In his third book of poems, Ethan Paquin puts together a sprawling meditation touching on the loss of love and commitment, the painfulness of memory, and the disorientation as well as the consolations of travel. In reaction to the pointed irony of his previous work (and of much American poetry), Paquin’s poems in The Violence contain a rawness of emotion and clarity of feeling rare among writers of his generation. Where form plays a part, therefore, it is likely to be exploded: Paquin’s page becomes more of a canvas than a neutral vehicle for the work. With this book, he confirms his position among the foremost of younger American poets.
“The Violence is a compact of determining forces both poet and language must survive, whether they be fact of a day’s events or else lodged in the very fabric of language itself. It is Ethan Paquin’s power that he can admit these furies and survive them.” —Robert Creeley
“For anyone at all concerned with the craft, challenges and scope for meaning in modern poetics, Ethan Paquin is a must-read.”—Stuart Kelley, Poetry Review
I let her touch me in a way I will not let God touch me. God
will occasionally wake to wrestle with. I spit on his fires I
will not let them transport me. I will overlook the fire,
pain on my little toe. My left foot hurts, foot of the devil. My
hurt a pet apen to nurture. My pet tells me nature to discard.
If I discard the jewels I found I will not make it into heaven.
If I keep the hurt I can trawl it, yo-yo it, dawdle it, dangle it,
make it mine and your own. Make it mine again in a way it
was before it lacked its suffer. Itwas an empty little animal
trolling a yard made my own by my mere presence. I will
bottle my presence; they will have to buy it. They can not stand
to live the way other bottles tell them. They make so many
demands. They are pages to flip and ideas to catch and think
everything or nothing of. When they put their ears to the bottle
bottle hole as it were
they hear oceans of suffering. We will not stand for suffering. We
will stand for something other than the vast silence. But God will lose
if he spins a fire for I am more wretched than fire. Water is more wretched
than fire; so, fire is killed by water. Silences are filled with pets strutting
in the yard. I have made the continents my yard. I have to admit the feat
was unthinkable. I was spurred by some aching brightness. It was the colour
of coral's forehead. It was the colour of cliffs and her beach house stood
out would not stand without the emptiness of the ocean. Me it
writes, I write
Copyright © 2005 Ethan Paquin
“The power of the opening poem, with its arresting spaces and urgent rhythm, with its obvious care for the sound and texture of words alone, and words together, relating to one another in new ways, never lets up throughout The Violence. Some of the most pleasurable moments come not in discovering the profound connections between these poems, but in the moments of language epiphany. Like sounding out the line, ‘cutin greens and custards, navies,’ or in the lovely repetition of ‘Little leaf little leaf little leaf’ (both in the perfect, graceful title poem). Paquin can’t seem to help himself. He indulges joyfully in the beauty of words, and for that, his audience will be thankful. Thankful for words like, ‘metalature,’ and ‘mung,’ and ‘fealty,’ and ‘tendance,’ and (my favorite) ‘thigmotaxis.’ The Violence delivers on the promise of its first poem. When the last word of the last poem has registered in our minds, we cannot help but turn back to the beginning. We want to enter the book again.” —from the review by Alexis M. Smith in Tarpaulin Sky. [Read the entire review here.]
I was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1975, and have lived in New Hampshire for most of my life. I received a B.A. in English from Plymouth State College and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, then worked briefly as a journalist. In 1999, I founded the online international journal of poetry Slope, raising the bar for web-based poetry journals and influencing successive generations of online literary zines. In 2002, I founded with Christopher Janke the small poetry press Slope Editions, and the non-profit, tax-exempt literary and educational organization, Slope Publishing Inc.
My first book of poetry, The Makeshift, was released in the U.K. in 2002 by Stride, the independent British publishing house known for its books by Charles Wright, Dean Young, and other American luminaries; for Stride I then served as editor of a short-lived chapbook series (“Stride Americana”), which published editions by Franz Wright (including poems that would later be seen in the U.S. in his Pulitzer-nominated The Beforelife) and Charles Wright. The Makeshift garnered critical attention in England, particularly from The Times Literary Supplement, which, obviously riled by the poems’ testing the limits of language and form, wrote about the book several times in a very brief period. In 2003, Australian/British/American poetry house Salt released my second book, Accumulus, a volume in which The Makeshift appeared alongside a new book, Dead July.
The Violence is my third book, and I’m currently working on a poetry collection titled My Thieves. My poetry and criticism have appeared in journals in the U.S. and across the world, including American Letters & Commentary, The Boston Review, Boulevard, Canadian Review of Books, The Cincinnati Review, The Colorado Review, Crowd, Fence, Gulf Coast, Leviathan Quarterly (U.K.), Meanjin (Australia), New American Writing, Pequod, Pleaides, Quarterly West, Salt Hill, Volt, XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics, and is anthologized in Sarabande’s imminent Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (2005). I am Assistant Professor of Humanities at Medaille College in Buffalo, NY, where I also direct the undergraduate Creative Writing Program. My interests include hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, environmental thought, urban planning and architecture, popular culture studies, and painting. I live in Buffalo, where I’m restoring a turn-of-the-century Victorian home with my wife and two children, and spend summers at my family residence in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.
