So, Poeting: What are your favorite poems of the month?
I am discovering the poetry of Vivian Faith Prescott this week. Her chapbook, Traveling With the Underground People, conveys the experience of existing as an intensely studied subject of anthropology, in all of its objectification.
My brain had a small prepping for this encounter with her work recently. A letter to the New Yorker stated,
Greenblatt, in describing the universality of “our species’ cultural birthright,” and the “mixed blessings” of its contradictions, uses a derogatory term for the Saami, the indigenous people of Scandinavia: Laplander. We are not Laplanders, and we consider the word a racial slur. In our native land, we have been treated the way North America’s indigenous people have been treated—Saami were once even displayed in a human zoo in Germany. The irony of making a point about commonality while denigrating a particular group is disappointing.
Molly Laxstrom Ciliberti from Sammamish, Wash.
The letter has stayed in my mind because history has been largely written by winners, outsiders, invaders. This one example of correction, by a lone voice of one described, rains a drop of persistence on the prevailing narratives.
The first piece in Prescott’s collection, entitled, “Observations of the Lapp Jaw,” is written in the style of prose and conveys the experience of being studied as an anthropological artifact:
“You say I have proteomorphic peculiarities and consider a turned up nose, short stature, projecting cheekbones.”
Prescott travels with herself as material in the university setting: the dug-up ancestors (“Years later, in the churchyard, you accompany the priest and two hired hands, digging up a grave. A fine specimen.”), the jaw bones lining the shelf (“Jaws with and without skulls…that kissed the space between a newborn’s fontanelle…”). The piece ends with a gloriously in-the-present, sensory experience of her very real body and ability to delight and be delighted.
I think these Friday posts are going to make me read more poetry! I don’t read much of it anymore, but the few I do, I love deeply. One of them is this fantastic one by Hanif Willis-Abdurraquib, which takes a suicide letter by Virginia Woolf and morphs it into something much more positive: click here.
I love Hanif’s concepts and ability to manipulate language. The note itself, of course, features a diametrically-opposed interpretation of the original note. But the meaning he leaves after erasing the pain shows a beauty found despite–and through–the madness.
In other words…I LOVE IT.
What are some of your favorite poems? Let us know!