The Human Abstract

Unwilling to share her “secret form of symmetry,” Willis fills this work with hermetic detritus. Flashes of imagination deflect from image to image through word sequences that attempt to evade mundane sequences of language. Like a hierophant out of H.D.’s later work, Willis teases the mind more than she stirs the heart. There’s a city without a border, a river in flames, a black iris, the “eye of God,” Forest A., “crypted messages,” a rosy dime, people like Azrael, a peregrine Prince, Plydictes, Qeys, Xian, and a good deal of pacing up and down to “measure…an outline of significance,” which results in lines like “Zero-gardening to the lees/hard-labor defunct/when I against you tether/milktooth surrogate carnivore/though lovers in truth/God never was my darling.” Omission passes for revelation: the chore of the reader is to hike out of Forest A. Sensation is suspect in this land of the occult, which is exhilarating but abstruse. Only the most dedicated poetry enthusiast will volunteer to accompany Willis on her journey to inaccessible, rarified meaning.

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Selected by

Ann Lauterbach