what I mean when I say I'm sharpening my oyster knife
I mean I'm here
to eat up all the ocean you thought was yours.
I mean I brought my own quarter of a lemon,
tart and full of seeds. I mean I'm a tart.
I'm a bad seed. I'm a red-handled thing
and if you move your eyes from me
I'll cut the tender place where your fingers meet.
I mean I never met a dish of horseradish I didn't like.
I mean you're a twisted and ugly root
and I'm the pungent, stinging firmness inside.
I mean I look so good in this hat
with a feather
and I'm a feather
and I'm the heaviest featherweight you know.
I mean you can't spell anything I talk about
with that sorry alphabet you have left over from yesterday.
when I see something dull and uneven,
barnacled and ruined,
I know how to get to its iridescent everything.
I mean I eat them alive.
what I mean is I'll eat you alive,
slipping the blade in sideways, cutting
nothing because the space was always there.
"No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife." –Zola Neale Hurston
As I read through the books for this year's Norma Farber First Book Award, I recurringly felt I was in the presence of a poet in the actual present. Admiration is only part of what I was feeling: I marvelled at all the many ways there were of allowing the necessary thing to be spoken, and at all the sustained attention, and persistence, that had gone into making what was on the page. It was thrilling to see poets finding the fittest metaphor(s), the essential forms, the only possible words for that necessary thing. The books I admired most took on one aspect or another of our dreadful current situation and then attentively ordered it for human breath. Again and again they spoke to and outweighed the distress. I admired all the various manifestations of this sanity. There was also, obviously, a lot of despair.
And then at the beginning of the third week I came to the true stories of Eve L. Ewing in Electric Arches. Sometimes straightforward, sometimes dizzyingly ingenious, one after another the poems were intelligent, self-aware, and good-willed down to their handwritten endings, their serious humor, their typographical wit. Mother wit and essential lightness of heart seemed to drive this work on its thought train: the changes of subject, the visual rhythm through the pages, the characters who arrive, entirely seeable and hearable—and the more so accompanied by the authority and generous complicity of the author's tone as she lays out the stories. If Electric Arches reminded me of anything, it was of the first time I read about cronopios and famas in Cronopios and Famas, and then reread it, and went back to it again and again. If Cortázar's book was, as one reviewer said at the time, "a lesson plan for combating the alienation and nihilism one feels from a life of automatic acts and responses," Ewing's book answers back or seems to echo that—in one of the visual poems in so many words, in a line printed in lowercase letters above a teacher's handwritten schedule on a blackboard:
it can be accomplished only piecemeal consciousness intent upon the world.
Electric Arches lightened my heart. And so I'm honored, and also extremely glad, to congratulate Eve L. Ewing for imagining and writing a truly wonderful first book.