The American Poetry Review



Systems for the Future of Feeling

by Kimberly Grey

Persea Books, Fall 2020

79 pages, $15.95

Nu sculon herigean. —Caedmon

When Kimberly Grey stepped onto the stage of poetry, she didn’t sound like anybody else. When I mentioned this to her, she said: “I just want to write good work that is compelling and different. I don’t want to write like anybody else. I always said to myself, it isn’t worth writing something if someone else has already written it.” When I mentioned this to Gabriel Fried, her editor at Persea, he said: “Form and subject matter in Grey’s poems are melded. Nothing is ornamental or incidental in her work, no small part, which you can make do without, is left over at the end. Her books form a gorgeous apparatus: you can see how the poem-parts operate on their own but also how they depend on each other—how they reflect and refract, how they make their distressing music. I can think of few contemporary poets (Tyehimba Jess and Karen Solie come to mind) whose collections feel like inventions the way that Grey’s do.” A gorgeous apparatus. A twenty-first-century poetic concertina the likes of which audiences haven’t heard. A new sound. Here, here.

won the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in 2015. Grey had just completed her Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University in 2014. That book! Kaboom. It wasn’t like anything else. The book begins with a poem called “Invention.” Portentous. The poem starts: “Built your truss, built your small back, / all I could muster, all cheek and luck.” Take that in. Maybe I thought of Sylvia Plath’s “Colossus,” where she resurrects her father figure. Then I thought of Plath’s playful poem “You’re,” anticipating the birth of her child, Frieda: “O high-riser, my little loaf!” But only for a minute. Mark the attention to Grey’s language, the sound building.. Our poet is there and not there. Even in Plath’s poem to her unborn child we sense she’s that poem. Mark the echo of “truss” coming up in “muster” and “luck.” And further “back” and “cheek” and “luck.” And when was the last time a poet used “truss” in the first line? Her attention to detail never feels purple or drawing attention to itself for no reason. And yet there’s beauty in this language as the poem tumbles out: “Built your hum to crescendo and bucked / it suddenly. You are not usual. Built / your not usual, your poor blue, your quiet / monkish heart.” The alliteration: bucked, built and blue. The “b” sound one of the first utterances of a newborn. Is this a placenta? A poem? Or both? The word has its root in the Greek verb , “to make.” What a maker Grey is.

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