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Sample Poems

"A Red Tricycle in the Belly of the Pool," at the Poetry Foundation


"Before Anything Happened the House Had No Skeleton" at the Poetry Foundation


"I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl" at the Poetry Foundation.

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl

winner of the 2008 Kathryn A. Morton Prize from Sarabande Books


I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl is film noir set in verse, each poem a miniature crime scene with its own set of clues—frosted eye-shadow, a pistol under a horse’s eye, dripping window units, an aneurysm opening its lethal trap. In otherworldly vignettes, 1994 pairs the unreliable narration of Jacob’s Ladder (with its questions of identity and shifting realities) with the microscopic compulsiveness of Einstein’s Dreams. The book’s sense of hypnotic premeditation brings Donnie Darko to mind as well, as poem after poem scatters the breadcrumbs of a murder mystery leading us further away from the present self and deeper into the past. I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl is an astounding debut collection that will crawl under your skin and stay there.


Available through Sarabande Books or Amazon.


Read reviews here

Praise for I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl

"The title of Karyna McGlynn’s second book of poems sets the reader up for the criminal impulses and the trips to the recent past that permeate the book. McGlynn’s poems are scenes of violence and crime, each presented through a different perspective or voice. Although not generally graphic, they capture the kind of fear a teenager might feel when sneaking out of the house has spiraled into something much more dangerous. Many are written in two or three columns that can be read vertically, or, for a more abstract experience, horizontally. Thus, McGlynn captures different layers of observation: the narrative line and the staccato of reaction. These unnerving poems leave room for humor and a more gentle sense of nostalgia, but they also display how crime and violence can fracture self and time. In her foreword to the book, Lynn Emanuel writes, “no matter which life, body, or landscape one lands in, all exist on a shared bedrock of violence and suffering, albeit one presided over by a glittering imagination.”

-American Poets Magazine

"Part film noir, part horror flick, these innovative poems dwell in the cul-de-sac badlands where crimes and heinous misdeeds are recurring. McGlynn, a performance poet and author of three chapbooks, offers poems in alternating views while tangling reality, time, and space. The book's motif is not connected to one central offense, yet each poem spins into the next to create a unified, albeit disturbing, whole.  As in a horror film, there is danger skulking in every corner, in every seemingly benign doorway. McGlynn's poems are often hypnagogic, balancing half in the world, half in sleep.  Along with masterly line and stanza breaks and the use of white space, McGlynn uses nuances that include poems written crosswise on the page.  One poem reads, I cannot see / the sickness, the three seconds that will snap her / down like a switch, there / her vision cracks like I'll always be / the thing nascent, esophageal / caught mid-gargle in the black.  VERDICT: Recommended for contemporary poetry collections."


-Karla Huston, Library Journal

"I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl surveys a violence-tinged realm of shifting selves. Though it is tempting to say that violence forms the heart of this book, the heart is actually the empty, unflinching eye of a storm which uproots time and self entirely. The speaker of these poems slips the reader shards of otherworldly forensic evidence from a crime (or crimes) which simultaneously have not yet happened and have already happened. Snapshots document unrelenting scenes of suffering, as in 'God, I Got Down There to Get Off': 'In this compromising position, prone, missionary, firearm / my lower lip fat with guilt, I think grief delights / in catching me at all the wrong angles though I know / it stares without judgment, with an animal's open fixity.' McGlynn presents fragmented images in a variety of poetic forms, ranging from standard left-aligned free verse to disjointed, oddly satisfying columns. While obsessed with past-killing, the speaker of these poems wishes to destroy her history; she also strongly identifies with it, and cannot entirely escape it. McGlynn's vacillation between past, present, and future is marked and marred by the darker side of sexuality. Far from being a series of victim narratives, the poems approach instances of trauma with a voice both detached and searing. In 1994, not only does sexual violation insidiously affect all sex, but it is inextricably bound up with the murder in the title, for 'death and sex tickle the same damn spot.'"

-Jen Coleman, The Hollins Critic

In an era of too much noisy straining after novelty, it's flat out enchanting to encounter an authentically original voice. Karyna McGlynn is the real thing, sui generis. And her poems proceed from an apparently inexhaustible fund of imagination: savvy and serious, straight-arrow and subversive, calibrated to the finest, freshest, idiomatic pitch. When I read McGlynn, I'm convinced I'm hearing news from the future of poetry.

-Linda Gregerson, author of Magnetic North and The Selvage

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl's anthem could be "there is so much I want to prevent" and so the poems run interference between the living and the dead, and like the multi-faced, clairvoyant speaker who is both breathing and buried, so McGlynn's poetic eyes are split: one serving as photographer, while the other acts as profiler, so that we are witness to what occurs within, and beyond, the frame. Working in a lyrical investigative mode, often using a columnar fragmentation, in which the work appears as vertical belts along the page, the poems are concurrently singular and dialogical. For McGlynn, every innocuous object has an ominous counterpoint--the bed as operating table; a farmhouse for egg production as killing site; panties as childhood emblem and crime-scene evidence; exposure as photographic process and life-threatening condition. These poems, ravenous and ravishing, debone everything in sight, and what a sight it is--a rose hung on a hook like rapist bait; water so moss-viscous it appears as Prell; radioactive fish; piss in a glass; and Christmas crèche. While her book documents various defacements and violations, ultimately the work highlights volition and reconstruction. McGlynn's book exhibits such spark and voracity it feels channeled instead of penned; and though it may knock us slant into the pitch, it is lit with luminol, liberating what is hidden, and in the process, illuminating and transforming us.

-Simone Muench, author of Orange Crush and Wolf Centos 

This poet is edgy without being distant from the edge. She's formally innovative, has a keen ear and a keen eye; she drops you into the middle of the poem's logic and reality, and it holds. This is one of the most kinetic, dangerous, original books I've read it a long time. Whereas Rilke says in a poem "You must change your life," McGlynn simply makes it known.

-D.A. Powell, author of Cocktails and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

Lurid, dominated by teen antiheroes, with plenty of underage sex amid a 21st-century Southern gothic atmosphere, McGlynn's debut is at its best vivid, disturbing and fun. Despite hints and feints, it has no consistent narrative; instead, it offers scenes, asides, interior monologues, fragments and portrayals of dangerous playmates and sexual awakenings: "death & sex tickle the same damn spot," McGlynn warns. One of her clearest and best poems of memory is called "God, I Got Down There to Get Off": I'm flat on my belly, hand in my jeans—/ and how to say every penny has become the eye/ of a dead relative watching me? With her adults either inattentive or ill-intentioned, McGlynn's strongest pages remember how she looked up to adventurous peers: Erin with the Feathered Hair, for example, who unpeels my northern pretense,/ leaves me quivering in a glitter tube-top/ as she unlocks the liquor cabinet. Conscious of precursors in popular film, her experiences crackle with life, and her best lines know when to stop, when to set out sexy facts and when to reach for verbal ornament, distinguishing her work from anything merely confessional.

-from Publishers Weekly

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