London Grip Poetry Review – Amelia Walker


Poetry review – ALOGOPOIESIS: Kimberly K. Williams examines an unusual & substantial collection by Amelia Walker


Amelia Walker
Gazebo Books
ISBN 978-0-6456337-8-8
340pp    $29.99

Amelia Walker’s Alogopoiesis, a book in twelve parts (with one short intermission), is a comprehensive book of poetry. It is a book of sequence poems, except that the sequences aren’t so much linear as recursive and interwoven, allowing readers to wander and explore in a spiral motion, even as they are reading through the book from beginning to end.

It is a long book of poetry – as thick as any collected works might be for a poet late in her career. But this book, her fifth, is mid-career for Walker. Part of the book’s thickness has to do with publisher choosing to print poems on only the right side of the page instead of the conventional two-sided approach. That choice gives the book room – physical space to stretch and breathe, lending to its wander-like feel. The poems are interwoven by theme, sequence, and version, but they also vary by form. The first poem in the book, “Naming the Tortoise, Part One,” is a prose poem. The second poem, “Island, Part One, Version Six,” is a lineated free verse poem, that is sparse in words-per-line and heavy in punctuation. Here are the first and last stanzas of the one-page poem:

forests grow
and die—
lush fruits,
underground springs,
birdsong, uninhibited—

This version is a possible tip of the cap to Emily Dickinson.

The effect of this threading of sequences and version that vary in form is that the book takes its time revealing itself, unspiraling like the image of Phil Day’s painting on its back cover. As the title itself indicates, what doesn’t happen in the poems, and what does happen between the poems is as important as the poems themselves. The structure of the book is as vital and as intentional as the individual poems it holds.

As a prose poem is a hybrid form, so the title Alogopoiesis is a hybrid word. Alogo refers to the condition of reduced or absent speech often brought on by emotional and/or neurological conditions (or a combination of both). Poiesis is a word rooted in Ancient Greek that means bringing something into being that didn’t exist before. This hybrid term is a bit of an oxymoron – making reduced speech, saying less. But the book itself is wide enough to both carry and develop the contradiction.

Thus, Alogopoiesis becomes an examination of between-ness creating an ephemeral feel as lines from “Naming the Tortoise, Part Three” illustrate: ‘…But / you’re dreaming nonetheless, because what’s happening isn’t / happening—what isn’t, is.’ In a way, this moment is the book explaining itself: a comprehensive book of contradictions. Again, ‘what isn’t, is.’

The book’s themes that spiral through its pages include domestic violence, mental illness, and coming to terms with queer identity:

	     whatever Poof,
  whatever Lesbian meant, 
 I did not want to be one. 

These three lines end “Language Lesson,” a poem about learning the hardness and sharpness of words at school under the pressure of both teacher authority and peers. The type of difficult childhood moment that the poem depicts may be a familiar scenario for thoughtful readers, but Walker’s way of sharing the impact through the direct narrative voice is striking.

Generally, that is how Walker’s poetry works: it sneaks up on you. And before the reader knows it, Walker’s poems are considering big issues, such as the expectations of women in society, and the weight and the burden that women carry because of them. One recurring prose poem character in the book is MaggieMem, who transports her ‘disobedient head’ as an ‘obese secret’ in a series of prose poems that are threaded through the book. Here, even the word choice reminds Walker’s readers that though MaggieMem is presented in a surreal, dream-like way, her burden isn’t any less, and words like ‘disobedient’ and ‘obese’ suggest the extra social weight that she carries as a woman, alluding to the societal expectations that women face daily; the words suggest, through sheer connotation, that women should comply, and, while doing so, be thin. Again, this sequence reminds readers that both silence and what isn’t said is as heavy (or heavier) than what is articulated. Walker’s craft here, shown in her word choice, truly employs the power of suggestion.

A risk with a book like this – a longer collection of poetry that tackles deep issues – is that it would be pedantic or predictable and thus boring. However, Walker’s highly imaginative approach – her ability to surprise the reader – is part of Alogopoiesis’ charm. Because, in the oddest way, it is a charming book. One way that Walker fashions surprise is through the offering the surreal moments – with talking islands and disembodied women, as examples, who come and go as the book revolves and evolves through its sequences. The other way Walker achieves surprise is through her choice to use sequencing itself. While revolving the sequences creates some unpredictability, it also creates expectation – when will MaggieMem reappear? And what about our Tortoise? In this way, readers become invested in not just the poems but also in the process. As such, Alogopoisis isn’t just read; it’s experienced, making it unique, highly readable, and clever.

Sometimes the book offers different versions of the same poem, for example, “Island, Part Two” with Version One as a prose poem, and Version Two, following so many pages later, as a lineated poem. Both versions contain the same assertion in their first lines, ‘I liked you better wild.’ The effect of including both versions of this poem is, like much else in this book, understated. And yet it is there, present, allowing the reader to see and notice different details and perspectives on what is, ostensibly, the same subject. As expected, the prose version (Version One) creates a dense and intense experience, where verbs have their way with the poem and thus the reader: ‘I pelted in through the roof of her shabby shelter, / blew it apart like a snickering wolf. She screamed. She was shivering, wide awake, naked. / You want wild? I’ll give you wild.’ In contrast, Version Two of “Island, Part Two” uses space and lineation to disperse the wildness. Instead of it coming at the reader with intensity, this version’s form allows the reader to encounter it, and in the space afforded via the use of stanzas and lineation, to consider what’s there:

	I waited,
	deciding if I should. Finally
	I let go
	of everything,
	blew apart like a snickering wolf.

	Shivering, wide awake, naked.

	You want wild? I’ll give you wild. 

Indeed, readers have to wander widely and wildly to read the entirety of this book – all twelve of its sections. However, readers should take note: it is worth it. Great poetry has its way with its readers, applying tension and pressure at the points where language and form meet, working simultaneously at many levels. And Alogopoiesis is great poetry: readers will emerge from the journey changed.