introduced by George Kalamaras
"Every Language We Ever Loved": An Introduction to the Poetry of Shannon Elward
The poetry of Shannon Elward is a joy to behold. She’s a poet of the body, a body integrated with the mind. Imagine if Federico García Lorca and Muriel Rukeyser had a child, and that child loved and fought with her sibling, Jack Spicer. Now you’re getting a little closer to Elward’s sensibility.
Breathing. Breath. Breathed. Come into a Shannon Elward poem and conjugate the breathing tree that is the spine of knowing. Crack open that spine and there are the astral planets of desire. Say the words "scar" and "prayer" backwards three times within "a fur-lined moon." Know that the "fur-lined moon" is a "possum-moon" and that "there is an alphabet of the dead." Say "there’s ‘a tidal wave of dusted diaphragms’" each night into the dent of your pillow. Say your name. Say my name. Say the names of all the body parts hidden inside a sliver of saliva. Examine a "stuttered history— / lost in the bottom of the gut." It is there that you’ll find Elward’s rendering of a "third lung" waiting for you to breathe it, to breathe through it, and to have it metabolize and reorient your way of knowing the tongue you use to uncover the world.
This is not Elward’s first appearance in print, but almost so. And given the beauty of her work, I find that fact astonishing. "I would like to tell you you’ll love slant and caesura," she says in her remarkable forthcoming debut, Third Lung Breathing. Her poems in that chapbook inhabit the slant-ward words and purposeful pauses of our lives, reminding us that "This is every language we ever loved." Elward gives us a book that is itself a "third lung," inscribing into the reader’s body a new way to breathe. She creates poems that become complex organs of knowing, with a strangeness as familiar as, "The hole in your bone [that] knows your name— knows every name."
I have had the privilege of reading Shannon Elward’s truly remarkable poems for many years. From the first poem of hers I came to I knew there was a birth birthing a birth in the labor pain of what I might call let-us-use-language-to-come-anew-unto-the-world. Enjoy this regeneration. Enjoy this feast. Breathing. Breath. Breathed. Read her poems and conjugate the enormous world they inhabit, the complex reciprocity of "watered grief" nourishing what she calls "the thesaurus of the body."
EVERYTHING EXCEPT SCAR AND PRAYER
Last night, possums worshipped
of a fur-lined moon.
we lie about everything
To scar: recoil
Pray your left foot, broken
piled on snowdrifts—
at the possum-moon.
THESAURUS OF THE BODY
There’s a third lung buried
When we breathe, we forget
in stuttered history—
Give me sand-filled letters burned
Douse your sternum.
What if love was a synonym
DRIFTWOOD AND DIASPORIC TURTLE
Nobody writes poems about Churubusco—not the way Jack wrote Fort Wayne. Indiana is Churubusco: chronicle of misplaced sea turtle. All Oscar Fulk and 1898. All scotch and inverted shell. Fort Wayne is please come back.
Churubusco is blurring longing into a two-dollar grilled cheese. Is the Ramble Inn: a name that scorns every foot urging through every fictional crosswalk. Fort Wayne is lost in fields of salt and sound.
In 1949, Churubusco had police officers and thirteen transparent sea monsters. Jack had please and come back. Maybe Oscar lied, like poets do. The three are unrelated. Fulk Lake isn’t sea turtle. Churubusco isn’t longing. Fulk Lake is full of please, but not Fort Wayne.
In 2015, Churubusco is love for an upside down tavern sign. Al’s 33 Club is just a stuttering of scotch and phonetics—all V sounds stuck in the current of my throat. I can’t speak come back.
While you’re paining love letters on driftwood, I’m breathing Oscar Fulk and diasporic sea turtle. Churubusco is please. Fort Wayne isn’t come back.
THE SPACE BETWEEN BREATH
So maybe they were right. The sidewalks do breed
but the oxygen here is lacking touch.
Where are you going after Columbus?
I’m working on a paper that argues the sensual
You should know about oxygen—
RENAMING MY EYE
for Michael Burkard
One language, August.
One body, August,
One lip-twitching August. One too heavy
Three women, August—
One woman with hair falling mid-breast.
August, my left eye is tired
but can’t. August, my eye doesn’t cry. August,
FEVER OF THE MISSING SOUND
Evening equates fever of the lip. A kind of tightness that sways upon skin and leaves sound silent. The city in the background is less symphony and more distraction of your lover's lavender face. Her presence may be enough to fight any hard syllable that mistakenly moves across your collar. Be careful with that, I'm learning about the language of my left wrist. My studies show it may be deceitful.
If voice is more like hardened sternum, more like lightning-tipped fingers, then what are we to do if the ending feels incomplete? These days I walk with a body that fabricates enough clay to paint color to love. I keep thinking there is a line I’m missing here—something between space and glottal stops, something red that pains my eye in silence.