I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Sonic Reinventions

Jonathan C Creasy
A word is a symptom of what can’t be described A promise, a premise held open like a door “Friday” (Address, 2011) Concrete is not completeness “The Completist” (Alive, 2015) Elizabeth Willis’s work is a paradox of the concrete and the open, the object and its interpretation, the human and its untranscribable form. Her poems are visual pieces composed on the ear; they transpose the everyday (the search for some lost keys) into the metaphysical, the philosophical, and the arcane. They tell us how “I” is complicated in its address to “You”, but above all in its address to itself. The first line of Willis’s professional biography reads: “Elizabeth Willis was born in Bahrain and raised in the Midwest.” We sense immediately that we are approaching a poet with complex roots, whose voices – whose position, and possessions – are fundamentally at odds: This is the I I’ve learned to speak to way, way out there […] A tripwire on the field of Great Ideas (“Triptik”, Alive) Poems should not be eclipsed by biography, as Willis herself has argued. Yet the page is site of a poet’s own person-making. Willis’s work defies comfortable classification, while at the same time it excites in human taxonomy. As she writes in an essay on poet Lorine Niedecker, “not only is the poem an object but so is the poet”. Willis’s best poems lay out their speakers for vivisection, while they point to the limits of understanding experience through our most trusted methods: science, syntax, and making sense. With the publication of Alive: New and Selected Poems, a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, readers have been given the opportunity to see Willis’s work as a continuity. Though the individual volumes that make up the selection may not have been written with this larger view in mind, she speaks, as we suspect poets might, of the mystery of a “guiding principle” holding things together. It emerges in the act of writing itself, and publication – in books, magazines, or digital platforms – freezes the act for a moment, before its formal, emotional, and intellectual demands force it to continue. Born in 1961, Willis is one of the most distinguished poets to emerge from the University at Buffalo and its famed poetics programme led by Robert Creeley, Susan Howe and Charles Bernstein in the 1990s. (She first attended as an undergraduate in the 1980s to study with Creeley, even before…

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