• 37, a Sonnet by Katie Ford

    From Her New Collection, If You Have To Go

    If every stanza is a room, as the Italian definition for “stanza” tells us, then a stanzaic poem might become a home. If 39 sonnets numbered the years of my life when I began composing If You Have to Go, then might I have made a transformed life in which to dwell? 

    Poems want to inhabit us, but they are lonesome, too. A poem wants to become the inhabitance, the dwelling place of those of us wrenched and made anew by its nowhere-else power. The sonnet sequence that dominates If You Have to Go taught me, via lines I laid down daily in the terrible predawn hours of sleepless months, that my marriage was too distant—for both of us—to bear. I allowed the sonnets to say this in their own encoded speech, since I wasn’t yet ready to state things blatantly. I also feared the writing might be read before I was sure of what would come next in my life, although my husband was not the rifling type. My instinct toward him was more protective than that; I didn’t want him to read any deliberately transparent lines at the heights of our mutual ache. So I relied on oblique angles and dreamscape figuration to shroud language enough so that if it were to be found, it would maintain its own privacy. Once I began writing this way, saying, in the first sonnet, “Empty with me, though here I am, I saw/ some soul set my meal with dream,” the course was charted. So I got out of its way. And burrowed into my poems’ many rooms, which I open now to the reader, privacy to privacy. 

    –Katie Ford, July 2018

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    Over my home I rise on a trembling
    wood-and-rope bridge. Sundown comes
    in light-light red, lamps hung now in my hair
    alight one question into the air:

    Home, I made you best I could,
    please don’t break again beneath me?
    I beat heavily upon my life until it gave.
    As for prices, I’ve paid and paid.

    All the while I cut the tiniest chairs,
    a thimble ship, rice-paper walls
    and Japanese fans cut from receipts
    no wider than a little girl’s nail.

    Upon them I drew hills of wild plum, then
    a hover of birds.


    Katie Ford, “37,” from If You Have To Go. Copyright © 2018 by Katie Ford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org


    The preceding is from the Freeman’s channel at Literary Hub, which features excerpts from the print editions of Freeman’s, along with supplementary writing from contributors past, present and future. The latest issue of Freeman’s, a special edition featuring 29 of the best emerging writers from around the world, is available now.

    Katie Ford
    Katie Ford
    Katie Ford is the author of If You Have to Go and three previous poetry collections: Blood Lyrics, named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Colosseum, recognized as a “Best Book of the Year” by Publishers Weekly and the Virginia Quarterly Review; and Deposition. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Larry Levis Reading Prize, she teaches at the University of California, Riverside.

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