Poetry News

Patrick James Dunagan Ponders Elizabeth Willis's Alive: New and Selected Poems

By Harriet Staff

At The Rumpus, Patrick James Dunagan observes the fabulous universe of talent that is ("stellar," as he puts it) Elizabeth Willis's New and Selected. Willis's volume is a recent publication from NYRB's publishing outfit. More:

Alive: New and Selected Poems is a stellar gathering of work. This whirlwind blast through some twenty plus years of publications by Elizabeth Willis offers definitive exploration of poetry’s lyric measure. Willis expertly handles the particular moment in time and space of the poem’s encounter, presenting sculpted instance(s) of momentary recognition full of significant impact, charging the language with multi-layered depth. Her points of reference are rich not only in terms of connotative meaning but also sonic resonance. Willis successfully utilizes the lyric form in such manner as extends it beyond familiar limits avoiding the casual slip into autobiographical self-reference typically associated with many another poet’s work.

Although Willis’ poems generally don’t involve straightforward autobiographical narrative they are nevertheless an intensely intimate and personal engagement. In a conversation with poet Sean Patrick Hill published in Gulf Coast, Willis remarks how her poems in part reflect “the internal struggle that I think we all have with language. How do we make our interior world manifest? How do we understand the relationship between abstraction and embodiment, agency and identity, spiritual and erotic life, what we inherit and what we do with it?” Willis firmly believes in pursuing the possibilities of taking the world as created within the boundaries of the individual poem-at-hand as the primary reality of worthwhile note. As she states in the same conversation: “When you travel through a poem, it is your reality, it carries you.” And leaving no doubt of her absolute fealty to the poem itself: “when it comes to poetry, the answer is always in the poem.” [...]

Continue at The Rumpus.