Carrie Oeding's If I Could Give You A Line

Exploring the Intricacies of Modern Motherhood, Art, and Human Connection: A Review of Carrie Oeding’s If I Could Give You a Line by Dylan Williams

The opening poem of Carrie Oeding's most recent collection of poetry, If I Could Give You a Line (new in 2023 from the University of Akron Press), introduces one of this collection’s overarching themes: lines. Oeding investigates the material and immaterial lines that construct our modern world—lines of people, lines on paper, lines in meadows made by walking; lines that demarcate, limit, cut, and connect. Even a simple scratch on a page, or a cut on her daughter’s knee, can hold meaning. This theme dances in the background—you’ll encounter the word “line” here and there, a playful reminder of the collection’s title.

Oeding’s first collection, Our List of Solutions, won the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award, and she has been published in numerous journals, including Bennington ReviewDenver QuarterlyColorado ReviewPleiadesMid-American Review, and DIAGRAM. Oeding was the recipient of the 2020 Rhode Island State Council on the Arts’ Fellowship in Poetry. She grew up on a southern Minnesota farm and currently lives in Rhode Island. Read her work in Issue 13 of Miracle Monocle.

Artists and artworks can be found throughout this collection, from Phillippe Petit to Do Ho Suh and from Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room. Don’t worry about being familiar with them: Oeding doesn't depend upon these artists but instead uses their works as jumping-off points to discuss motherhood, human connection, artistic confidence, social media, domestic life, and other topics. The speaker stands in a museum, an exhibit, even a meadow, self-conscious of others’ stares but determined to find the truth behind the marble, the brushstrokes, the grass, the lines: “If I ever get an artwork to speak, I hope it just lets its cold teeth chatter.” Around her, strangers argue, chat, cough: “I hear someone cough and it sounds like a timid cough. Another’s cough asks me how I know.”

Motherhood is another overarching topic. While Oeding wipes stains and argues with bees, her daughter Viola, to whom the collection is dedicated, is growing up. Eventually, Viola is making art of her own: “She keeps adding water to the color. She says she is making her own color. It is the color of movement.” She's making her first lines: “My daughter can now spell her name. Inside this sentence, she is already starting to read. She is writing stories without me.”

Oeding also explores human connection in the modern world in this collection. “The Roped Years,” inspired by Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh’s Rope Piece, for example, investigates the intricacies of interpersonal relationships: “One couple tied each end of a three-foot rope around a wrist. They connected. They touched each other less. They touched each other more. […] They found their rules. They broke them. They danced.” Similarly, “If I Could Give You a Drawn Line” addresses a “you,” casting a tentative thread to bridge the gap between reader and writer, audience and artist, mother and daughter, stranger and stranger: “There is a line that runs from me to you. Someone could walk it like a tightrope. […] Dear Reader, I don’t want to share you with anyone.”

Even as the speaker visits museums and posts on social media, these poems evoke a certain loneliness that is ironically common in the modern age of connectivity: “I think about holding the door for you at the same time I have already gone inside. In fact, I am holding the door right now, because I feel bad about it. […] I know the right space between you and me, when I’ve let go at the right moment, turning away, will land the door somewhat gently in your hands.”

Alongside art, connection, and motherhood, there are ponderings of immaterial concepts like distance, holding, containment, and looking. You’ll encounter intriguing questions: “What is the opposite of cracking an egg?” “What does here mean?” You’ll find contradictions: “My daughter has a cut. It’s pretend. Like everything, it is real.” You’ll find surprising comparisons: “I have thrown confetti at parties and felt like a cornfield.” “I have as many feelings as an umbrella that can’t be opened.” Oeding weaves echoing, wandering lines of free verse that make us feel as though we ourselves are in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room. They’re textured and fun to chew on.

If I Could Give You a Line is a testament to the intricacies of the modern mother, the modern artist, the modern human. Here we have a person working to line everything up so she can find her place among the artists and the strangers. Here we have a mother probing the world just like her young daughter. “We react yes or no to the art within a few seconds of being in front of it, like we do toward a person.” Oeding refuses to let us disregard her work with a simple yes or no. These subtly sophisticated poems demand multiple readings, and each time you’ll find something new. Pick up your copy of If I Could Give You a Line today.

DYLAN WILLIAMS is an associate editor of Miracle Monocle.