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Spiralling Spells: On Making a Selected Poems
Poetry has always been about time for me, and perhaps because of that—perhaps because I wanted to understand time from a place outside it—it’s felt timeless. I started writing poems when I was seven or eight, and even then I knew that I was writing with a part of myself that had nothing to do with my age. Was that when I had the recurring dream of the strong woman with long white hair?
Now, a relatively strong woman with long gray hair, I am assembling Spells: Selected Poems, Translations, and Peformance Work 1970-2010, which Wesleyan University Press will begin publishing within the next few days, or as soon as I get the manuscript in.
My studio is an orgy of poetic nostalgia as I drift back through folders and folders of finished and unfinished and draft poems from over four decades, choosing what to include from all the different periods of my writing life. Since none of my previous books of poems were chronologically delineated, and since I have many completed poems unpublished in books, my editor and I agreed that it would be useful to ignore the boundaries of previous books and arrange everything together in (reverse) chronological order.
So assembling this book has felt like a long, tricky, exuberant dance with time itself. And a tiring one. I’m also starting a memoir, and the process is similar: descending into a fecund mud of complexities and interacting with a whole crew of emotions and memories in order to pull or decant or build something more coherent or clean from the experience.
Much of this process has been marked by a sense of panicked bemusement, if not confusion, and— I confess—some jealousy of poets with a less bizarre publishing history. But now that it’s almost over, I’m beginning to feel the good parts. Gratitude. Relief. An airy sense of order (or at least the first layer of order, since coming across such quantities of unpublished work has been rather daunting). Some triumph. And a kind of love:
love for poetry itself, that stayed meaningful and powerful for me through so many hard vicissitudes.
And love for the younger poet, with all she managed to move through and to create, in spite of everything. As I spiral through her spells, sometimes I wonder if it was really for me, for her older self, that she wrote as she did. And as I revisit her words, I sometimes wonder if it’s really for her that I’m doing this.