My Love Is a Dead Arctic Explorer
Poems of a loneliness that quarrels with itself from the far edge of love, My Love Is a Dead Arctic Explorer is a collection of would-be love poems chastened by experience. “I was a Promethean dilettante disabused of tinder,” says the speaker, who later observes, “After you reach adulthood / no one bets you’ll set this world / on fire.” Ackerson-Kiely returns with a second book of perfectly trenchant heartbreak and longing.
“Exploration begins with an imported meadow and ends with desire’s promise—an arc explorers must continually chase and resist, will and reject. In My Love Is a Dead Arctic Explorer, Paige Ackerson-Kiely knows what we’re up against, and she understands its belatedness. ‘[T]he only thing I could recognize was my own hunger,’ she writes, but a host of characters lives in this chorus of the I, both known and unknown, family and strangers, near and estranged. It’s a brilliant, ongoing journey of hope and crisis. And it’s a brilliant book.” —John Gallaher
“We’re not sure we could describe Ackerson-Kiely’s poems any better than she does herself: ‘Mostly, for me, writing is a feral act. Mostly I am consumed by a hunch, irritated, harassed or made uncomfortable by something I can only clumsily accuse. I approach images and words as though they are a criminal or maybe just a far-flung snarl, and maybe that snarl is coming from me — I don’t always know, though mostly I am the only one in the room.’ Dark, full of nature, and full of life, this collection will snarl all the way into your soul.” —Flavorwire, “10 Reasons Poetry’s Not Dead”
Book About a Candle Burning in a Shed
One time in a shed a candle burned.
My thoughts were with the window
looking out over the dark yard.
I know it isn’t much—
the light inside just strong enough
to illuminate nothing really out there.
I snuffed it. The shed continued to contain me.
If you toss a penny on the ground eventually
the ground will gather the penny into itself:
no imagined bank for saving poor white girls
on the sawdust-covered floor where he
traced his finger under the waistband so lovely
I paid him back by keeping still.
Copyright © 2012 by Paige Ackerson-Kiely
“This collection of verse and prose poems revels in a kind of synesthesia in which varying environments are seen in terms of each other. ‘This Landscape of Forest’ melds the claustrophobia of the home with the charms of the outdoors: ‘You are sitting at the computer, maybe paying bills. Your dark limbs laden with my favorite birds.’ Seasons become bodies, which become bodies of water: ‘November, which is like waiting for a man to shut off the light and make his way to your body in the way one searches the bottom of a pool for a nickel.’ Usually, though, Ackerson-Kiely’s voice is more raw. In ‘Anorgasmia,’ she asks, ‘you know how if the ocean spread blue over this valley, that blue would just slay us?’ Often, her poems explore entrapment and contain an elusive erotic ferocity: ‘She is all full up with his nightstand./ His little lamp makes her sick —/Turn it off, turn it off!’ This vivid image returns in her penultimate poem, ‘Unwriting a Letter,’ in which Ackerson-Keily (In No One’s Land) lingers with the ‘beaten-in shape of a body in snow.’ Nature offers no comfort.” —Publishers Weekly
“We’re not sure we could describe Ackerson-Kiely’s poems any better than she does herself: ‘Mostly, for me, writing is a feral act. Mostly I am consumed by a hunch, irritated, harassed or made uncomfortable by something I can only clumsily accuse. I approach images and words as though they are a criminal or maybe just a far-flung snarl, and maybe that snarl is coming from me — I don’t always know, though mostly I am the only one in the room.’ Dark, full of nature, and full of life, this collection will snarl all the way into your soul.” —Flavorwire, "10 Reasons Poetry's Not Dead"
“Ackerson-Kiely returns often to tools in her poems, and it is apparent that poetry is a tool for her, one of those important to survival. None of this estranging the familiar—her poems make the familiar more familiar. The kids never eat the lunch you pack, and you are a native of gas-station buzz, and the flight attendant says, ‘Other way, honey.’ Her poems resituate us in our home, here—in meadows and convenience stores and airplanes and bars and motels and mountains—and remind us to be absolutely shot through with anxiety and uncertainty and desire:
So when your drunk boyfriend picks you up late and spits in your face and calls you a whore, or your boss tells you he is cutting your hours so you sleep with him because there is not a bag large enough in which to stuff the reasons not to; it will be all right. The doors will close. Over and over. There isn't really anything else they can do—they are frighteningly automatic, after all. They keep the heat in. There is an energy crisis the world over.
Paige Ackerson-Kiely works at a homeless shelter in rural Vermont and writes as if Thoreau's phrase ‘lives of quiet desperation’ hit home early. But (to paraphrase a line misattributed to Thoreau) she won't go to the grave with the song still in her.” —Reviewed by Michael Robbins in the Chicago Tribune's Printer's Row Preview
“Having spoken in an interview about her interest in the differentiation between passion and desire, Paige Ackerson-Kiely has created, with My Love is a Dead Artic Explorer, her second full-length collection, a numinous cartographic text that leads the reader from one signpost to another (within economies of passion/desire, love/passion, and love/duty, among others) in search of moorings. . . . What My Love is a Dead Artic Explorer lacks in pith (weighing in at over 100 pages, many of the prose poems are a full page long), it more than makes up for with the wide-ranging transgressivity of the text’s lover's complaint. Economies of desire don't so much do battle with economies of duty as they do frame the text as an extended meditation on desire in an age when the horizon of possibility shrinks by the hour. Pitting forms of knowledge (from carnal to conceptual) against these various economies, the speaker pairs injunctions, such as the Calvinist ‘Do what you have to,’ with ‘I love you’ (from ‘Projections of the Death of an Important Figure’), forcing us to confront the fact that such economies of libidinal desire are not just a final frontier, but the final frontier, in contemporary life.” —Reviewed by Virginia Konchan in Barn Owl Review
I recently moved from a mountain chalet to a former one-room schoolhouse in West Addison, Vermont, built in the 1800’s. The geography is decidedly soft, pastoral. I work full-time as a case manager at a homeless shelter, and, in my off-hours, co-edit Black Ocean’s poetry annual, A Handsome Journal.
Currently, I am preoccupied with fasting, the hermetic/ascetic life, silence, and the idea of shelter. I am working on a third manuscript, tentatively titled “Made to Lie Down in Green Pastures,” concerned with shelter-building and contemporary, secular hermetic life. I hope to secure funding to spend a silent month in a hand-built shelter in order to further this project. Too, I am working on a series of comic books. The heroes are loosely based on historical figures that have dedicated their lives to service. They are illustrated tableau style, with medium and large format photographs. The first in the series follows the travails of Kate Marsden, and her work with the Siberian leper colonies.
"It is not only ignorance but also romance that retreats before the advance of knowledge. Every geographic discoverer must plead guilty to making the world poorer in romance. He does so in exact proportion as he makes it richer in knowledge." —Vilhjalmur Stefansson
My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer began as a book-length response to Admiral Richard E. Byrd's memoir Alone, which takes place in Antarctica, and various texts and ethnographic records of arctic explorers.
I attempted to recreate some of the conditions illustrated in the books: limited diet, silence, monotony, isolation, all of which are, in their way, romantic. Believing as I did that the ritual of pretending would convert me into being, I expected my endeavors to bring exploration into finer focus, that even though I was stuck in rural New England, I would make some sort of parallel journey worthy of explication. Instead, I became hung-up on the threshold of exploration, that awkward place where knowledge is fuzzy and romance waning. The book ended up an exploration of entrapment, limitation, possession and amended trajectory.