I don’t like to discuss my own work because I think to do so is presumptuous, but I can shed a little light on what I’m doing. All my poetry owes to bigger and better things than poetry: the natural world, painting and sculpture and architecture, spirituality. All my poetry is informed by things deeper than poetry: love, loss of love, ruinous relationships, redeemed relationships, the bond between a landscape and a man, between a man and his children, between a man and art.
Thanks to my family, every member of which is a soulful, sensitive, artistic person, the visual arts have long been my love. My first books were art books—the Impressionists, all the usual stuff. Then my parents went to Spain and came back with a Prado guidebook. Then on to Spanish and Flemish painters. Then onto Homer and the American pastoral. At my little hometown library, Leach Library in Londonderry, New Hampshire, I used to check out the same Winslow Homer book every week—the anthology by Albert Ten Eyck Gardner. I went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Gardner Museum, the Currier Gallery with my aunt, and the Metropolitan Museum with my dad when I was like nine. I began painting when I was young, was trained in watercolors by a painter named Jean Wyman, and almost went to art school. Anyway, this is a pretty deep relationship I’ve had with art, so when I began writing seriously—sometime when I was an undergrad, though I began thinking about “real” poetry after reading Ferlinghetti in junior high school—I like to think it shows. I like to use the page as a canvas—the whole white blank thing is there beckoning, and so few poets ever use it. If a poem is grave and quiet, use the heft of the white—keep the text in a small, condensed block in the middle of the page. If the poem is about a mountain range, arrange the names of the peaks on the page in their proper geographic location. Use tabbing, spacing, everything—it’s not just about words.
And, while we’re discussing words, let me share my favorite quote ever. Brian Henry—at the time my young poetry teacher at Plymouth, now one of my closest friends—taught my workshop class to “love language.” To “never abuse language.” I’ve always carried that with me. What it means is that dead language is for lawyers, doctors, politicians. Poets have the OED and a lot of time to sift through that thing, reminding the world how beautiful it is via our language. “Persimmon”—does life get any prettier than that word? I teach all my students the same thing—what are you going to do to reinvigorate the world? To work against the deadening of life that occurs solely by the deadening of our language? So I’ve liked to use difficult and beautiful, uncommon language in my books, though in this third book, more sparingly. I look back at much of my first book with loathing—it’s so dense and obtuse. With the second book, and especially with the third one, I pared it down, got a little quieter. I think I also got more sincere. Meeting Franz Wright and talking about his life and his art helped me a lot. Sincerity is key—it’s something so many younger poets, who fancy themselves hip flaneurs, viciously react against. It’s not hip to be direct, to hurt. I look at a lot of my peers and think, do they feel anything? Do they ever hurt? I hate a lot of poetry done these days by my fellow MFA holders—to be fair, I hate what I was doing in my own poetry. Sure, you can flex awareness of language and be pyrotechnical and be ironic and super-duper twenty-first-century aware, but in the long run, poetry is done a disservice. Too much fanciful language is as abusive to language as is abstracted language. (Here’s where some of the British critics were maybe right about The Makeshift). It’s narcissistic. There’s too much hyper-irony everywhere, and also a lot of writing that doesn’t really go anywhere. So you’re gonna tell me, using a few crazy words, about a crazy experience you had in Brooklyn, or whatever hip place you live in? Fine, but what are you going to teach the world by the end of the poem? How will you have striven to advance the art of poetry by the end of the poem? Usually, nothing more than “I live in Brooklyn and you don’t” and “By continuing to uphold the virtues of stream-of-consciousness and free verse” will be the respective answers. I see a lot of this and it’s dismaying.
In the past few years of reading, I’ve rarely had a shared experience with a poet, so I think a lot of poetry today fails. I want that moment in which I innately know what the poet’s touching on, where the sensation is, where I feel their seeing. I feel I’m on a track that matters. When you’re an inch from being divorced, torn in tens of directions each hour, why are you going to ignore it and write about Wittgenstein? When you find yourself standing atop what used to be the tallest dam in the country with a good poet friend (Joshua Beckman), blown away by the total painful beauty of a desolate, hollow, airy, but warm and red and godlike place (eastern Oregon), why simply chalk it up to just another experience on your blog when you can let that moment dictate the rest of your life? When I wrote the second and the third books, the time felt right to address these things, and the manner in which I addressed them felt right. I didn’t set out to do anything in any particular way—the beauty of poetry. Pain and joy just are, they can’t be predicted and they can’t be ascribed to formula. I’m very pleased with The Violence because I think it’s authentic: it had me going in a different direction, and it forced me to confront things about myself. I’m also pleased because it may be highly personal, but it doesn’t strike me as narcissistic or self-fetishizing. I think many people can read it and have that same connection I discussed earlier; maybe, for some readers, I was able to put in words those sensations they’ve had in darker times of their lives, or to put in words the realization that things might work out . . . maybe. We’ll see.