Poetry / Claire Wahmanholm
:: Meltwater ::
:: Meltwater ::
:: Meltwater ::
From the writer
:: Account ::
These poems are based on Lacy M. Johnson’s 2019 New Yorker article “How to Mourn a Glacier.” They would usually be called “erasures,” though I’d like to find a different word for them since the poems—and I—don’t have the relationship with the source text that often characterizes erasure projects. I’m not interested in using erasure as a method of critique or confrontation; I prefer to think of my interactions as a kind of close reading. I see the erasures functioning like any other critical essay on a text, except that I’m using only the language of the original source.
My intention was that the visible words would point up a series of parallel storylines—ones that are sometimes more micro, and more macro, than the original. There are only so many things that can be made explicit/conscious at one time, so isolating certain words might be a way of untangling those threads and making each more visible. In the case of Johnson’s original essay, she’s writing about Okjökull while simultaneously writing about much more than it, and I see the lonely words as making that “moreness” explicit.
I am hoping that the project also makes a point about the way we read news, and our tendency to notice narratives we’re already invested in. The poems obviously say something about me and my own penchant for seeing grief in everything (as well as my impulse to put everything within the context of children).
I saw the essay’s instructional title as making an invitatory gesture to mourn, or to at least consider how mourning looks for each reader. I was compelled by the fact that my own mourning, maybe, is already embedded in the original text, so that the essay is (poetically) enacting the mourning that it (journalistically) describes. I was trying to replicate on the page what I felt like my body was doing when I read the article, which was like a slowing down of my heart, or an unevenness in its beating. Like large chunks of myself were being eaten away.
I was interested in doing more than one erasure (and isolating different words every time) to emphasize the cyclical nature of mourning—how we make minor adjustments without any sweeping overhaul, how it’s (apparently) possible to mourn the same things again and again but using different words. I am hoping that the poems highlight the tension between the apparent inability to communicate—the way we write articles and articles (and poems and poems), and nothing changes—and the impulse to keep trying anyway. And by making the highlighted words off-limits for the next poem, I was trying to show how the pool of words to draw from drains and drains. The way our vocabulary diminishes and diminishes, we have fewer and fewer resources available to us as we descend into grief.
Claire Wahmanholm is the author of Night Vision (New Michigan Press 2017), Wilder (Milkweed Editions 2018), Redmouth (Tinderbox Editions 2019), and the forthcoming Meltwater (Milkweed Editions 2023). Her work has most recently appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Couplet, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, Washington Square Review, Good River Review, Descant, Copper Nickel, and Beloit Poetry Journal. She is a 2020–2021 McKnight Fellow, and lives in the Twin Cities. Find her online at clairewahmanholm.com