Poets have always wrestled with the mutability of things (particularly or life and love) and with the problem of conveying the true shape of human emotion and experience through the often inadequate tool of language. The poems in Johanna Skibsrud’s new collection, I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being, employ the tentative and uncertain characteristics of language to their advantage, pulling the reader headlong into the fray as the poet endeavours to give shape to her experience.
“In many ways, I see the collection as one long love poem,” says Skibsrud, “The title poem was written very quickly, and with what, for me, was relative ease one morning last spring, and since then I have altered it very little?something that is also unusual for me. The poem is particularly important to my conception of the collection as a whole because of the way that it is able to speak, I think, from?and to?a space of desire inhabited, simultaneously, by conflicting and conflicted states of mind. It is, I think?despite, or rather because of its title?the most accurate and honestly-felt love poem that I have so far been able to write. Also, though, I think of the poem in reflexive terms: as in part about the act of writing, which is itself an act of desire and so, like all desire, bound always by the limits of its own terms. Just as the literal object of the poem is held in relief by the blank space of the page, however, so we are shaped, whether we choose to recognize it or not, by what is invisible to us?outside of what we assume to be the limit of ourselves and our world. Poetry allows us, importantly, I think, to push against that limit. It makes room for those paradoxes at the root of our experiences of language and selfhood?an acceptance and exploration of which is, I think, integral, to any genuine attempt at expression of being. It allows for transformations, for becomings: becoming a bear, for example, becoming a word. Love allows for this, too. In fact, I don’t really know where the space of one ends and the other begins. ”
Johanna Skibsrud is the author of two previous collections of poetry, I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being and Late Nights With Wild Cowboys; two novels, Quartet for the End of Time and the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel The Sentimentalists; and the short fiction collection This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories. An Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona, Skibsrud and her family divide their time between Tucson and Cape Breton.