Kismetly I Rear and Wonder
Kristen Stewart is hardly the first celebrity to write and share her poetry—count James Franco, Jewel, Tupac Shakur, Jimmy Carter and Ally Sheedy among her various forebears—but she might be the first whose poetry has caused so many contemporary poets to sit up so quickly and take notice. Joyelle McSweeney and I both leapt to her immediate defense in Brian Kim Stefans’s first analysis of the poem which he has since expanded.
I like Kristen Stewart’s poem for two reasons—the first was the terror and wonder with which she seems to have written it and still views it, but the second is its sheer weirdness, it’s attack and negotiation of the possibilities of language itself. She too recognizes not only the weirdness of the text but of the process of poetry itself. “Holy fuck,” she says. Indeed.
It is the slash mark in the title of the piece “My Heart is a Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole” that signifies that this is no mere versifying poetaster (not that there is very much wrong with the odd poetastic versifier) as the slash usually denotes a sameness of nouns. A wiffle ball, is of course, barely even itself—barely even a ball—let alone a “pole.” And what is a Freedom Pole anyhow? The mind immediately begins to wonder, which is to say to wander.
The poem itself is a wandering and a result of the body that wanders: Stewart wrote the poem on a road trip through Texas. In our imagination, of course Stewart is perpetually Bella, the sullen and resourceful heroine of the wild northwest, desired by undead and too-much-alive alike. Small wonder she seeks anarchy in deeply passionate and sincere address and does not write the more chatty and breezy and ironic bits that seem more prevalent in the average contemporary poetry journal.
I adore the recklessness with which she ransacks syntax. Verbs get attached to nouns oddly (how does one “rear moonlight” you might ask? What would it mean to “strafe” the foothills) and this causes the mind to encounter an ordinary and received world in an exciting and new way.
She’s also got an odd yet oddly affective sense of the poetic line. Some lines seem self-contained and yet others enjamb in startling ways. For example:
Something Whilst the crackling stare down sun snuck
Through our windows boarded up
Not only do I like the unexpected punctuation of the archaic word “Whilst” but also the break of “snuck” with its matching and abrupt “up” on the next like keeps the reader/listener a little off-centered, a little engaged in the momentum of the text.
Having arrived in Marfa, a place itself of great art and literature and support for artists and writers, via a neat quick rhyme and a stanza switch, the aforementioned Freedom Pole makes its appearance. I think the final eight lines of the poem are perfectly wonderful in their rhythms, their images, and mono-syllabic syncopation that thrums through them:
Devils not done digging
He's speaking in tongues all along the pan handle
And this pining erosion is getting dust in
And I'm drunk on your morsels
And so I look down the line
Your every twitch hand drum salute
Salutes mine …
Lacey Donahue, one of the writers who has been taking Stewart to task for her work, says “shitty, embarrassing poetry does not belong in Marie Claire. It belongs in pathetic emails sent in the middle of the night, hand-written notes dropped off on doorsteps when the recipient refuses to answer phone calls, MFA seminars…” But I think in a world where seemingly all language, creative or otherwise, seems geared toward advertising or commodifying, a poem this fresh, weird and prickly not only belongs in Marie Claire, its probably one of the best pieces of poetry that has ever appeared in its pages.
For me, I don’t see any reason to think about why this poem is “good” or “embarrassing.” It is a deeply felt piece of writing by a performer whose own work has brought her much success. It is bold for her to put it forward in front of such a broad audience. I do not find its freshness would do with suggestions or editorial thinking—its strength is precisely in how it so kismetly redraws new possibilities for meaning in the words and structure of the lines itself—in other words it is poetry.
For the readers of Marie Claire who do not already like poetry, it is a gift to read. For this reader, I hope the writer will continue in her practice and soon share with us another one.
Poet, editor, and prose writer Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. Ali’s poetry collections include The Far Mosque (2005), which won Alice James Books’ New...