My poetics are grounded in a spirit of inquiry and dishevelment that speaks to my affinity for language, speech, and the many vastitudes of voice. Spiritually, I’m always quoting from the John Ashbery poem, “But What Is the Reader to Make of This?” (A Wave 52):
Those delicious few words spread around like jam
Don’t matter, nor does the shadow.
We have lived blasphemously in history
And nothing has hurt us or can
As displayed in, both “If I was a man” and “a hurt mouth amount”:
If I was a man
In one of those
-esque, espionage adjacent
slow burn thrillers
I’d either be Gary Oldman
or Forest Whitaker.
Whenever I’m watching a movie, I’m always thinking, wait, is this about the characters in the story, or is it about what the characters are going through? On an impressionistic level, I’m thinking of the poem as a portrait of an attitude and the speaker’s role as that of a fictive dot sliding across the sun.
A hurt mouth amount
The less I check
the weather app
the better the
In the kitchen of my imagination, a common language endures between the gas stove and the cutting board, through words one might recognize and are familiar. Words one can find at home. Kitchen pantry words. Can of field peas words. Not solely, through esoteric endeavors but through language also. In doing so I’m constantly leasing out my voice as a venue for statistical gimmicks and spatial improvisations. If auto-theory can be thought of as, “a way of arriving at a philosophy by way of the self”1 than, I’m interested in how poetry can be a way of arriving at a perspective by way of the self. To me, persona is a form of taking from the exaggeration and performing it even further. A trifling space, inside a dilapidating phalanx of figurative speech and actionable metaphor. In my attempts to construct a survival apparatus out voice. On an emphatic level, I’m always thinking about the idea of pain versus the artifice of suffering. My poem, “transvaginal ultrasound” wrestles with this logic:
It sounds how it feels
No it feels how it sounds.
My motivation for writing these poems comes from a scrupulous desire to thoroughly and readily contemplate poetry, its uses, and question my own creative process regarding writing. One’s voice, like one’s process should be something that modifies and tailors itself relative to the creative task at hand. In “transvaginal ultrasound” I was thinking about the emotional dexterity of a sentient voice. And the question, Cornelius Eady’s poem “Sherbet” asks:
Like the end of a
Border dispute, which
Metaphor could turn
The room more perfectly
Into a group of
I’m interested in a poetic future that embraces the idea of turning a thing inward rather than aiming it at other people. If Stanley Fish is wrong, and after everything there is no “great difference between trying to figure out what a poem means and trying to figure out which. interpretation of a poem will contribute to the toppling of patriarchy or to the war effort.”1 Then, what constitutes itself as failure? What constitutes itself as failure of appreciation? Half-spoken in image and speed. Wanda Coleman’s poems have a bewildering capacity to refract the past, engage witness, and worry the note. All while cutting against type. In “American Sonnet #6”, Coleman leads with an unknowable speaker, making a direct address, “rejection can kill you” the poem implies the war as a site of cosmic energy and correspondence:
when does the veteran of one war fail to
appreciate the veteran of another?
Line wise it’s exceptional pairing. Ardently so, the poem offers an alternative pathway into thinking about how generational conflict engages with historical compromise.
In “To be a dog” I was thinking about collective nouns for groups of animals. Where it’s true that the word for a crowd of rhinos is a “stubbornness”, as in a “stubbornness of rhinoceroses.” They can be called a “crash” of rhinos as well.
To be a dog
In a car
eating the first
grapes of the season
with its head out
on the interstate
to be the American Redstart
fixing itself above
the tree-lined highway
evil eyeing said dog.
Because there’s something really tender about a dog wearing a woman’s t-shirt or sweater— I’ve been thinking lately a lot about how maybe there’s a reason why I’m not supposed to know everything about the exact moment of creation of a work.
“Citation as Relation: Intertextual Intimacies and Identifications.” Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism, 2021
Fish, Stanley. “Why Literary Criticism Is like Virtue.” London Review of Book, June 1993.
Sylvia Jones is the 2021-22 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University. She earned her MFA from American University in Washington D.C. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in: DIAGRAM, Poet Lore, The Hopkins Review, The Santa Clara Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. She lives in Baltimore with her partner and their buff tabby.