Ish Klein’s poems are a synthesis of imagination, virtuosity, and feeling the likes of which I’ve never seen before. For this post, I asked Ish to write a poetics statement and asked if I could include her poem “From a Book of Changes.” Ish also sent along her poem “IN THE BEGINNING.” My thanks to Ish for her generosity and her efforts.
I’m writing this for you. I see you as my brother and I like your poetry. Here is an account of how I wrote “From a Book of Changes”. What precipitated the writing of it was just me trying to impose order on me. So I will give you the circumstance and some notes on form. This will include what some numbers mean to me.
In spite of everything, I like the poem; it was what I did at that time. I was still me then and a decent person even though I was troubled.
When I was writing “From a Book of Changes” (2009 through early 2011) I was struggling with intrusive thoughts. I’d be shocked by a thought and then it would get stronger. It was like mental Tourettes. I would think something filthy then I would think, why am I thinking this filth? That can’t be me. Like the worst thing you could imagine—with knives in genitals, and other things. Since I knew I didn’t want this, I figured someone must be doing these thoughts to me. Implications spread. Things on the radio, things people said, I took very personally. As a result I lost trust in most other people and was alone most of the time.
To protect myself , I intensely imagined the strongest man in the world. The idea was that my need would make a sort of scream that he could hear and then he would come here and help me. The poem was the happening after the summoning.
The ‘you’ in the poem is a strong man. He takes many different forms (like Odin). In fact, the “you” probably is Odin. We get into a sort of wrestling match for control of the book. The book is my brain. Maybe I am not the best one to be in control of the book and yet I can’t seem to help myself from trying to exert influence. Well that is human; to want Odin and not want Odin. He probably isn’t really bothered; which is why he’s him.
The form is in tercets because three is the number of spirit. The third thing. The first thing is me, the second is you and the third thing is the thing between us: spirit, or our relationship.
That there are 22 tercets was determined by the number of turns the poem took; more or less. Two is the number of wisdom. Yes it is this and yes it is that. Two equal halves. Finally that there are 66 lines is because as I wrote the poem in anger, so it remains angry; energy circling low. The poem is stuck in the physical world. I’ve attached a relatively new poem to help the old one out.
Thank you for being interested. I would love to know what your process is. Do you like Raul Zurita? His poem “The Sea” is one of the best poems I have ever read in my life.
June 30, 2012
p.s. about the fourth dimension which is maybe an area where time is simultaneous though distinguishable by different rates. Rates manifested as colors (the wavelenghts). I think it might look like colored string on fast metal. Or moving metal. My relationship to it is like everyone’s.
From a Book of Changes
I was looking for the book of me to throw
at the book of you and this is what I found:
It’s one book. Not exactly square;
at times yes, 90˚ angles. You pull a page up what ho!
like a bed sheet and underneath is you and me and something
like a dragon boat. It begins in the mouth.
The first page is dirt you put dirt in your mouth
and spit it out. We read trails and pulls and weezes.
I put palm leafs on our heads and call us sage pages.
You say, now chocolate.
I say stomachache. You say no fun.
I say you are too white, you say no way
and work at the edge to pull a sheet off this argument. Look!
A drunk is asleep. You think help him. I say he’s bleeding acid
call the family, you say the family’s the problem
I say so what? they have to and you say k(no)w they don’t.
You wake the drunk and he yells you are trying to kill him.
You say get the F_ out of my book.
He says it’s his book whitey; you direct him to me and say whitey-er.
I say I am albino and therefore blacker than both your sorry asses
in terms of non-standard. I go to prove it in the book
and the drunk starts eating the book.
You put your hand in his mouth, I put my hand in his nose
doing this we three become dogs, the book becomes a glowing hand,
it’s little finger in the drunk dog’s mouth.
The drunk dog says F_!, the hand leaps from his mouth and clamps
onto my throat, the drunk dog bites my scalp.
I scream and you run around us in circles yapping.
The drunk dog starts lowering me into the ground
then the hand grips the drunk dogs tail, twisting it.
They whirl around and you slow your yap run.
I bleed and my blood becomes a red plastic bucket.
You start to mention my plastic blood and I say F_
into your brain. We watch the drunk dog and the hand
on his tail while backing up.
I say you should talk to the hand
and you laugh into my brain. I say seriously.
You say the drunk dog had it coming.
You become a general; I am private first class.
I decide to put the hand into the bucket somehow.
The bucket’s handle tastes like a mexican worm bar snack.
I say this into your brain. You say la di da.
You move to the right so that I must follow with my mind.
I turn and the drunk dog is asleep, the hand is nowhere visible.
I say the hand! the hand! My bucket becomes a red vinyl collar
you ask if you can wear it!
I say, the hand! You say grow up, can I wear the collar?
I do not know how to say no. I worry.
I might need it. You put it together in your mind.
You leave. I reconsider the collar. You leave. And the hand!
I start howling like a cartoon coyote.
You will send letters, grit in my eyes from South America.
I say would they like me in a blimp, General?
You say a blimp? Is your name on it, private?
I become tired. I decide to call the drunk dog’s family
by bloody bandages on their clotheslines
and spitting DNA all over the place.
They come and they see what has happened: his being a dog.
They are nice to him. I say he will change probably soon
anyway it isn’t bad being a dog and I realize he is leaving
and I realize he is leaving and I realize
I become pollen in your eyes.
I say inside your brain I hate you instant whole
and you laugh inside my brain and say I am a hole
and you are a whole and I say no way General
and you say you are so a whole, private.
IN THE BEGINNING
for Greg C. Purcell
First wind that is me.
You are gold so I
am your ore. Until
I am water. You
are fish and river.
I become one-eyed
beware. You're aware.
A bellows blowing.
I am an inkhorn.
You are an inkhorn.
I am uncertain.
whereas I am flask.
You are uncertain.
I am web and loom.
You are a lamb suit.
I, Cynewulf, eat you.
You become a key.
I am a keyhole.
You are copper beech.
I’m paper off that
tree. You are the lost
inkhorn. I see now.
I am a new book.
You sing and wander
so I am the moon.
You are a quill pen
drawing in a room
while I am light stone.
Or you are the Soul
and I am your soul.
Ish Klein is the author of Moving Day and Union. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Robert Fernandez is the author of We Are Pharaoh and the forthcoming Pink Reef. He lives in Iowa City.