At the center of this poetry is hunger, a craving for experience, and these poets hurl themselves into language with energies of fierce need, searching and self-possession. For Kwak and Adams, words are physical; they are charged with bodily force. Their poems sculpt substance out of air with an explosive sense of purpose. They situate their poems at junctures of overwhelm—the overwhelm of feeling triggered by loss, for which they (differently) draw on the metaphor of the swarm, bees or cells. Adams: beneath the crown I / became a thousand swift masteries / of another order… They are both enamored of animals, attentive to their presence and suffering, and they peer deeply and thoughtfully into pain.
But they are most concerned with what is unnameable inside any creaturely life, with what doesn't give itself over to human understanding or greed. For Kwak, whose lyric intensity is reminiscent of Plath, the extinction of animals is intermeshed with the extinction of our moral sense, from which we've become helplessly estranged. She does not let your forget the angry, perished elephant inside ivory. Or let me / to love, she writes, as a cow
At the slaughterhouse gate, let
Me keen for the hook,
Steely and skyward, as a child
Whose dazzling array of
Teeth dropping, dream of
Grave, shallow where new teeth are
Born, then bones, then souls,
Then animals, without souls, pecking.
Adams is heir to Roethke. She lingers in secret rituals, in the spirit-worlds of plants and animals, conversing in songs and codes. There is a distinct, composed wildness in her voice. She is preoccupied with solitude and its effects on the body, and you can find her, in poems, scouring a landscape for what lives there, then reaching into it:
My feelers search instead
beneath the moors
touching at some inscrutable
thing, wrenched between the stones
and mute loam, touching back at me
like sound, like the thin mews
of a violin.
Adams' talismanic word is "belonging," and often it means: for each thing to find a shelter, a habitat for its own strangeness. …her eyes with the dusk of cities / falling down into a sleep of moss.
Famished and unafraid, these two young poets are moving through the world with their dark powers, illuminating what is. Empathy, ferocity, sorrow, wonder. Astonishment, writes Adams. Miraculous, writes Kwak. Why shouldn't you say it.
Joanna Klink is the author of three books of poetry, They Are Sleeping, Circadian, and Raptus. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, most recently The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. She has received awards and fellowships from The Rona Jaffe Foundation, Jeannette Haien Ballard, Civitella Ranieri, and The American Academy of Arts and Letters. She teaches creative writing at the University of Montana.