I first read francine j. harris’s “katherine with the lazy eye. short. and not a good poet.” sometime late in my undergrad, I think. I was still in the era of my poethood where I was showing up a drunken sloppy mess to read my crappy poems at provincial Midwestern open mics. When I found harris’s poem, I saw myself, I saw the midwest I knew, I saw my own disregard for the interiority of others, I saw my own sloppiness. It’s a poem that performs its own searching, too—you hear the speaker reworking their language, endlessly reprocessing their positions and complicities. I’ve read a million poems, but this was the first time I really felt a poem reading me.
In her essay “The Holograph,” poet Brenda Hillman speaks of handwriting a poem over and over as a method of revision in her own practice:
Emerging signs are very close to the nerves of the hand. Seeing a letter formed in stages… pulled into the thread or wick, to the thing of the word itself, gives a sense of participatory process, that the poem is still unfolding, that all of its unconscious dream nature has not yet been foreclosed upon.…
Hillman writes too about our “atavistic connections to the written expression.” Thinking about that “atavistic” quality, that reversion to the ancestral, Poetry Daily asked each member of its new editorial board to name the poem that first sparked poetry in them—the first poem they read that gave them permission to write poetry or the idea that they might write it—the poem that led them down the path to becoming a poet.
We then asked each editor to write about that special experience and to create a writing prompt for others based on an observation about the poem. We also asked them, finally, to handwrite that poem—as a kind of homage to its maker, the poet who came before—and an homage to the poem itself as a thing that first sparked their writing.
“I also like to recopy poems other than my own onto new pages,” Hillman observes in conclusion to her essay, “because there is an intimacy about that as well.”
We are excited to present to you these sixteen intimate homages to the relationship between poet as reader and poet as writer, and to what sparks poetry.
Kaveh Akbar on francine j. harris’s “katherine with the lazy eye. short. and not a good poet.”
Write a poem examining your relationship to a person whose interiority you didn’t fully appreciate when you had the chance. Include a repeated phrase that changes slightly with each repetition.
Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, Best American Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. His first book, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, was published by Alice James Books in the U.S. and Penguin in the U.K. He is also the author of a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, published by Sibling Rivalry. The recipient of the Levis Reading Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, Kaveh is the founder of Divedapper, a home for interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. Born in Tehran, Iran, he teaches at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA programs at Randolph College and Warren Wilson. More at http://kavehakbar.com/.