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Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: Mania Klepto, the Book of Eulene by Carolyne Wright

Mania Klepto: the Book of Eulene, by Carolyne Wright
Turning Point Books, 2011.
Review by Debrah Lechner

Eulene, the heroine and putative author of Carolyne Wright’s Mania Klepto, is more than just a character or even an alter ego: she’s a person fully formed from possibilities, some realized, some not. Either way, Eulene refuses to ever relinquish any possibility. That gives her an advantage over most of us―we who are ordinary, fully-incarnated personalities. Most of us find there’s a rather pressing necessity to narrow ourselves as time moves on. That’s how we define ourselves.

Eulene also changes and grows over time, but she defines herself as much by what hasn’t happened as what has, as much by what she chooses not to embody as what she does. Eulene never has to abandon one path to pursue an alternative trail. She may move on from one lover to another, but she never leaves anyone. She is relentlessly faithful first to herself, then almost equally faithful to any person or experience that falls within her ever-widening gravitational pull. She’s not necessarily an Earthling. There’s more than one planet in her universe.

This makes her, by her nature and her design, very hard to pin down. True, she’s tricky, but not without a purpose. True, she’s a klepto who prefers to leave things behind, but she does pick up things, and she does keep them. Her genius is that she remembers where she put things and has pretty much instant access to them when she needs them or decides to drop them off.

Sometimes she whispers “Instructions to Her Double,” as in the poem “Critical Theory: Eulene:”
Never bring your elbows to this class. There’s barely enough room to duck the dean’s eye . . .

At other times she simply gets up and gets going. From the same poem:

Eulene wakes at dawn, love nailed
high on her list of intentions.
She reminds herself to hold her hormones’
bayings in abeyance, until the right bells
ring, to get to class on time.

After Wright’s long experience as a translator while living in India and Bangladesh, and more than a passing acquaintance with the spirituality of these regions, it’s not surprising that Eulene invites a harrowing encounter with the Divine. From “Eulene Goes Back to Godhead:”

Eulene leafs through a technicolor-cover copy
of the Gita (“As It Is”) for answers,
frowning at its wicked passions
and specious deaths, its questionable
translations and dubious interpretations . . .

a trumpet ought to have sounded offstage,
Eulene looks up: Arjuna’s chariot,
complete with fly-whisks and parasols
and scythe-blades on the wheels,
come swinging low for to carry her
out of here. No one since Medea
would have had it easier.

But that Being clutching the reins
with half a dozen of His countless hands
His countless heads swiveling
in all directions . . .

. . . This is the face that no man sees and lives, Eulene thinks. Then, Thank God that I’m a woman.

After decades of writing poetry and translating poetry and prose, I doubt that neither Wright nor Eulene believe in such a thing as “a word.” Once words become this wobbly, identity also becomes a matter of interpretation. Eulene is Wright’s translation of herself, and vice versa. It’s a fantastic thing to have such open access to the self. We could learn a thing or two from Eulene, and God knows we could all use a bubble bath and a good read, something Eulene also appreciates. Mania Klepto: the Book of Eulene is fun, insightful, brilliant, and not to be missed.

Carolyne Wright is the author of nine volumes of poetry, numerous translations and books of translation, including the recent and superb Majestic Nights: the Love Poems of Bengali Women, recently reviewed by yours truly for the Hayden’s Ferry Review blog. Look it up! Mania Klepto: the Book of Eulene is now available at many vendors, including You can purchase it from Amazon here.

Post Script: In an afterword to the book of Mania Klepto, Wright notes Eulene’s plan for the present:

If either of us is to be a casualty of the downsized, outsourced, post-industrial, post-employment, health benefits-free, simultaneously globalized and balkanized, leaner and meaner Brave New Sweatshop, it will certainly not be Eulene.

Go Eulene!

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