Reviewed by Diane R. Wiener
Welcome, readers. Herein, you will go for a ride surely like no other. If you are open-hearted, the ride will likely take you outside of yourself, exceeding your expectations, and also more fully inside of yourself, possibly returning you to your own dreamscapes.
First, you might come to wonder if—and then, later, perhaps imagine that—outside and inside could be mutually infusing, even intermittently indistinguishable. Or, maybe, without and within are no longer fashionable as terms, being overdetermined, and possibly artificial.
Meet Hannah Emerson’s anti-coda of fish, mud, volcanoes, insects, snow, trees…and even learn of her shared, open secret: “Please love poets we are the first / autistics. Love this secret no one knows it.”
Each and every one of the images in Emerson’s debut poetry collection, The Kissing of Kissing, is offered as a many-splendored music that exceeds explanation. How fabulous that this debut collection is also the inaugural book in the bold, new Metaverse series from Milkweed Editions, described by the press as “a literary series devoted to different ways of languaging, curated by neurodivergent poet Chris Martin, and featuring a chorus of editorial voices. Multiverse primarily emerges from the practices and creativity of neurodivergent, autistic, neuroqueer, mad, nonspeaking, and disabled cultures.”
Hells yes, and yes, please. Please, more. More and more and more. Yes.
Did you know that weather is far more than its temperatures? And, actually, that vortexes are souls? Emerson will tell you about all of this, and more—she will show you—without explication, but/and, instead, with persuasive poetic shapeshifting. Things become and become and become and and and there is a bridge bridge bridge where repetition is meta-sonorous, extra-diegetic, and echoing its own infusions with compassion and assertiveness. Her poems plead with us, curl up like non-allergic cats beside us, do what so much “great poetry” does: takes us not only somewhere, but somewhere else, a world that is somehow already here, familiar while inexplicable.
“Hannah is Never Only Hannah,” the poet tells us, in this particular title. The ableds and their multiplicitous ableisms may not understand nor appreciate the vivacity of a nonspeaking Autistic poet’s wisdom, wordplay, irony, and assertiveness, but Emerson doesn’t care what they think—or so it seems.
As readers, we can delve into pictorial conversations with “The Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful Dreaming Beast” (this Emerson poem from the book was published in Wordgathering, I’m thrilled to say; the audio recording of the poem was shared by Multiverse series editor, Chris Martin). In this beast’s presence, “the ground that is / making us become / the kissing that is / becoming the everything / that is trying to become / the opening of the freedom / that is the new window / to the beautiful kissing” is / are what’s up, and what matters… as in: an emergence emerges endlessly, then recreates itself, a perennial in bloom.
And, guess what? You can—you’ll be happy to know, perhaps—find “The Center of the Universe,” but, in order to do so, you must “please / try to help yourself / by kissing the hot hot / hot life that is born / there yes yes – please / try to yell in hell / yes yes – please / try to free yourself / by pouring yourself / into the gutter all / guttural guttural yell.” In this same poem, the poet asserts that we must kiss ourselves, rebirth ourselves, “become the light / that the fire makes / inside of you.” Is this poem a kind of yelling against the inner hell and its demons, a quietude, a beatific act of resistance, a self-care planning phase? Why must I ask? What if…?
Well, I might ask something else. Instead, what would happen if I faced the horror as I lapped up the truth, so I could “greet the great great life” (as offered by / in “Hannah is Never Only Hannah”)? I might learn from this poet what I already preferred to have believed: nothing is ever one thing, things are not (only) what they seem.
This is a poetry for the outliers and the seekers of serendipity.
Objectification meets its match in “Between,” which begins: “Love the noun her trying / to be the noun that is / me keep trying but I feel / more like an it. Please / really feel like me is it.” So much to feel, so much going on, so much piss off to gaslighting and invalidation. Later: “Please stop thinking / of yourself as an it. / It is beautiful it.” The conversations in one’s own mind may find a nuanced and complicated refuge in these words, an experience that is particularly true for those Crip comrades who are frequented by opinions internalized while being abjectly false; and, rather, we know that our Disabled lives are worth living, are resplendent, are messy, are present.
“Love the hard / working chickadee / really trying to make / spring free everything / by itself yearning,” we are advised in “Bring the Spring,” with its cascading lines on the page, rolling down toward, into, then out of the earth.
The word “yes”—a refrain, a nearly infinite regressus—is more than affirmative; Emerson’s “yes” forms its own cadence, throughout these poems. As CAConrad notes, Emerson’s “yes yes” is a “magic spell.” I experience Emerson’s “yes” as musematic, evocative of musemes, museums, muses, and musings. (Musics, always, too, as noted above. And, several of the poems reference music, overtly.)
“The Listening World” brings together prayer and other forms of inner reflection to evoke changes and patience, among other themes. Other poems’ aspirations are based in time travel, transmigration, and species interdependencies, as in the wee whopper of a poem, “Cicadas,” appearing toward the end of the collection, and which I quote, here, in its entirety:
Before you grow up shake
grow up and shout. Grow
up and free yourself to get
noticed. Please go to the tree
heave yourself. Place yourself
in the roots. You will come
It would be insufficient of me to say that this poem “links” to or “connects” with all of the other poems, as they root and intertwine, speaking directly to us, as (since, if we choose) we may / can / will intertwine with them, as well. “Keep Yourself at the Beginning of the Beginning” (a koan of a title) is geometric, communicating with us through its formatting, style, and tone to “dive / down to the / beautiful muck / that helps you get / that the world was made / from the garbage at the bottom / of the universe that was boiling over / with joy that wanted to become you you / you yes yes yes…”
Oh, Hannah. Please stay with us forevermore. Thank goodness you are here. I cannot wait to read more of your poetry. When it’s your turn to move the sun, please let me know.
Title: The Kissing of Kissing
Author: Hannah Emerson
Publisher: Milkweed Editions (Multiverse Series)
Back to Top of Page | Back to Book Reviews | Back to Volume 16, Issue 1 – Spring 2022
About the Reviewer
Diane R. Wiener became Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering in January 2020. Diane is the author of the full-length poetry collection, The Golem Verses (Nine Mile Press, 2018), the poetry chapbook, Flashes & Specks (Finishing Line Press, 2021), and the forthcoming poetry chapbook, The Golem Returns (swallow::tale press, 2022). Her poems also appear in Nine Mile Magazine, Wordgathering, Tammy, Queerly, The South Carolina Review, Welcome to the Resistance: Poetry as Protest, Diagrams Sketched on the Wind, Jason’s Connection, the Kalonopia Collective’s 2021 Disability Pride Anthology, and elsewhere. Diane’s creative nonfiction appears in Stone Canoe, Mollyhouse, The Abstract Elephant Magazine, and Pop the Culture Pill. Her flash fiction appears in Ordinary Madness; short fiction is published in A Coup of Owls. After serving as Guest Editor for Nine Mile Literary Magazine’s Fall 2019 Special Double Issue on Neurodivergent, Disability, Deaf, Mad, and Crip poetics, Diane was appointed as the magazine’s Assistant Editor. The Founding Director of the Syracuse University Disability Cultural Center (2011-2018), Diane now serves as a Research Professor and as the Associate Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach at the Burton Blatt Institute (Syracuse University College of Law); she also teaches in the Renée Crown University Honors program. Diane has published widely on disability, pedagogy, and empowerment, among other subjects. She is a proud Neuroqueer, Mad, Crip, Gender Nonconforming, Ashkenazic Jewish Hylozoist Nerd (etc.). Diane blogged for the Huffington Post between May 2016 and January 2018. You can visit Diane online at: https://dianerwiener.com.