These poems are part of a book-length sequence I call Agitations and Meditations—poems that grapple with the forces of violence and cruelty, desire and loss, especially as experienced by women. I was fortunate to have a residency at Yaddo when I wrote these poems. That quality of time and space was intrinsic to this unexpected project, and my room had much to do with these poems as well—through the tall windows facing east at a slant, I caught sharp glimpses of fragmented world. The poems arose from my physically pacing across the room, from my bulky blue IBM electric typewriter to a borrowed laptop and back again. The poems poured out in a headlong rush of language—I could barely look at them lest I stop them in their tracks. Often I typed with my eyes half-closed. At the end of each day, I trekked to the computer room and again quickly retyped and then revised and printed out a handful of the day’s Agitations. Then I laid them out on my wide bed and read them aloud before dinner, sometimes making small markings on them in pencil. After dinner, I returned to my room and again read them aloud in the half-dark before piling them on the desk next to the typewriter. I wrote several each day for two months. By the end of my stay at Yaddo, I was beginning to carry them with me everywhere; I’d fold a sheaf of them in my journal and place the journal next to my plate while I ate breakfast, or I’d tuck them in my biggest pocket as I walked past the horses to town. I might peek at them while sitting on a park bench alone. I was half-dizzy with love for them (their rawness, their edge), half-terrified of them (their rawness, their edge).
The poems veer from the deeply personal to the more public or universal—though one might argue these are one and the same. Some of the poems are jagged, sprawling and long–lined, and others are smaller and boxier; some are fierce in tone, and others are soft, more self-contained. At times, the speaker of these poems steps back to muse over the heft of such subjects; at other times, she is embroiled in them. In retrospect, I realize I must have been relying on diverse typographies to mirror the agitated, urgent state of the speaker.
“AGITATION: book of telegrams”; might be considered a microcosm of the entire collection—stylistically, subject-wise, tonally—the desperate voice “telegramming”; frantically for help through fragments of image and thought, using the “STOP”; refrain as both an end stop (or caesura) and a plea.
“AGITATION: reconciliation”; was one of the later Agitations I wrote; it arose from my particular despondency about so many of the poems being despondent. I was feeling a certain redundancy in what I was writing—the poems were beginning to seem half-alive. The perspective in this poem had a revitalizing effect, compelling me forth. The victimized speaker is driven to question her own sense of her oppressor, to soften the blows, but in doing so returns to the inevitable fact of his existence.
“AGITATION: conduct”; came from a more meditative space. Several images in the poem arose while I was running one morning down the lovely, winding dirt trail, past the famous Yaddo ponds. The poem steps back from the “I”; to express how these violences reverberate even in the leaves. It paints the post-traumatic scene, creating a backdrop for the larger landscape of these Agitations.
Throughout the manuscript, the poems attempt to make sense of humanity’s destructiveness while realizing that making sense might be irrelevant in light of the nature of this capacity. Perhaps these poems are also about approaching the annihilating flame.