Monday, May 28, 2007

Introduction for Elaine Equi (by erica kaufman)

Elaine Equi's books include Voice-Over, which won the San Francisco State Poetry Award, The Cloud of Knowable Things, and most recently Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems -- all from Coffee House Press. She teaches in the MFA Programs at The New School and City College of New York, and at New York University. She also edited The Holiday Album: Greeting Card Poems for All Occasions in Jacket Magazine.

Like Roy Orbison is often referred to as having “defied the rules of musical composition,” Elaine Equi is a poet who time and time again defies how one normally thinks of poetry or poetics. An Elaine Equi poem can easily be seen as a film still, a pop song, a drum solo, a new snazzy striped shirt. In an Equi poem nothing remains stagnant. This is a poetics of transformativity, wit, speculation, and curiosity. As she writes in “Epic Mountain Hoax,” “Whatever I told you yesterday wasn’t me.” Or, to quote from “1+1=3,” “Mirrors/transform us/into ourselves.”

In “The Heroism of Vision,” Susan Sontag refers to photography as “commonly regarded as an instrument for knowing things.” Equi employs the same intensity of focus as a photograph might take, only her medium, words, pleasantly seesaws between knowledge and inquiry. As Equi writes in “Surface Tension,” “replace the narrative/with another/form of narrative.” Roland Barthes explains in Camera Lucida, “a photograph can be the object of three practices: to do, to undergo, to look.” As a teacher, Equi taught me how to look-- at my surroundings--unpredictable as exploring the surface of Venus. To quote from “The Pill’s Oval Portrait,” “I have been highly productive/maintaining a certain uncertainty.”

Equi is highly productive, generous, and astute. As she writes in “Brand X,” “I make decisions/or my body/makes them for me/and certain nights/everything is perfect.” Here, the separation between physical self and internal self is not only fantastical, but also acknowledges how much one is capable of without being entirely aware of it. To quote “Second Thoughts,” “Even a landscape can make a gesture towards us.”

The New York Times called Equi’s poems “a bracing, resonant art.” The San Francisco Chronicle says, “Equi writes with a full, post-punk, Dorothy Parkerish kit of weapons: arched-eyebrow barbs, nervy, catchy hooks of pop-conscious metaphor.” SPIN Magazine writes, “Equi’s work does what poetry should do, yet very rarely does—makes you feel the sensations inherent in words and their combinations, while simultaneously throwing down a savvy personal challenge.”

Or, to quote a T. Rex song, “Don’t you know you’re a cool motivator.”

Please welcome Elaine Equi, a terrific poet, mentor, and friend.


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