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Poet's Sampler: Emily Wilson

Introduced by James Galvin

Emily Wilson writes a poetry of exquisite balance. Generous in her spareness, clear in her complexity, matching wildness of diction with precision of sense, nervousness with nerve, her poems are not written for analysis, perhaps not even for approval.

As we watch poetical heresies turn into orthodoxies, it becomes clear, especially in a poet like Wilson, that only originality, a signature style, remains steadfastly heretical. The more honest the asymptotic attempt at truth-telling, the more singular and lasting the art.

Which is not to say these poems lack orientation. Balance again. One hears echoes from poets as different (and similar) as Dickinson and Hopkins (echoes within echoes, as Hopkins echoes Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, and Dickinson extends the ballad and the hymn). Emily Wilson's poems echo the past in a way that could only belong to the present.

Balance. The kind of balance it would take to ascend a steep mountain trail in darkness, carrying a brimming bowl of water.

Without being precious, decorative, or over-wrought, these poems are engaged with language in a way that is as strenuous as the thinking they freight, as unresolvable as their passions. 


Ars Botanica

To bear you in mind.

To be jammed in your saffrons.

The abasement of these ditches
of your smolderings.

Of your abasement.

Follow this in:

we go weatherward?
is this tenable?

The roothairs fuse
for the openings
to shoot from.

You leaf
on the potentate's dome?

You remnant
in need of finishing?

You gilt
and swift execution?



Black Maple

struck of a gold
no a citrine

volt that this is
it's so real

is the must
is the brachia

unreachable
is the leaf

is the breakaway
of a house

on a ground
is the site

which is godless


Geomantic

Spruce of the dark
Ontarian orchards,
spoor of the interior,
I emerge into uncalculated
grain shattering at the crown.

As the sky answers
against the watercourse,
so I take my few
exceptions with God.
Nothing so irredeemable
as the robber cowbird,
as the slump of the fisher
unraveling its host.

The great brains of the beeches
divest themselves so sparingly.
I will outstay everything
for the seasonal observance.
Dried silicles, dried bracts
of the impeccable edge work.
Cords of the drainages in ice.
The rose's roadside stigma.

Black tongues massed
at the interstices,
the lone pioneer oak
attends its assemblage of galls.


Houses Among Us

Houses among us.
Houses making the fields

grow leathery at dusk.
Who are the rivers.

Who are the passageways
outbranching from the common

antique vestibule the same
as it is in heaven.

A wall that is leaning afterward.
A clawfoot tub that holds

itself like a boar
giving birth in a basement.

A house inside you
beat of tin.

A house inside me
stiff with clove.


Nonesuch

You come from unquiet
country into rooms

the marshes empty to
at low tide. Region

of seed kind. Its terraces
secreted in rivers.

The implicate system
you live in or that which is

all the while here unrenders
itself, a civility

of capture and let run.
You are wondrous

in a fundament of greens.
Unknown but you are.


The Keep

Is this a kind of progress? This slip-bead
morning through which the rains keep
missing only the scarcely illuminated tread
of clover at the heels of swart pines. Sleep
counters me both ways. I fail to advance
in my own precession by the dark
calendar needles. I will not advance
but by the strange calamities that work
as on shallops on calmed water, a slow
going nowhere kind of motion toward
centermost. You are not here. Below
not borne by branches. You are not that bird,
so rigged as to catapult free
as if I'd the will you would change me.

 

 


Emily Wilson's first book of poems is The Keep. She lives in Portland, Maine, where she is proprietor of Spurwink Press.

"Ars Botanica," "Geomantic," "Nonesuch," and "The Keep" appear in The Keep (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001). Reprinted by permission of the author.


Originally published in the April/May 2002 issue of Boston Review


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