text a future female a
fur à la carte, a pelt grave. The temper
part prayer, part leak, the purr all cave.
A plump hurt kept—a gruff meal.
Grace gave tact a lamp. The hurtle felt
my fault. Thump, thump, late heart.
Laugh a Greek laugh. Yelp my hug. Pray
the reef make, cheer the reef up. He may
mute a pager. Errata: He may mute me.
Louisville, Kentucky-based poet Kristi Maxwell’s eighth full-length poetry collection is Goners (Grinnell IA: Green Linden Press, 2023), winner of the 2023 Wishing Jewel Prize, a prize I hadn’t even knew existed until now. According to the back of the collection, Goners is the fourth winner of this particular prize, “awarded annually for a manuscript that challenges expectations of what a book of poems can be. Named for an essay in Anne Carson’s Plainwater, the Prize champions work that questions the boundaries of genre, form, or mode while engaging the rich possibilities of lyrical expression.” The list of prior prize-winning titles include Dennis Hinrichsen’s schema geometrica (2021), Robin Tomes’ You Would Say That (2022) and Bruce Bond and Walter Cochran-Bond’s Lunette (2023).
As Maxwell writes to open the collection, “Extinction Is a Problem of Form: A Note on Process”: “These poems are lipograms, writing that excludes one or more letters. They take as their starting place the names of endangered species and emerged out of a desire to manage my own climate despair. Specifically, I’m working with a variation of the beautiful outlaw—lipograms that do not use the letters in the title, the name of the endangered species, a variation I’ve come to call an extinction—to explore what happens when what is endangered is instead absent—gone.” I’m fascinated by the idea that she is exploring and examining extinction through erasure, setting absence against absence, brilliantly interlocking form and content, and this is a book of extinction itself, with each poem set with the subtitle “an extinction.” The sound and syntax of these poems are staccato, offering quick lines and dense lyric that write directly toward and around each poem’s stated subject. Curiously, I’m finding that Goners shares a syntax echo with Canadian poet Christian Bök’s infamous and award-winning Eunoia (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2001), both titles offering a gymnastic twist of sound and meaning, although Maxwell’s Goners is built with narrative purpose, however blended and repurposed. The poems offer linguistic leap, sonic texture and bounce, where meaning isn’t simply the result of her particular self-imposed structures but is part of the hand that leads. Through seventy-two poems on seventy-two newly and recently extinct species, this is a stunning and evocative lyric with a sad prompt and important purpose.
chromosomes form self’s
reef—we reek of luck.
Shells overwhelm shore’s bosom: less jewelry, more leech.
Overwhelm me, Yoko. Be my ovum’s yolk.
My Elmer’s flubs, fuses lobe & bulb, skull & bloom.
Messy crumb of us crumbles more. We’re else.
Summer schemes brooks, muumuus, church of
mushrooms—morels. We seek some. We’re our souls’ humus,
yes? We observe lemurs floss creeks, loose
bush from rock. Reefer-less. Here, for you, four brews,
cheese, chemo for your cells, emo for your moons. Some hero.