Fourteen Things I’m Thankful For

January 23, 2017

Contributor’s Marginalia: Maggie Smith on “Taken In” by Anders Carlson-Wee

1. Poems that grab me by the throat in the first sentence. This one is deftly enjambed across two lines: “The fear of growing older less than the feeling / of failing to do so.”

2. The verb raking. The sense-memory of fumbling in the dark, smoothing my hands on a wall, feeling for plastic.

3. Sonnet-sized, sonnet-esque poems. Non-sonnets. Nonnets. Their concision, their rhetorical tightness, their confidence in making all the right moves in fourteen lines.

4. The turn at turn. The verb we apply to the speaker’s whole body in line four—he is “grop[ing] down dark hallways”—shifts meaning in line five, when we learn that what he turns is “a valve,” with his hand.

5. Being inside another’s poem, like being inside another’s home, and feeling welcome there, invited inside.

6. How poems can operate like films, with close-ups and pans and flashbacks. In this poem, we’re taken back to an earlier scene—the homeowner walking the houseguest through the basics, in case he wakes first and wants coffee or breakfast. (“Whoever owns this kitchen / showed you how to do this, but for a moment / you can’t remember where you are, who took / you in.”)

7. Poems grounded in place. Here the setting is revealed as rustic and wholly American. It reminds me of pieces of my own childhood home: the wood paneling, the deer head on wall, the mantle clock shaped like a sawmill.

8. Sonically intricate free verse. “Roughhew of rifles. Couches. Crisco containers. / The tolling black hole of a Peter Pan clock. / A watercolor of Jesus stumbling from his tomb.” Thematically, the latter two lines carry enormous metaphorical freight: time, age, mortality, death, rebirth. But all three lines are also packed with assonance, consonance, and alliteration: Roughhew/rifles, Couches/Crisco/containers, tolling/hole, black/clock, Peter Pan, Jesus/his, stumbling/from/tomb.

9. Sentence fragments—as if the syntax whittled itself down to the bones, cutting away all unnecessary connective tissue.

10. Jesus paintings hung without irony, not to mention paint-by-numbers, preferably with deer and sycamore trees, and the occasional velvet Elvis.

11. Rhythmic smarts and variety. I love how Carlson-Wee transitions from three fragments on one line to two endstopped lines, which are fragments. He then moves from iambs to, after the colon, staccato repetition. “You strike another match to eye the faces / on the fridge: not you, not you, not you, not you.” It’s texturally varied and satisfying.

12. Poems that take us in—by reminding us of our own singularity, our own us-ness.

13. Refrigerators layered with trappings of a specific life. Mine is cluttered with photos of my kids and my friends’ kids, with finger paintings and school lunch menus, and some tiny calendar a realtor mails us every year around Christmas.

14. Poems that remind us of our humanity and, in turn, our mortality. Poems that tell us we will end. Poems that will outlast us.

Maggie Smith is the author of Weep Up (Tupelo Press, forthcoming); The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press); Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press); and three prizewinning chapbooks. In 2016 her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. New poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Plume, TriQuarterly, 32 Poems, Pleiades, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Smith is a freelance writer and editor.

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