These poem cycles explore relationships both human and linguistic. Responsive (and responses) to the multiple connections between words, the poems create a narrative where intimacy and sensuality are revealed in the spaces between: “Logic a device that keeps wonder at bay. / The bay where they docked and will dock again.” The repetitions-with-difference in Kristi Maxwell’s Re- suggest that the seemingly contradictory notions of stability and change are reciprocal.
from Cycle: Action/Figure
their breakfast fastidiously, feast-tediously.
Tiniest black teeth zooming low near the lower jaw
of the manilla folder colored table.
She takes her collection of dolls and he his darkest markers:
Dentist, she pleas, clean, and the doll’s teeth
become beyond the crack in the door
where light diets to a skeleton of light
laying patient as a train station.
It works well,
the platform where they perform
this construction. Vegetables coddled
in the cutting, thus zucchini lives its less remarkable
dream dreamed for it: Periscope with nothing
to spy. In unison, spoons move to their mouths, in unison
in a way more eerie than hunger in common. Like they are
tracing intentionally the flight pattern of a bird when its wings are most upward.
Like this intentionality facilitates something.
Copyright © 2011 by Kristi Maxwell.
“The couple that travels through Maxwell's fourth collection repays the closest attention: their odd interactions may speak to our own. Early in this sequence of short untitled poems, he and she come together in winter: 'Wand-like, her touch on his arm pale as innards of gum wrappers/ and folded accordingly.' Later, perhaps during an evening out, their 'bright bodies fight brightness with powder and clothes'; as they pack, or unpack, a kitchen, they learn 'Fork-speak. Fork-tongued, they were undone/ by need to breach the rivers printed on their skulls,/ and dry.' Other segments (some guesswork is required) take place at a carnival, in a church, on rural travels, perhaps in bed: 'When he is an ox, she alternates/ between onyx and field to be tediously/ plowed.' The title suggests that they break up and get back together, or that he and she re-acquaint themselves each day; it also warns, and encourages, us that some re-reading will be required if we are to rewrite our own domestic scripts, rather than emulating 'their most precious robot/ he bought for them.' By turns acerbic and affectionate, the man and woman here regard themselves as Maxwell's eye regards them both: if she is hard to interpret, at times, so are real people in real courtships or marriages." —Publishers Weekly
“The repetitive sounds, creating close-homonyms, speak to the elusive and debatable constrictions and limits of language itself (and its reception on the eye/ear) which these poems explore. Maxwell’s clever punning, obvious as it is, never feels like her focus, again demonstrating her ability to control language and, by proxy, her abilities as a poet. Hers is not a hybrid-style, fusing the tenets of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and 'less difficult, more narrative' poetry, as much as it is an emergent voice in younger American poetics which seeks to illuminate the ever-reductive denotation of words as they bounce off one another. Think of Matthew Henriksen or Brian Teare, who both bend the colloquial in a way which galvanizes contemporary American poetry.” —from the review by Richard Scheiwe in The Aviary.
