“To live poetry is better than to write it.” — BASHO

Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee (Pantheon, 2000; Vintage Books, 2003), and three books of poetry: A Crash of Rhinos (University of Georgia Press, 2000), Six Girls Without Pants (Eastern Washington University Press, 2002), and The Invention of the Kaleidoscope (University of Pittsburgh Press/Pitt Poetry Series, 2007). A hybrid photo-text memoir that combines poems, nonfiction, and fiction, entitled Intimate, and a fourth collection of poems, entitled Animal Eye, are forthcoming in 2012. Rekdal’s work has received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Village Voice Writers on the Verge Award, an NEA Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the University of Georgia Press’ Contemporary Poetry Series Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review. Her poems and essays have appeared in, or are forthcoming from, The New York Times Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and on National Public Radio, among others.

on poetry

Letting Go and Control For me, all aspects of poetry require only one skill: the ability to move between letting go and being in control. The first asks you to forget yourself as much as possible, the second requires an almost preternatural self-awareness. First, you have to learn how to let go of any outside sense of time, shame, hesitation, or expectation. You have to open yourself up to what you don't know you want to say in order to say it. After that, you have to be in control, understanding the true achievements of your poem as you shape it. The more you write, oddly, the harder it may be to reach one stage or another, and to make these stages work for you. Some find it hard to put themselves in the space of letting go the more they publish. Some take past success as an excuse for ceding control over their future work. Others give in too easily to editorial advice, or take none at all. And still others forget how there are fallow periods during which we need to stop working. The impulse then is to control. But the heart, or mind or spirit, is asking us to give in. Letting go and control. If you can master this practice, I believe you will have learned nearly everything important about writing. At least I hope so. I try to re-learn it every day. I know that I will always be trying.