middle section of the book, Trainor focuses on words and texts which are ephemeral yet have staying power: poems of Akhmatova or Mandelstam, books that were destroyed in the firebombing of the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, notebooks recovered from the fields of WWII, and so on. It's heart-rending, showing the fragility of human life (as in the other poems in this book) but also what remains. 

These themes blend very well, and create a thoughtful reading experience. Humanity remains as physical artifact or as intellectual concept; whichever one it is, there is still meaning for the contemporary viewer.


  1. You are on a roll with poetry collections! This one does sound fascinating, Melwyk. Karyotype is a new term for me. Lovely review!

    1. I have a number of poetry collections to get to -- every now and again it's all I feel like reading! I've had some great ones in the stack lately.


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