Sunday, April 27, 2008

Introduction for Elizabeth Willis (by erica kaufman)

Elizabeth Willis' most recent book is Meteoric Flowers. Other works include Turneresque, The Human Abstract, and Second Law. Formerly poet-in-residence at Mills College, she now teaches at Wesleyan University and lives in central Massachusetts.

“Fluent in salamander,” Elizabeth Willis’s seemingly organic ekphrasis stuns meteoric after turneresque after abstract. These poems are shapely tornadoes that collide with things past, they take “genre trouble” and out of it create “prose in revolt.” “The world [might] be clanking noun noun noun” (it usually is), but in Willis’s work the poet always has critical control—meaning Willis’s poems radiate the kind of strength that makes one rethink his/her own confidence. (To quote “Errata,” “for the, read her”). Or, as Stefania Heim writes of Meteoric Flowers, “deep fissures between things hold the emotional core, the sharp intelligence, and the relentless energy of the collection at the same time as they remain the sites of what is left unsaid.” To quote Willis, “I do this work to word you.”

In fact, Willis’s newest collection Meteoric Flowers even begins with the Wallace Stevens quote—“A poem is a meteor.” And these poems are indeed meteors—with their atmospheric entry, their impact on the surface (of the page, on the listener’s ear, on Darwin’s own texts), and their finely sculpted shapes. As Willis writes in her “Notes on [Meteoric Flowers] the Text,” “Darwin made poems that perform as well as contain their intellectual discoveries.” Or, as she writes in “All the Paintings of Giorgione,” “this is the moment when painting becomes painting.”

Please join me in welcoming Elizabeth Willis.


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