Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Elizabeth Willis, Address


To never say “I am solved
by this shadow”

I panic the way
evening petals
the wooded cheek

I am not bored

On this hidden fence
I erase everything

Caught in the mouth
of the dog next door:

the spreading heat
of urban violet

dying in the car
None of this is free

In Address (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), American poet, critic and editor Elizabeth Willis’ fifth trade poetry collection, what becomes worth remarking on is her remarkable clarity, her clear purpose. The poems that make up Address compact the form, allowing only their finest moments. Over the past few years, I’ve been intrigued by those poets working more overtly with politics, writing a content of crisis, complain, exploration and action, from Juliana Spahr, Stephen Brockwell, Brenda Hillman, Jeff Derksen and now Willis as well, in poems such as “THE WITCH,” “BLACKLIST” and “THIS IS NOT A POEM / ABOUT KATHERINE HARRIS / (R-13th District Florida),” that includes:

When I announced my support
for the “Stop Sex Trafficking” Act
I dressed as tastefully as I could
without compromising my syndicated
cleavage. When I announced
my support for this Act, I was not
denouncing sexual acts per se,
even when performed for political
advantage. When I denounced
my support for sex trafficking,
I was flanked by a Republican
from Ohio with whom I was
not having sex and a Democrat
from New York, whose assets
I had eyed only briefly.
What kind of act was this?

What I like about this collection is the quick wit and the simple movement. What I like about this collection is in how Willis uses "address" both as rousing speech and a geographic locale, pinpointing a subtle bullet-hole wake-up to action for all around her to hear, and hopefully listen to, whether through the breathtaking final lines of her poem “NOCTURNE,” or the final couplet of “FRIDAY,” that reads:

Your footprint on the planet
pinned down by outer space

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