Like That, The King

By Rebecca Wolff on 9.11.09

I thought I might take this opportunity to address the King. The title of my recent book of poems is The King, and in the flap copy for the book (which I had a hand in) an analogy is drawn between this putative monarch and other kinds of higher powers. “The King” is established as a trope standing in magisterially for any kind of external-reality force one might come up against: “the Other,” among others. Unlisted among them is the reader. Unlisted among them the editor and publisher.

It has been very interesting to me to watch the way this book has taken shape. Much more so than my two previous collections of poetry, Manderley and Figment, at a certain point I became aware of a need for The King to have a kind of thematic coherence. You could almost say that I needed a pitch, for this collection. “It’s a collection of poems about a solipsist’s encounter with objective reality.” Nah, that sounds completely unappealing! “It’s about a mother who’s not really ready to have a baby.” Ugh, grisly. Wait, I know: It’s about those two things put together! Overlaid, one on top of the other. The one on top is the subject.

And once I knew that I had a real subject, then I could formulate the book accordingly. Poems came in, poems came out, poems were arranged in the order that fulfilled that formulation: the one that had been demanded. By the reader, who is also an editor, and a publisher, and a consumer. It’s almost like I discovered the actual theme of the book—and that there was one at all—long after its poems were written, in the process of finding ways to try to describe it to its potential consumer. It’s almost like I don’t even know what I’m writing about till long after I write it.

The King is like that.


Cover by Kimberly Glyder

Editor’s Note: Amongst other things (see her bio), Rebecca Wolff is a contributing writer for the Poetry Foundation’s excellent blog Harriet. Read all of Rebecca Wolff’s Harriet blog posts here.

topics: Columnists

1 Comment

Nick Demske said on 9.23.09 at 7:08pm:

This is, much like the king, several amazing sentiments sandwiched on top of each other. a solipsist encounter’s objective reality…i think i’d be reading stronger poetry if more poets were meditating on this koan. you are brilliant, rebecca.