I was born on a Sunday in June in 1981, two weeks past my due date, in East Tennessee. I first studied poetry with Marilyn Kallet, Richard Jackson, and Arthur Smith at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Chattanooga. The poems in Re- signal a shift for me, in my thinking. They’re more formal in nature than my earlier poems, even if their formal aspect is not immediately recognizable. They are the first poems I wrote after completing an MFA in poetry at the University of Arizona, where I worked most closely with Jane Miller and Tenney Nathanson, and after beginning to learn Mantis-style kung fu—which had me thinking about bodies in very different ways than I had before and which consistently reminded me how located I am in a body, curbing some of my cerebral tendencies. I’m no longer taking kung fu classes, but its lessons remain with me. These poems are very much about bodies interacting in the world, with words identified as some of those bodies—textual bodies. Drafts of these poems were written in 2005 and 2006, during which time I tutored at the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center, evaluated essays for the Gorman Learning Center, and volunteered and taught at Casa Libre en la Solana, a community writing center in Tucson. I was doing equal amounts of walking and biking—which always affects how I think compared to when I’m in a position to be mostly driving—and watching a fair amount of movies at the drive-in, which closed sometime after I moved to Cincinnati. Also during this period, and relevantly, I adopted my first animal as an adult—a stray cat named Poly after her polydactyly. Happily, she made me renegotiate my notion of what forms intimacy takes. I was living in the back of a duplex recently vacated by one of my MFA peers and friend Theresa Sotto, and my desk, which had been Theresa’s desk, was kitty-corner to another poet’s desk. I don’t have this desk any longer. On the wall, there was a handwritten note meant to remind my partner and me of the project of relentlessness we were both quite invested in at this time; it was supposed to read: “You Are a Savage,” but it looked more like “You Area Savage,” which we liked. I took it from the wall and packed it when we moved to Cincinnati to pursue PhD study, but I don’t think it ever got unpacked, or it did, but was no longer positioned where I saw it daily. In addition to relentlessness, I was proclaiming “creepiness” as a favorite quality in poetry, possibly influenced by all the Carnivale I was watching or by my fascination with Night Watch, the first film in the what’s supposed to be a trilogy by Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, and the films of Takashi Miike; I still favor this quality, though now because of a more general investment in the uncanny. Unlike my other poems, most of the poems in Re- were written outside. All of these things consciously or unconsciously factored in to what Re- became. These details are the context for the text of Re-, though I’m sure there are other details I’m forgetting. In 2010, I received a PhD in English & Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati, where I also completed a graduate certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. In 2007, I was the recipient of the Greta Wrolstad Scholarship from the Summer Literary Seminars, which allowed me to travel to Russia and to write and move around there for a month. My other books are Realm Sixty-four, published by Ahsahta in 2008, and Hush Sessions (Saturnalia, 2009).
The impulse to write the poems in Re- was a desire to think about relationships— if connections between words would reveal something about connections between people or beings. Re- began as a practice in listening and looking—attempting to be responsive to what connections words called forth and how these connections could motivate a narrative (disjointed as it may be) about a generic “she” and “he.” Because of this, the poems afforded me a lot of surprise, and I was utterly absorbed in the writing process in the way one can become absorbed in various television series, so anxious to see what comes next that one will watch five episodes in a row—the continuousness of the writing of these poems, which I feel very fortunate to have had, allowed them to cohere and maintain a consistent energy, I hope, in a way they might have not if I had had to return to them intermittently.
I’m interested in the resemblance between “generic” and “generative,” along with the “gene” in them that recalls patterns. Patterns organize these poems. A variation of a line from the first poem in first section corresponds to a line in the first poem of the second section, variations of a line from the first poem in the first section and the first poem in the second section correspond to lines in the first poem of the third section, and so on; they share something, but not everything—a certain difference is maintained. The recycling here is a figure for reinvigoration, especially in terms of the reinvigoration relationships demand for maintenance—and each poem cycle suggests a figurative season that creates the atmosphere for the relationship between the “she” and “he.”
I wrote these poems in 2005–2006 in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to Cincinnati to begin work toward a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature. I was thinking a lot about relentlessness in poetry and teaching a class about it at Casa Libre en la Solana in the spring of 2006. If I recall correctly, I had just read Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text for the first time and was reading Marianne Moore’s letters and poems—so reading for texture, especially richness or lusciousness of texture, was at the forefront of my thoughts and obviously affected my writing practices. My choice of “lusciousness” reminds me I was reading Lane Dunlop’s translation of Francis Ponge’s Soap for the first time during this period, too. The act of reading was definitely part of the process of writing—I was reading the words that emerged as I went along as much as writing them to see how they asked to be unpacked and what word-parts could be dispersed to form new words. I hope readers connect with these poems—that they find a part in them.