So, I brought three books with me on my vacation. I read snippets of my Thoreau book, I read pages of my novel, Beautiful Ruins (which I am loving by the way), but the book that I completed and re-read several times was a book of poems by Elizabeth Willis, called Address.
Right off the bat, the title was intriguing to me. Is the Address a location, like a street name and number? Or is the book an Address, like the one given by Lincoln at Gettysburg? Is the book something that I am supposed to Address, like a medical condition? And who is the targeted audience that Willis is Addressing? Turns out, it is pretty much all of the above- which can feel both exciting and complicated. I felt as though I needed eyes in the back of my head.. and maybe the sides.. and top.. to take in the multitude of angles and references.
Although I read the poems several times, stopping to close read a few, I definitely feel that this work is and would be enhanced by collaboration and dialogue among readers. I actually supplemented my reading by finding an interview, which is here: EW Interview
“I think about what it means to be addressed, directly, as a person. It means you’re being seen, that something is intended specifically for you. It’s an acknowledgment. It carries a quality of attention that seems essential and primary—the mirroring that happens when one person addresses—or is addressed by—another. When you attend to something, you address it.” – E. Willis
Willis addresses many subjects in her poems- politics, society, history, the way that we communicate with, and relate to, each other, our communities, even the land, and more. What stood out to me was the “quality of attention” that she mentions in the passage above from the interview. I feel the attention in this poem, “Year-End Review” (I am linking the reading from PennSound, which also has a webcast of Willis reading at the Kelly Writers House, which I have yet to indulge in, but plan to watch in the very near future). Here is a segment of the poem, Year-End Review:
Here follows an addled replica
What follows here is almost the real thing
What you are being exposed to is a polished version
of a once intractable experiment
Here follows an almost urgent reply
This is a picture of a man who read a book
This is his hand pulling the heart out of a living poem
E Willis, segment of the poem, Year-End Review
I feel that my several readings of this book of poetry have only just begun to scratch the surface of the depth that can be experienced in Address— and of course, I feel that I will be led into her other books as well… She has a comfort level with language that draws me in as a reader and invites me to experience not just how she says things, but the way she sees things. This feels like the first step in a long journey exploring Elizabeth Willis’ poems and the beautiful literary landscape that she creates.
I look forward to seeing Nadia’s reaction to Alive- another Willis book of poetry!