On Reading What a Friend Discovers Before You: The Nine Senses/Melissa Kwasny

Monday, December 16, 2013

I am a woman blessed with friends more intelligent, more searching, more knowing. Friends who will say—read this. Friends who will place the book in my hands.

A few days ago Melissa Kwasny's The Nine Senses (Milkweed Editions) arrived with a note from my friend Alyson Hagy. This book, I already knew from the year's correspondence, had left its mark on Alyson. I was eager to read for myself.

And so yesterday and today I read these ingenious, unmediated prose poems. Each line like something almost already gone from here, or gone ahead, and the connections between the lines both sturdy and strange, and the whole unaccountably greater than parts I do not profess to fully understand. Kwasny's thoughts are broken apart and fastened together. Her world is built of flowers, wings, rivers, love, illness, dreams reengineered. Of age reengineered. Love is human. Love is not human. Someone is getting lost. Organs are. Everything is disappearing.

Here: A few lines from "Orient" —

Sometimes it is a matter of one small thing, a gift to send away with a friend. Or to take the morning slow, making calls the way the birds do, to know the others are all safe, in their places. September's sister-quiet, when there is no complaint and you don't speak ill of anyone. Pressed between the days, which are close as reeds. You are used to being in control of your life. You have been lucky is another way of putting this. You try to imagine what it is to think without language. You look at your mother, staggering with her deep heart, or those women who are nine-tenths the needs of others, and you wonder if language has shrunken you. To a body with a foreign language of its own.

Reading a book like The Nine Senses forces a reader like me to slow things down. To watch very carefully, decode. It encourages a writer like me to work with language in a new way. To be unafraid of the strange juxtaposition. To be less inclined to explain.

I know that it is easier to read easy books. I know that it is easier to write them.

I guess I'll always be interested in those on the edge. Those who do it differently—not to show that they can, but because they must.

I am thinking of Alyson Hagy today. And I am forever grateful for her friendship.

(As for the photo: My husband, taking pictures of me yesterday, handed me the book. Let it distract you, he said, for I was grimacing. It distracted me.)


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