Last night there was a book party for Elaine Equi’s Ripple Effect, New and Selected Poems (Coffeehouse) at the Cue Art Foundation in Chelsea. Opening up for Equi was a musical duo including a theremin player. A theremin is an instrument that gets played without being touched. You move your hand near the instrument, and it picks up on your electromagnetic energy and produces sound, a sound that made me think of outer space movies. My friend Amber whispered that it was more like an opera singer. Ethereal and strange, it was the perfect opening act for Equi, a smart, quirky, inventive, darkly funny poet who doesn’t fit neatly into any of the boxes in the highly factionalized American poetry landscape. (I love when poets complicate our tendency to categorize.)

Over one hundred people were spread out neatly in ten rows of steel chairs in the back of a large, boxy, white-walled room with a thirty-foot ceiling. An art exhibition curated by poet Peter Gizzi hung on the side walls. There seemed to be a number of poets from what I might call (for the lack of a better word) the “experimental poetry scene”, including Bob Perelman (who from certain angles looks a little like John McEnroe). There was a warm feeling in the air, and a great deal of excited laughter throughout her twenty-minute set.
Perversely Patriotic
Terrorism has ruined
S & M for me.
Now it just seems
like watching
the news.

Equi is one of the few American poets adroit at the short poem, and in reading her closely and listening to her poems, we become aware of the variety of entry points that exist, the multitude of ways into a poem. Her work is sparse and exact, slippery and direct. It’s great to be able to find thirty years of her work in one place.

Originally Published: April 1st, 2007

Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Other books include The Endarkenment (Pittsburgh, 2008), The Splinter Factory (Manic D, 2002), The Forgiveness Parade (Manic D Press, 1998), and Alibi School (Manic D, 1995). His poems have...

  1. April 2, 2007

    I had never heard of Equi until just recently in a quick review of this book. I picked up the book and was a little disappointed. Much of the work is fun, but it doesn't seem much like poetry to me. The poem you quote (which I quoted in my own blogged review -- it's definitely a stand-out poem) is a great little piece of humor, but is it poetry?
    This was my general feeling about much of the work in the collection. A few of the selections in the book from earlier collections did have some really lovely poetic stuff in them. Perhaps my view of what constitutes poetry is too narrow. I look forward to giving Equi another read in a few months or a year to reassess, but for the moment, I can't help thinking she's someone with some interesting things to say, sometimes in interesting ways, but that her pieces aren't often terribly satisfying to me as poems. Many of them felt like exercises that would better have been left on the cutting board.

  2. April 4, 2007

    Hi Daryl,
    I try to stay out of the is or isn't poetry debate. It's more useful for me to consider if and how something is or isn't working as a poem.
    Elaine Equi's poems are often fun. Not funny ha-ha like a clown. But smart, dark, sometimes subversive fun. Like the poem I quoted. The first stanza is a direct statement that makes our head wiggle a little, as we try to process it. The poem is kind of like a riddle. It gives us this strange equation in the first stanza, and then the second stanza rips the blanket off the joke's birdcage.
    We laugh instinctively, but it's an uncomfortable laughter.
    I'd say her poem fits into the tradition of short poems. (Do you think short poems are poems?) (Are there any 5 line poems that you enjoy?)
    I was glad to see her book review in the New York Times.
    I like a wide variety of poems. I don;t read Elaine Equi expecting an intense emotional experience. I expect to see the world in a new way. To see something that I've looked at many times before, in a new way.