Last week I started a series called A Virtual AWP, featuring poets that I would have loved to have met or heard read or lecture, whose books I’d have bought and had signed, had I attended. I felt then as I guess many feel now, that a dark wave was rising up above the planet. But I don’t want to talk about that . . .
Instead I want to talk about poets like Elizabeth A. I. Powell whose book, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter, was a New Yorker “Books We Love 2016” pick and whose new book, Atomizer, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University in the fall of 2020. I have already been reading poems from her new collection including this lyrical essay from Plume, and this poem from The Los Angeles Review:
STALKING ME ONOMATOPOETICALLY
“He closed my legs like a book,” Angela Carter
I sought a restraining order against the sociopathic
poem that kept pounding on the door of my mind at four a.m.,
rousing me with a slap on the face with its metaphysics
of sick lust and panic. The order was dated March 1, 2016.
A Thursday. Rainy. The sociopoem smelled of Paco Rabanne—
A Cologne for Men— and was devilishly handsome, so elegant,
so English-lyrically, well-anthologized, and attractive, seemed to have a form
that suggested well-bred content, an understanding of stanzaic
architecture, and deep image. Yet, this poem I loved had once tried
to stab Dorothy Parker at a dinner party. He had claimed
to have French kissed Helen Vender and Allen Ginsberg.
How could I rationalize or reconcile my love for the poem?
The poem tried to kill me, too, with the same red child’s scissors
once, then another time it was tar and feather, because, the poem said,
“I love you so much.” On therapeutic advice I sought the restraining order
against the poem because it couldn’t contain itself, pushed me
down with a conceit stronger than my fragile couplets, how
it leaked anaphora like anti-freeze, bluish over the page
and into my life uninvited, thinking it knew me
better than I knew myself. The poem’s arguments were convincing,
but it was all fanciful diversion. A lie. All through the day
and all through the night: That poem. The poem telling me I looked fat
in my Lord & Taylor dress. So, I bit the poem’s ear,
again and again, until it bled a scary personification of ears. Stalking
me onomatopoetically down the sidewalk to where I kept my secret
sonnet turns inside. I just wanted to take a nap in Brooklyn,
sleep inside my source material, that pale of settlement,
the origin and end of everything in my family. So that the end
of my suffering might bring an insight, but the poem
turned my nap in Brooklyn into a series of disturbing
and surreal faces that made me awaken into the possibility that
I was the one who was so wrong, so ruined, damaged,
unable to sing. Yet, sometimes, honestly, I loved
what the poem said, when it convinced me of my tyranny.
I wanted to let go. I wanted its untouchable love. I waited for the poem.
The sociopoem’s persona looked like Sir Mick Jagger, wore leather
pants, had biceps, smelled literary and up all night,
like bay rum and old books. The poem had a spell over me,
its incantatory propulsion got into my blood and bile
with its rhythms that made my heart race. It mailed me
threatening letters, collages containing articles about what happens
to women my age, how they die, again and again
alone and withering, like a nasty old tree
from a St. Vincent Millay sonnet taught
in girl’s boarding schools. I wrestled the poem
until it swore to bless me, but it blessed me
in a language that made me feel uncomfortable.
It wasn’t a vowelic yawp. It was a brutal stuttering ich
that made me feel sick, unclean, subway ridden,
which gave the poem a great joy.
Another prize-winning poet I admire and would like to have met is James McCorkle, whose latest book, published by Etruscan Press, is part of Triptych. I think the following excerpt from his poem, “Fire Regime,” gives just a hint of what he’s up to in this wonderful collection.
is this any worse than before
I am haunted by the thought
Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives?
As language evacuates
its own territories
who is swept along
in the rescue, in the naming
in the columns for those saved, those lost, sold or free.
# # #
Finally, I want to mention my friend, Rick Bursky, whose new book, Let’s Become a Ghost, is just out from BOA Editions. A surrealist and a truly unique poet, Bursky is a poet I trust to entertain, inspire, and to take me places I’ve never been before.
eating chili at the small dining room table.
My father, dead twenty-six years, wears a black suit,
stands in front of the window playing the harmonica.
There’s nothing original about the world,
but we get up each morning and go to work anyway.
A doctor tells us my mother’s lungs have weakened.
My father is playing the blues, which I guess
he learned in prison. No one knows who’s lonelier:
the ghost or the person who sees the ghost.
Not wanting to embarrass my father I don’t look
at the frayed edges of his collar or the hems of his pants.
Last week I forgot to do laundry
and wore the same socks two days in a row.
My brother is first to leave the table,
says something about returning phone calls.
It’s rare that we eat dinner together.
Years ago I would have said the light falling
on my father’s shoulders made them look like mountains
in the distance with the moon rising behind them;
now I think cardboard theater props.
Sometimes my eyes feel like loaded guns
and I close them for the same reason guns have safeties.
I should be telling this in the past tense
but that would be the beginning of forgetting.
Elizabeth A. I. Powell is the author of three books of poems, including forthcoming Atomizer (LSU Press, 2020). Her second book of poems, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances, was named a “Books We Love 2016” by The New Yorker, and was a Small Press Bestseller. Her first book of poems, The Republic of Self, was chosen by C.K. Williams as a New Issues First Book Prize winner.
She is Editor of Green Mountains Review, and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Vermont University. In 2020, she will be Distinguished Visiting Writer at Oregon State University.
Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, James McCorkle is the author of Evidences (selected by Jorie Graham for the 2003 APR-Honickman First Book Award) and The Subtle Bodies (Etruscan Press 2014). He received an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and is a recipient of fellowships from Ingram Merrill and the NEA, he teaches at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York.