Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kimberly Johnson: "Ode on My Episiotomy"

Yep. That's right. Episiotomy. A woman's "most matronly adornment," as Kimberly Johnson has it. What better reason, then, to write an "Ode on My Episiotomy." (Not that I have one---not that I'll ever have one, unless, like I ruminate here, I can slip on my wife's. Not likely though.) I chose this poem for two reasons today:

1) It's short. Brevity is everything, I believe, in poetry. Focus and compression, as an editor once suggested to me, are keys to creating successful poems. Turn the innovative phrase, I add, but turn it succinctly; make it tight. Compress experience into the poetic vessel so when you light the fuse and release it on the world, it will explode in the reader's face, it will reverberate through the bones.

2) I like how it's rooted in the body. I've become increasingly convinced that language is intimately tied to human corporeality and that, by becoming intimately acquainted with a poet's words (of course I'm referring to poetry here, but this can extend to other forms as well), we can connect with the poet, with the particulars of experience, with the world, in morally redemptive ways.

Consider the effect of these lines: "But O! the dream of the dropped stitch! the loophole / through which that unruly within might thread, / catch with a small snag, pull the fray, unknit / the knots unnoticed, and undoily me" (lines 8-11). The alliteration, the articulative shape and connection of the sounds as they slide across the mouth, through the lips; as they snag the tongue, "unknit / the [phonetic] knots unnoticed, and undoily" the body, providing a release of physical tension through the acts of lyrical language. Such acts have the potential to bind us together as human communities, to take us out of ourselves, if only for a cathartic moment or two.

Poetry, then, as compressed, highly refined language, is a redemptive, sacramental act. And it may just prove our salvation.

But there's no bias here.

Read more of Kimberly Johnson online here.