I’ve been reading a good amount of poetry this semester. I only get little breaks in my day, on the bus or while dealing with feeding myself, so poetry ends up fitting nicely into my schedule. One of the contemporary poets that I’ve read a lot of recently has been Olena Kalytiak Davis. She really seems to exemplify the kind of writing I can see myself trying— lyric poetry with a heavy dose of postmodern self reference. Like, she can’t seem to write anything without glancing up at the reader to see how they’re regarding her. And yet she’s amazing. That inspires confidence in me, that I can lack confidence and be self conscious as an artist and yet turn that into a strength. And here I was thinking that you had to be all confidence to make anyone pay attention.
That, and I’ve found pictures of Olena that makes me kinda sorta in love with her.
Right? She looks like that girl you used to know and adore, the one you always saw from afar but who you never really connected with… only an eager remark here or there, but nothing much beyond that. You could always imagine scenarios that would lead to connection, but alas they would never come to pass; just as you could imagine the two of you unlocking each other’s thoughts and the history you could’ve shared, all the moments and all the important arguments and patient days…
I just want her to be my sweet sentimental girlfriend. I want to sit across from her and sip dark tea, bashfully trying to avoid making eye contact. I want our relationship to best be expressed in notes left in books, to run holding hands through the rain…
I’m projecting, of course.I’m not even usually anywhere near this sappy. I don’t even have any idea who she is at all— her poetry only serves to put her at even more of a distance. She’s not telling me who she is, she’s allowing her reader to tell themselves what kind of person she might be. And relationships like those are best left as crushes, I know…
And poetry crushes are the best kind.
Here’s an example the kind of poem that drives me up the wall for her:
sweet reader, flanneled and tulled
BY OLENA KALYTIAK DAVIS
Reader unmov’d and Reader unshaken, Reader unseduc’d
and unterrified, through the long-loud and the sweet-still
I creep toward you. Toward you, I thistle and I climb.
I crawl, Reader, servile and cervine, through this blank
season, counting—I sleep and I sleep. I sleep,
Reader, toward you, loud as a cloud and deaf, Reader, deaf
as a leaf. Reader: Why don’t you turn
pale? and, Why don’t you tremble? Jaded, staid
Reader, You—who can read this and not even
flinch. Bare-faced, flint-hearted, recoilless
Reader, dare you—Rare Reader, listen
and be convinced: Soon, Reader,
soon you will leave me, for an italian mistress:
for her dark hair, and her moon-lit
teeth. For her leopardi and her cavalcanti,
for her lips and clavicles; for what you want
to eat, eat, eat. Art-lover, rector, docent!
Do I smile? I, too, once had a brash artless
feeder: his eye set firm on my slackening
sky. He was true! He was thief! In the celestial sense
he provided some, some, some
(much-needed) relief. Reader much-slept with, and Reader I will die
without touching, You, Reader, You: mr. small-
weed, mr. broad-cloth, mr. long-dark-day. And the italian mis-
fortune you will heave me for, for
her dark hair and her moonlit-teeth. You will love her well in-
to three-or-four cities, and then, you will slowly
sink. Reader, I will never forgive you, but not, poor
cock-sure Reader, not, for what you think. O, Reader
Sweet! and Reader Strange! Reader Deaf and Reader
Dear, I understand youyourself may be hard-
pressed to bare this small and un-necessary burden
having only just recently gotten over the clean clean heart-
break of spring. And I, Reader, I am but the daughter
of a tinker. I am not above the use of bucktail spinners,
white grubs, minnow tails. Reader, worms
and sinkers. Thisandthese curtail me
to be brief: Reader, our sex gone
to wildweather. YesReaderYes—that feels much-much
better. (And my new Reader will come to me empty-
handed, with a countenance that roses, lavenders, and cakes.
And my new Reader will be only mildly disappointed.
My new Reader can wait, can wait, can wait.) Light-
minded, snow-blind, nervous, Reader, Reader, troubled, Reader,
what’d ye lack? Importunate, unfortunate, Reader:
You are cold. You are sick. You are silly.
Forgive me, kind Reader, forgive me, I had not intended to step this quickly this far
back. Reader, we had a quiet wedding: he&I, theparson
&theclerk. Would I could, stead-fast, gracilefacile Reader! Last,
good Reader, tarry with me, jessa-mine Reader. Dar-
(jee)ling, bide! Bide, Reader, tired, and stay, stay, stray Reader,
true. R.: I had been secretly hoping this would turn into a love
poem. Disconsolate. Illiterate. Reader,
I have cleared this space for you, for you, for you.
Don’t worry, for now, my Readers, about the stories or the subjects that she spoke of. Instead, my Reader, take note of the relationship that she assumes with her Reader. I picture Olena sitting close to her Reader, holding his or her hand, and looking deep into her Readers eyes as she murmurs her poetry. The Reader wants to be worthy of that gaze, so they size up themselves, size up Olena— it becomes a relationship.
With her poetry Olena strives for the same sort of mutual love relationship that one might expect a physical relationship to have. And, like one of those physical (non-poetry) relationships, Olena says that she feels disconnected, disconsolate, yearning, absent from her Reader. In return, she sometimes makes herself disconnected, disconsolate, and absent. She remembers passion, sexual and emotional, with her Reader… but it is only memory, and what truth does that hold? And isn’t that the nature of all our relationships, that they are contained only in our hopes and ideals of the relationship? I’m talking friends, family, lovers… we have only our faith that our ideals match the Other.
Olena focuses the full depth of her gaze on her Reader, O my Reader. But her relationship with her Reader, she knows, will never match her own ideals. No one is as mournfully aware of that as she is.
In parallel, my Reader, I am also mournfully aware that my relationship with this sweet poet (46, married, children… and an acclaimed poet) will never come to blossom. It will never match the ideals I hold for her. And, o my Reader, that will be okay by me. I’ll just stay where I am, under her gaze, enjoying my little crush for what it is.