Poetry is by its nature experimental. The best poems allow us to see or feel what we knew but did not yet have language to articulate. To super-see or super-feel as it were. Poems provide language for the depths of human experience. Exemplars defamiliarize what in language and life have lost originality, have become old chestnuts. What then is experimental poetry?
Kate Eichhorn and Heather Milne in Prismatic Publics (2009) define ‘innovative’ poetry and poetics as writing that . . . approaches language as an inherent problematic and subject of inquiry rather than mere vehicle of representation.” This description, privileging the language of production, and conceptualization, offers precision and a sense of boundary in the wide field of poetry, as well as the possibility of inclusivity. I kept it in mind in reading work for this Spring 2015 issue of Solstice. Poetry interested in ideas, in particular the ideas of our moment were of special interest. Poems aware of the politics of language, of themselves as construction, but not-so-much-so that their meta-interrogations moved the reader away from primal human concerns and feeling spoke to me.
The pushing of linguistic boundaries within particular contexts, and the underscoring of the synchronous new (for example, current debates on the uncreative, the idea of the impossibility of originality in full blown digital culture; think mash-up, think meme)—are not new. The anonymous and collective creators of the blues stand next to Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman as great early American poetic innovators—and each half century since has fashioned, or has been punched through by, its alchemists, pyrotechnicians, and modernizers.
What is new are these poems in this moment, on these virtual pages—figuring through language, the world. What is new are these poets taking formal and conceptual risks, pushing actual and figurative margins, seeing (and hearing) poetry and language as elastic and willing to stretch them, poets informed by narrative but not limiting themselves to it.
This issue, while focusing on the work of New-England-based writers, includes several poets from farther afield. We’re grateful for all the work. A small group of interviews with practitioners of experimental poetry will follow in May.
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Catherine Breese Davis’ poem “Finding A Way” opens the volume and points the way to “the inexpressibly near” and what is found in the “interstices/of sound and thought and feeling,” yet what we struggle to arrive at through language. Didi Jackson takes up compellingly liturgical song and women’s language and representation, and desire: “We want a house as big as a cathedral.” The body as a sort of cathedral is explored by Anne Riesenberg whose concrete poems underscore the contours of relationships and the physical nature of the word; and Ros Zimmerman literally puts a fork in the word, and an image in the center of a paragraph in the delightful “Pitch-” whose visual and linguistic pun denote pure play. The waking life and the dream, and the space between is explored quirkily by Heather Madden, as is what we keep and what we erase. She writes and does not write, “We say something is broken if it no longer works and if it is not animate.” Ewa Chrusciel reveals to us the uncanniness of life coming into itself: “Yes nests inside the yes/ breathes, triangulates, bivalves,” and the beauty and peril of life more broadly: “Each universe has pasture and precipice.” Celia Gilbert brings a quiet contemplation of spirit and breath and what is enough. Jess Mynes brings the noise, elements of the “unoriginal,” bold linguistic gymnastics, and the badasserie of the now: “Dust on my Whitman. A list of/achievements for my weekend/shipwreck. We got you.” Out of the box comes Ruth Lepson with her (errr) “Box,” a sonic burst of the word, and accompanying musical extrapolations. The melodies of a blue-collar American speech are set against the classic sonnet form by Kevin Gallagher to duke it out, and Patrick Sylvain croons to us a poem strung with the bittersweet notes of American injustice, a poem that turns familiar songs upside down. Neo-colonial conflict and the global connections (or disconnections) are among John Mulrooney’s foci. He writes, “today the ground is closer to the helicopters/dress it undress it our wound is now the chrysalis,” and with great wryness, “Perhaps you will also like:/Car bomb in Kirkuk kills 16, wounds 36/Perhaps you will also like/Refinery sabotage sets oil fields ablaze.” The slow-creeping implications of war are found in the typographical slashes of Adnan Adam Onart, and Indran Amirthanayagam is here to tell us emphatically “All countries melt, curdle, stick in the nose. Or not!” Where do we position ourselves? Lori Lubeski knows the ways we delude ourselves, drug ourselves, taking on fear in the modern age in her “Sunny Paradox Equivalency: A Therapy Series.” In a return to the body, Cheryl Clark Vermeulen’s “If and in soured” deftly render conjunctions and prepositions nouns, and “This ultrasonic yolk sac blur/ a bunk settler, a spark subsidiary.” Mary Buchinger makes a season a body, gives it three voices, and makes it fecund and feminine. Another trinity appears, in Jenny Barber’s enigmatic poem “Three x one.” What to make of the brevity and brushstrokes that are these beautiful impressions? How to best surrender to the mysterious? Irene Koronas dares us to ask whose poem we are reading by noting in a poem by Irene Koronas, “this is not my poem.” Finally, the questions of ownership, authorship, and the communal text are spotlighted in the parodies and aural work of (the inimitable) Michael Heyman whose irreverence and formidable sense of nonsense make . . . well. . . utter sense.
—Danielle Legros Georges
Consulting Poetry Editor