Karla Linn Merrifield

Self-Portrait Triptych

1. Gestalt


The triptych formula is frequent in art history: churches are full of altarpieces divided into three intimately related panels. However, Karla Linn Merrifield realizes triptychs with words. Her poems are masterful self-portraits divided into three acts.

Each of Karla’s poems unveils a section of her being, as a complex and dissectible artwork. Through the self-investigation tool of poetry, the author breaks down her personality into different facets. Her capacity for self-reflection is strikingly lucid. Karla borrows metaphors from technology, chemistry, and cognitive psychology, to accomplish this almost surgical operation. She is not afraid to juxtapose literature and sciences. This hybrid aspect makes her lexical choices so meaningful.

Her three poems, Gestalt, Like Totally Gizmo and In My Element, have different tones. They create mixed atmospheres. They go from Zen-like introspection to the robotic iciness of techno-speak to a lyricism achieved through chemical metaphors. Like a threepiece mirror, they reflect different angles of Karla’s experience. The same principle guides the Gestalt theory mentioned above, the construction of a technological device, and chemical formulas: they combine distinct elements to assemble a whole and functioning organism.

The writing style of this self-portrait reflects the search for varietas of the author. Neologisms obtained through compound words characterize Gestalt, a minimalist poem in which the sum of the parts gives significance. And thus, are born words like shamanwoman, poeturtle, and friendloversoul, that combine different terms to find the most accurate one to self-define. Abbreviations, acronyms, and precise technical specifications distinguish Gizmo, a poetic portrait of an enhanced woman, like a cyborg with new potentialities, a “fivestar gadget” trying to understand her programming codes. Through the metaphor of quicksilver, in the third poem, In My Element, Karla highlights her analytical but fluid spirit, a “heavy metallic liquid muse.” Even the words are arranged on the paper (or screen) following a sort of chemical structure. The technique immediately echoes the historical calligrams by Guillaume Apollinaire, in which form and content mirror each other.

Karla’s poetics is rich in references, drawing on literature and interdisciplinary fields. The American poet William Heyen is among her cornerstones, with whom she shares the attempt to grasp the self through poetic memory. Furthermore, the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, with his visionary sensibility and lexical accuracy, is one of Karla’s great influencers.

Karla Linn Merrifield has lost count of her thousands of poems and has 16 books to her credit. Her poems appeared in specialized journals and anthologies, and her newest collection, My Body the Guitar, was recently nominated for the 2022 National Book Award. She is a contributor to literary journals, assistant editor, and a member of the Florida State Poetry Society, the New Mexico Poetry Society, and The Author’s Guild. Currently, Karla Linn Merrifield is completing a poetry manuscript about the men of her life. In the spirit of research and divergence, she opted to portray a woman she knows intimately: herself.

Karla Linn Merrifield is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Portraits call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Portraits issue.


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