"The power of poetry as an arena for political critique"

By Harriet Staff

Abigail Licad, writing for The Critical Flame, reviews Elizabeth Willis’ new book of poetry, Address. The immediately striking thing about the review is that it actually attempts to close-read Willis’ poems, which most reviews shy away from. The close-readings are not academic or all-encompassing, but rather seek to illustrate the way in which Licad understands the book - as both suggesting particular meanings and suggesting excessive meaning:

The lyric makes use of language as a tool for the proliferation of meaning, and perhaps the convergence of the political and cultural backgrounds of both speaker and audience, as the guiding units of “human experience.” By this maxim, any reading of Willis admittedly falls short of the multiple evocations the poems aim to create. And perhaps this is the trick to interpreting Willis — not to attempt conclusive extractions of authorial design, but to generate meanings beyond intentions on the page.

This generation of meanings is tied to the politics of the book, says Licad, which are fore-fronted in many of the poems:

Not all the poems in Address are politically charged, although most contain a provocative statement within them, urging the reader to action, to challenge a given stance, or at least to more closely examine one’s own. As Willis asserts in “Sonnet,” “None of this is free.” No statement, claim or response is unhampered by beliefs or biases, or outside of the political-economic system in which we toil — every person at some point finds one’s self called to defend their work, and to have their surroundings reflect it accordingly. Willis perceives part of her job as poet as galvanizer, pushing readers to take such duty seriously, as she urges us “To rise to this / To speak its fury.”

Originally Published: March 9th, 2011