Saturday poetry pick: The Nine Senses

book coverThis week’s poetry pick is Melissa Kwasny’s The Nine Senses, from Milkweed Editions. I was lucky enough to hear her read and to take a class with her at LiTFUSE, and her insights about voice and our relationship with the world around us reverberate in these pages. Deeply reflective, these poems examine closely the nature and our place in it–that relationship. They question intentions, require accountability. They balance between mysticism and the concrete, a reminder that the world of our senses provides a pathway to that other world. The images are precise. From “Clairvoyance (Sunlight)”:

“A name that enters, disturbs the field as the first butterfly might. Mourning Cloak with its velvet tippet, its golden hem.”

And from “The Book of Spells”:

“The wind, a mix of linen and salt.”

I felt breathless when I finished reading “Leaf”:

“Everything betrays you with its promise. So what is the answer? Oak leaf splayed like the wake of a ship. Your route: straight through the middle.”

The voices shift–who is the speaker, who is the listener? The fluid movement of the prose poem allows those shifts to flow seamlessly between juxtapositions.

Many of the poems address illness and healing, of pain and cure, as in “Attar”:

“Everyone has a need for transcendence. William Carols Williams knew nothing of what it takes for a woman to stand naked in her own house. Cancer in her bones, dancing to Roy Orbison. Now, I won’t ever be cured, Irene told the thing girls. It’s in the nature of the disease.”

Then we enjoy the excitement and comfort in recurrence, as in “Clairvoyance (Your Word),” and “Clairvoyance (Little Evening)” or in “Talk to the Golden Birches,” “Talk to the Water Dipper,” “Talk to the Milkweed Pod,” and “Talk to the Great Suffering.”

This is a book of meditation–not as a way to leave the world, but a way to enter it in all its perspectives. For me, this is a book of spells.

For a start, read all of “Clairvoyance (Sunlight).”

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