When I was a grad student at SUNY Buffalo in the mid-’90s, the comp lit students thought they were the cool kids, the Poetics Program poets thought they were the cooler kids, but the truly cool kids were the more independent agents like Amy King. She and I crossed paths in New York City a few times after we both moved here post-grad school, but it’s only since her arrival onto the poetry scene over the past half decade or more that I’ve gotten to know her a bit better and read her work. In April of 2010 while blogging for Harriet I wrote about the launch of WILLA: Women in Letters & Literary Arts, since renamed VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and mentioned King’s research on gender discrepancies in book awards and “best of” literary lists. Her latest investigations show how much these discrepancies extend to the magazine world, poetry and otherwise.

King’s fourth book of poetry, I Want to Make You Safe, was recently published by Litmus Press with heavyweight blurbs from Rae Armantrout, Cole Swensen, and John Ashbery. Her poems are an effusive barrage of image and thought, frequently directed at a you that could be intimate but is also an expansive sense of the world. There are frequent references to not knowing in the way that poetic language is much more than just facts and ideologies, documents and statistics: “A poem is a hat with no thumbs / I wear upon my head, night’s cap of fool’s gold to harvest.” What we possess has always already escaped us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want more than this world provides. Or provides on terms not decided by us. There’s a politics to this, too, as in, How do we want to be governed?

I Want to Make You Safe is filled with quick slippages between I & you & they & we. It stays deeply embedded in the world of things—natural and otherwise—while displaying a relentless imagination: “Into my stomach an explosion of stars / where I rely on myself, my government name, bony letters / of fingers that tunnel your bisected heart, skyward with dark.” Most of the poems move with a similar kind of rush, with an eroticism brushing up against the edge of our individual and collective demise dotted with the rot at early 21st-century America’s core. But an almost pure exuberance carries King and her readers through.

Originally Published: April 9th, 2012

Alan Gilbert is the author of the poetry collections The Treatment of Monuments (2012) and Late in the Antenna Fields (2011). He has earned praise for his ability to move between personal, national, and global scales and experiences in his wide-ranging, politically and ethically astute poetry. He is the author...