(x-Posted in the Columbia Poetry Review blog)
Janet Holmes, author of The Ms of My Kin recently visited Columbia College to read at the Spring poetry reading series. I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her book. I warn you now, there are spoilers ahead. If you wish to enjoy her book to the fullest, I urge you to ignore this post until you have read it for yourself! As an editor, Holmes knows how to craft the book with intent; there is something to be said about the experience of reading it fresh from cover to cover.
The Ms of My Kin is a bold collection of erasures of Dickinson’s poems from the time of the civil war: 1861-1862. Holmes used Dickinson’s writings to voice her own feelings on the current war. When asked about this, she stated that she could not find the words for herself-as it is difficult to write of something that is so close-so she had to borrow those of Dickinson. The epigraph states it simply in Dickinson’s own words: “If it had no pencil/Would it try mine—” Almost a permission from Dickinson.
Holmes selects stark and specific connections from Dickinson’s work to create a commentary on current events that goes between harrowing and mischievous—both characters drawn from Dickinson’s own work. Although The Ms of my Kin is an erasure, Holmes specifies that the words are all still there—they are merely whited out. I like the thought that, while printing, perhaps the press considered these white letters as a musician would the rests noted in a piece of music (another type of manuscript).
Travis Macdonald brings us another erasure, but rather than commenting on current events through another poet, he comments on them with their own literature: the 9/11 Commission Report. As Holmes whites out text, Macdonald sometimes redacts, which reflects the nature some of the US Government actions concerning the war. He leaves few words, but they hold great weight. A small selection of O Mission Repo (with grey lettering rather than redaction) is forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, no. 23.
To read more about or purchase either of these books, click their images.