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Transom:
Your poem, “Little More (11)” displays such compactness of form, and there are multiple references to folding (ex.: “I fold my voice/to fit your ear”). But even though this is a relatively “little” poem, the voice strikes some very bold and singular notes. How do you “fold” a poem without diminishing the power of its sound?

Maxwell:
The compact space seems to emphasize resemblances and relationships between words—both in their shapes and sounds. This makes me think of what the short lines (another form of compact space) do in Marianne Moore’s “The Fish”—I’ve always loved the moment in the poem where the “ac-” in “accident” is coupled with “lack” through her syllabics and line breaks. Compact forms seem to create these dense masses that show how words punch through one another—how they are bound. How they are folded into one another. Speech becomes a packaging that the listening mind undoes. I think poetry, insofar as it is willing (even committed to) letting multiple meanings emerge and exist, uses the strategy of folding consistently—in reading, the strategy of unfolding comes. Over the summer, reading an Emily Dickinson poem with students, one noted that her “Eye” referred to both the human eye and the idiomatic eye of the storm; then another student pronounced, “Close reading is sexy!” In the sense that unfolding is a kind of undressing, this makes sense; I’m not against seduction of this kind. This kind of seduction seems to facilitate attentiveness that can be usefully applied to situations outside of the poem.

But back to my poem and your question: the meeting of “voice” and “horse” in the poem calls to mind “hoarse” for me, too, which is a way the body folds the voice—makes it smaller, contains it—we are forced to ride this “hoarse” out. We tend to struggle for others to hear us in this hoarseness. We may find other ways to communicate. Perhaps the soul is the part of ourselves we can deposit outside us; I like the idea of living a lot of places at once this way. Of being held. I think of the phrase, “You were in my thoughts today.” Was I? Where did I go after? The mind as stall as cell as poem: places of residence, of residing. I often call attention the resemblance of “residing” and “reciting” to students when I ask them to memorize a poem: memorization is a commitment in this way—you are asking a poem to live inside of you. You are being willing to be enlarged, taking the body of the poem into your body. This is a kind of folding of a “voice”—the poem isn’t always smaller than us, surely, but memorization makes it compact—folds that voice—so it can fit inside us. 

Transom:

The first part of this poem makes gestures toward the idea of union—toward a linking together of the “I” and “you”—but, in the end, the horse “carries us one at a time.” Do you believe that solitude is integral to communion?

Maxwell:
I think autonomy is integral to communion, just as I think the letter is integral to the word—a coming together seems to me to rely on a being apart; how can a merging occur without at least two separate things to enact the merging, or, to be subject to the merging?

This question makes me think of a conversation I recently had with my mom. My mom works with kindergarteners: after they learn their letters, the curious ones (which is to say, most of them) come to her with a series of letters on bright pieces of construction paper and ask, “What word is this?” Most of the time, she has to tell them, “Just because you put letters together doesn’t make it a word.” She says this without reluctance, because she is a teacher responsible for helping her students identify the specimens of language in accordance with legitimized forms. As a mischievous poet, I’m tempted to test her claim. This is to say, I’m drawn to new combinations and what we reject or accept; I’m interested in “to combine,” which presupposes a separate-ness and counts on a together-ness—a willingness to be made together. I want always to have a willingness to be made together.

Speaking more directly about the poem, I’m interested in what we take in and what/how language manifests in us—I like that proximity can be thought of both in terms of closeness and of distance; “you” and “I” have a closeness built into them because of classification as personal pronouns, but we know this closeness doesn’t necessarily manifest outside of language, though it may (and though you and I do not guarantee a we or us). I’m interested in hearing as a sense that brings together disparate things through the mishearing inherent there. It’s fascinating that we manage sound so well and suss out what one “meant” to say over the myriad things we heard in his or her saying: that “bike rack” and “buy crack” aurally resemble one another! That they are siblings to the ear! That different senses find connections that can’t necessarily be accessed by other senses: this is one of the most fulfilling things poetry has taught me. I try to think about this in the poem: “stall” really is after “all,” alphabetically—thus there are multiple ways those lines “be” and “mean.” I think this is what the last two lines hope to get at: the kaleidoscopic nature of language and being—“carries us / one at a time”—we are perhaps always simultaneously together (“us”) and dispersed (“one at a time”), colliding and diverging. This poem, as are the poems in this series, is interested in attempting to isolate the intersection, be it fleeting or sustained.

Transom:
We've heard it said that horses and birds are the most poetic animals, and that poets find themselves writing more about one animal than the other. Are you a horse poet or a bird poet?

Maxwell:
A devotee of George Oppen’s “Psalm,” I’m a deer poet hiding in the verbal grass of “there.”