Alibi V.27 No.30 • July 26-Aug 1, 2018 

Arts Interview

Free Verse

Chelsea Bunn unpacks the power of poetry

Poet Chelsea Bunn hosts reading at South Broadway Library
Poet Chelsea Bunn hosts reading at South Broadway Library
Courtesy of Chelsea Bunn

“The singular fact,/ both a shock and a comfort,/ that time moves on, that so much/ time has moved on, and still so little, rarefies/ the air sweeping in to touch our living skin.” These lines from Chelsea Bunn's poem “Saint Elizabeth” (published in Sky Island Journal) are both a closing tonic and starting blocks for the imagination. They are elegant but electric as they outline a simple, everyday scene of a man and a woman standing in a kitchen, and then zoom us outward to broader, more pervasive human struggles. It is through the medium of poetry that words can offer not so much the definition of a feeling, but simply evoke them line by line. They can conjure moods from the obscure depths of our imagination that we ourselves might not have the words to call forth. Dealing in subtleties, they express much without holding anything too tight. It is a different mode of language, something more alchemical than a dictionary or grammar rules could hope to offer. The right words strung together are more like a magic spell.

“I saw in poetry that I was reading the ways that I thought but had never known how to express or communicate,” Bunn explained of her years as a young poet. “So, I started writing and it just gave me a way to figure out what I was thinking.” These days, Bunn is a widely published poet, who makes her home in Sandia Park, and teaches in Santa Fe and Albuquerque (though she is soon headed to Crownpoint for a full-time teaching gig at Navajo Technical University). Her work has appeared in the Georgetown Review and Apathy Magazine and has twice received the Academy of American Poets Prize. “There's a certain clarity that good poems offer to a reader,” she said. “Maybe you've had a similar experience, or have a similar understanding, but you haven't been able to clarify that idea. There is this great moment … of recognition.”

Courtesy of Chelsea Bunn
Poet Chelsea Bunn will host a reading at the South Broadway Library

Yet, for many, poetry feels inaccessible. As a teacher, Bunn hopes to share that poetry doesn't have to be “abstruse or inaccessible,” but instead a vehicle to find greater understanding of both ourselves and the world around us. “At the heart of it, it's communication,” she explained. “I look at poems as messages. … As a thing that you can offer to a reader, like, hey, come here and I'll share this with you.” And no matter your experience with poetry, no matter who you are, your response to it is valuable and interesting. “Every response is important,” she summed it up.

What's easy to see in Bunn's poetry are moments decelerated and examined so their full inertia might be revealed. The practice, then, allows for the writer to “slow down” to “really sit with it and look at it and let it inform you.” Bunn described the inception of a poem by writer Mark Doty called “A Display of Mackerel.” The writer had gone for a walk and passed a shop window with fish lined up on ice. “He went home later and wrote the poem to figure out what it was about that image that was charged, that was calling to him,” Bunn explained. In that way, “you can see an image or receive a bit of information and not necessarily know right away why it's interesting to you. The act of writing can help you discover it.”

As a writer and a reader, discovery is often the crux of the experience. Whether that, as Bunn described, is through “being more attentive to the world around me, giving me a little bit of consideration for other people or making me see things more clearly.” As she considered her practice, and what it has returned to her, she offered that it has encouraged her to pay attention. “A lot of writing to me is about being receptive to what's around you. If you're never letting yourself be aware of things that are going on … or even not attending to how you're feeling and interpreting things, than you're shutting yourself off to a very rich set of experiences. Poetry has helped me access more of my feelings, consider more responses and more—just more.”

One avenue to more experience mediated by the wonder of poetry is Bunn's upcoming reading at the South Broadway Library (1025 Broadway Blvd. SE) on Saturday, July 28. The early afternoon reading, from 11am to noon, will see Bunn reading her own work, as well as a selection of poems that she has loved well over the years. The event is free to attend. Find more about Bunn, and be transported by her poetry, by heading to chelseabunn.com.

View in Alibi calendar calendar