One of the most valuable things I’ve learned about being a writer is that no one writes on their own. We all collaborate. I’m talking not only about the ways we gather ideas from the world around us, but also about active partnerships with both writers and readers we trust to give us feedback—and the writers who we come into conversation with through our own reading. If I could kill a single myth about writing with a snap of my fingers, it’d be that of the lone genius toiling away in solitude. It’s harmful to beginning writers and to readers as well, because they often imbue successful writers with some kind of super-human power that just isn’t there.
That’s one of the reasons I appreciate what Kimberly Grey does in her forthcoming collection, Systems for the Future of Feeling. Parts of this book are presented in conversation with other writers, both living and dead, and the poems are all written as though they’re systems, sets of parts that are working together toward a common goal. Writers, I would argue, are the output channels of human systems. We work in concert with other humans and the worlds we inhabit and provide inexact, imperfect language to express aspects of our experiences.
Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Systems for the Future of Feeling, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Kimberly Grey, you’ll need to subscribe by October 15!
The common thread in Grey’s collection is that first person plural, “we.” You’ll find “we” all through this book, way more often than the singular “I,” and I think that’s because Grey is arguing, in a sense, that there are no one-person systems (especially when it comes to feeling, but also in general).
Consider the poem “How We Take Our Grief.” Here are the opening lines:
We take our grief privately and in the morning.
And drink our coffee and drink our tea.
We hold the newspaper out with our arms
and we hold the fork that holds the egg that holds
hunger. We put it to our mouth. We put it
in our mouth. Twice the clock strikes three
and privately we sit together.
The poem continues in this vein. Every line in the poem either has the word “we” or “our” in it. It’s a poem that requires us as readers to acknowledge our place in the work. It speaks for us, in a way, says we are a part of this system of feeling, too, and we are connected.
Grey does this with other subjects as well. In “Unsystem the System,” she plays with the ways we use the word “armed.” Here, however, she starts off with “we” but not quite halfway through, becomes more intimate: “Like that other night / when I faced you, / pulled your shirt / over your arms and heard you say, everyone deserves this.” Now the “we” is a speaker and a lover, though they’re reunited as “we” in the closing lines: “No we don’t say armed / when we mean our arms, / though we are armed. Though we are, all / of us, perfectly armed.”
In a another series of poems, Grey manufactures interviews with various writers by pairing her questions with quotes from their own writings: Sina Queyras, Jack Gilbert, and Gertrude Stein, among others, make an appearance. These interview-poems serve to reinforce, for me anyway, the idea of systems of communication and feeling that the book pivots around.
I’m looking forward to discussing these ideas, along with the many other concepts in this collection, with our members and with Kimberly Grey. If you join the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by October 15, you’ll receive your early copy of Systems for the Future of Feeling and will be invited to take part in our exclusive online chat with Kimberly Grey in early November. I hope you’ll join us!