Life doesn’t have a central narrative and neither does Katherine McCord’s literary memoir RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE - and that’s ok. McCord builds on and transcends the braided essay/lyrical prose/collage trend in recent nonfiction, dubbing the entries “proems,” which fits, although few of the ‘chapters’ in the narrative would stand alone as true prose poems and likely aren’t meant to. They cross reference one another and direct the reader to skip forward in the book or revisit a previous entry, in the same way a human mind makes connections based on what memories get triggered in what context. For example, the book has two Prefaces, one on p.60, titled “Preface (see Previous “Preface”) – which sounds confusing out of context, but is aptly representative of the way McCord trusts the reader to stick with her and trust her process.

It's a bold, honest strategy, which risks losing less savvy readers in moments of incoherence, but then snags them again in moments of brilliant clarity. McCord writes, “I’d rather have the energy to write the truth. And let the scholars fight the battle.” She continues, “Not that I'm not a scholar. I've given my fair share of time to research and study. And still do. In fact, a great deal more than I'd like to admit. But I figure if you are a mother, you have to choose . . .” (50). And choice seems central, though there is no central theme. The reader can choose to follow the author’s direction, read the footnotes, or read straight through; the author must choose where to begin each section, where to end, what order to put them in, or allow for multiple paths through the pages, as she has done.

Although experiment with genre is nothing new, it is usually not as personal as RUN SCREAM UNBURY SAVE. McCord more than plays with the linear narrative, but rather ponders its purpose in relation to the topic at each turn. It is as if the reader is sitting at the writing desk with her, trying to focus but interrupted constantly by children, duties, fantasies, and memories - all of which make their way onto the page in a sometimes stream-of-consciousness, sometimes meta-analysis of the act of writing itself. Or maybe some proems just end where the last key stroke was when the oven timer went off in a mimic of real life’s broken narrative.

McCord reflects on this very act of meaning making: “My ‘muse’ . . . has been flying around me the whole damn time I’ve been writing this, on the periphery, needling, chanting, bullying, begging, coaxing. Depends on how you look at it. And I could not listen to that woman. She's really a bitch. But the home I’d be in in reference to the hole I was in on certain days not being able to live up to her expectations would be bigger if she did not exist” (61).  One could read it as a meditation on struggling to find work-life balance in the 21st century, sure, but it seems more than that - thoughtful, without being heavy-handed on philosophy.

In the space between the proems, a kind of playfulness emerges, but also a kind of emptiness that feels like the fear of failure that grips many artists in that no one may ever know exactly what we mean. It’s a sometimes rambling journey through time and topics, but one I’d read again and feel rewarded by each time.


Amy Clark is the author of Remnants of the Disappeared and a graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University.  She has published poetry in various journals such as Mid-American Review and Cimarron Review. Amy teaches first year writing and science writing at the University of Minnesota Duluth.