Book review: Miraculum Monstrum' is a hybrid narrative

"Miraculum Monsrum" by North Adams artist and author Kathline Carr is A Room of Her Own Foundation's Clarissa Dalloway Prize winner and an American Book Fest Finalist for Best Book Award. It is an amazing virtuosity of poetry, text and art.

This exciting new volume is highly collectable and rich in magic, natural world spirituality and deeply human concerns. It is a wonderfully balanced collage of poetry, storytelling, drawings, paintings, photography, mixed media and text that documents the extraordinarily supernatural tale of a fictional artist named Tristia Vogel, who undergoes physical transformation, a kind of hyper-evolution, in response to a globally catastrophic climate change that has altered the atmosphere. She is transformed suddenly and relentlessly into a kind of mutated bird-human-hybrid, much like the mythological Japanese Karura, a divine creature shaped like a man with a bird head or mouth. The notion of this mythological creature grounds us as referenced in one of the other characters, a Dr. Kure, and member of the fictional Raptus Sect. Other characters that form the structure of the narrative are supporters in whom Tristia has filled the void of faith: Terra, a former drug addict, and Karena, a former prostitute, who becomes "a valuable witness, letter writer, and translator," of Tristia's strange new emerging language, as they both look after Tristia in her epically miraculous adventures.     

The narrative is told as many collected aspects of the mythical artist's life events and professionally commented upon by Carla Kase, curator of the Museum of Latter Hybrids (Post-Climate Disaster Collection). The reader is immediately and strangely caught up in this story, told with entirely believable authority, as though it is a tale of a great and influential prophet, as the artist Vogel becomes a kind of tragic hero who is worshiped by devoted followers referred to as apostates.

Carr has brought together a dazzling array of oil and acrylic paintings (on wood, board, Conte paper, linen, and even presented as on hospital sheet and linens), fabric collage, ink drawings, feather collage and photography, all presented as the work of Vogel. The whole of poetry and art chronicles the surreal metamorphosis of the Tristia Vogel as collected by the fictional curator guardian of her legacy.

"Miraculum Monstrum" is a very original mind-bending trip as you follow Carla Kase's devotional history of the protagonist, Vogel, as she is transposed through several physical and spiritual layers of being, bordering on divine transformation, and as she comes into her outstretched wings. How will the human condition, the human spirit, the ever-exultant wings of artistic expression transform in an era of environmental crisis? The book is a kind of opposite of Wim Wenders' wonderful movie, "Wings of Desire," where an angel is enamored with the physicality of being human. This is an ambitious work that succeeds in portraying a woman, changed into a kind of transcendent, angelic creature, who exalts, suffers and dies in a beautifully tragic metamorphosis and acceptance of a much greater evolution of the world. "It will rise up like shook foil," to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it will take to the sky and "air swim unbridled by gravity," to quote Carr's at once strange and dark work of restorative power. The life of creative impulse is unstoppable and in this way, "Miraculum Monstrum" is forward-looking and reassuring in ways unexpected.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at

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""Miraculum Monsrum""

By Kathline Carr

Publisher: Red Hen Press

97 Pages