Leia Penina Wilson
i built a boat with all the towels in your closet
(and will let you drown)
Red Hen Press 2014
There’s a phrase that sometimes comes up among those of us who love poetry. Its called the “heresy of paraphrase.” It’s from a book published in 1947 by Cleanth Brooks titled The Well Wrought Urn, but it captures an idea that goes back to Aristotle. And this is the idea: a poem–at least a good poem–is a finally crafted work of art, and the way its crafted, the way its words are structured, is intrinsic to its meaning. You can’t paraphrase a poem. You can’t say it really means or basically means this or that, like you can with other sorts of communication, without distorting it, because how a poem uses language is as important as what its language conveys. In a poem, form and content are inseparable.
This view of poetry is the reason those of us who love poetry end up running to our bookshelves in the middle of a dinner party and pulling down our favorite poems and reading them aloud to our unsuspecting guests, because once you mention a poem you love, it doesn’t only feel inaccurate to say its about this or that, it feels like a kind of heresy, like your clumsy paraphrase is damaging it. And that’s exactly how I feel about the poet I’m interviewing today. Leia Penina Wilson’s new book is called i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown) (Red Hen Press, 2014). And if your ear or your mind popped a little when I said that title, that’s because even her titles are poetry. Here’s another title: “she eats his heart she has two hearts she doesn’t know which one to use she begins to call the second heart ‘little baby’ or ‘blitzkrieg.'”
As you can hear, the sheer verbal energy, the grammatical verve and irreverent jolts, of her language are dazzling, surprising, unparaphrasable, and if you happened to find yourself at my house for dinner, you’d be hearing me read it over more than one glass of wine. Fortunately, we have her here.