Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (The Force of What’s Possible—Issue 46, October 2014)

Kristi Maxwell

In order to understand why I write the way I write, I need first to think about what I believe poetry is and can do. So much writing deals with what language can say, privileging the message. I like poetry because of its investment in how language works (or, rather, how it lives, to move away from the discourse of exchange)—and how this shapes our thinking. (As so many artists have taught us, new forms of thinking demand new forms of art-making, and vice versa.) I like gazing upon the mind in the arena of a poem. A poem is a place to practice paying attention—to cultivate attentiveness. Because of this, both the writer and the reader benefit from inhabiting a poem. We can take attentiveness into the world and use it to know better—to connect better. To slow down. Both writer and reader benefit from letting a poem inhabit them (memorization, perhaps, teaches us more about a poem than any poetic essay will)—these word-clots fortify us, make us less isolated, give us something besides ourselves to bump up against in our thoughts.

Poetry can expand us, if we don’t fight it. I think rigid approaches to poetry (both in writing and reading) are symptomatic of rigid approaches to the act of experiencing, which always threatens our fictions of wholeness and stability, because experiencing requires rips and shifts and excess and dissonance. The act of experiencing is not usually friendly to the act of controlling. As one who writes poems, I’ve decided to follow language. In this sense, language morphs from road to beloved to complex argument to new kittens exploring the basement for the first time. I want to see where it will go, what it will do, where it will surprise me, where it will stop me, where it will run away from me, where it will wait so I can catch up, where it will require me to struggle and wrestle, where it will hold me, how it will allow me to hold it, how it will refuse me, how it will play with me, how it will enable me to play.

My hope is that my compositional strategies will sit readers inside a word at a time and reinforce something for them about their own relationships with language and perception. Language: this thing that we use and that uses us (think: slips, unintended puns, sonic pleasures at odds with semantics—e.g., mythic children with the names of STDs). I believe that textual bodies—the forms a text takes—can teach us something about other bodies in the world and about engaging with those bodies with respect, generosity, and curiosity (a desire to know). Thus the relevance of formal and textual invention (be it dismissed or praised as experimental, avant garde, or post-avant). I hope my compositional strategies result in poems that ask questions rather than poems that give answers. I hope readers will braid these lines of inquiry and swing from the page to the mind. I hope there is exhilaration. Poetry, I think, should make reader and writer feel more alive, more able to perceive, more open to receiving.