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An apology is an expression of regret at having hurt someone. But it is also the opposite: a formal defense of one’s actions or beliefs. The concept is afflicted with “fence sickness,” to borrow a symptom from Marni Ludwig: decisively indecisive, divided to the point of infirmity. Her “Apologizer” makes that autoimmunity visible, the sonnet’s indented center a damaged mirror. The effect is to render doubling contagious, from “chow chow” to “pompom.” The phrase where the poem fissures, “In the past,” is also repeated—but what could history signify, when invoked by a stutterer who never dies? Biologically impossible, a “year-round chrysanthemum” opens the metaphysical impasse of deathlessness. And yet: ciao, ciao, she takes her leave, quitting the room of the poem. After all, the root of apology is apo-, “away.” Is she rueful, this orphaned Persephone, or righteous?
Ludwig’s poems wince and flex with internecine ambivalence, the conundrums of a self with only “injury for company.” Rarely does she stop gnawing at Dickinson’s zero-sum question, “But since Myself—assault Me— / How have I peace / Except by subjugating / Consciousness?” Rapt and recursive as its title suggests, Pinwheel, Ludwig’s first book, is like “trapping lightning in a mason jar,” as she writes in a lyric announcing her death. Cosmic wrath—that erotic erratic—meets a modest modernity made in the U.S.A. Thieves and liars, anesthetists and familiar strangers, are the riffraff she runs with, weirdly beautiful. They haunt clinics and gardens and sinister ceremonies, where secrecy is the currency, along with greed, fear, blindness, shame—and a shameful lack thereof. Hers is a lush and dodgy world, where we are “happy / to be home, yes, but mostly no.”
Troubled that contemporary poetry fails to address how violence—particularly toward women—is too often an abject element of sexual relations in our society, Ludwig has turned to obliquely dramatizing social ills. At the same time, she wants to affirm that sex is central to our being. She believes, with humility and humor, that “we are primarily products / of the slutty parts of the mind” and that if the heart has reasons off-limits to reason, then the brain can also feel things, maybe even fuck. These are love poems, the hard way: they make alibis, concessions, mistakes, but rarely the rent. They straiten and tick, then sashay back, their sonic work to ricochet, to keep the crazy from coming unstuck. A lurid pallor hangs over their polished frame: hush like a rush of air before the glass has already cracked.
Photographs: Kristine Morfogen
Andrew Zawacki is the author of Videotape, Petals of Zero Petals of One, Anabranch, and By Reason of Breakings. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, the New Republic, The Nation, and elsewhere, and is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Georgia, where he directs the doctoral Creative Writing Program.
Marni Ludwig is author of Pinwheel.
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