Four Self Portrait Poems by Elizabeth Knapp
Fresh new poems by Elizabeth Knapp
Four Self-Portraits by Elizabeth Knapp
Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain’s Muse
No, I’m not his rag doll whore or the shade of a post-punk feminist icon. I do not resemble a seahorse in the slightest, though I can paddle like the dickens under water. I did not lure him like some pierced-tongue Siren, nor did I ever turn him into a farm animal, though plenty of times I thought about it. He came to me already broken, like a bird with one clipped wing. Here, let me clip the other.
Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain Wrestling with the Angel
Here, the biblical allusion is a metaphor for the speaker’s internal struggles, and since Cobain is the persona, one can infer that the speaker may be alluding to her own struggles with depression and/or addiction. While this may be partly true, the beauty of metaphor is its ability to retain multiple meanings simultaneously, like the angel which in reality is no angel but a dark stitch inside the speaker who for years took it to be a birthmark or a fatal flaw or the mark of Cain. So too Cobain: lake of fire in the pit of the stomach. He who wrestles with God wrestles with himself. The beauty of metaphor is that the angel can be just an angel if you let it.
Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain’s Hungry Ghost (with an Appearance by Thich Quang Duc)
Because she wants to believe that death is like the silence one encounters after writing a poem, a silence replete with stillness and the release that comes after the possession of language, the speaker admits she has a hard time imagining herself as a suicide on the other side of the door, still strumming with desire and the karmic fears that kept him trapped inside the coffin of his body, only now there are no hinges and now it’s made of glass. Because no one wants to believe that death is not the end of suffering, a reader would not respond well to a poem in which the speaker adopts the persona of a man who has suffered enough and does not deserve to be made into an entity of fire, a Buddhist monk eternally setting himself ablaze. There are limits to what a poem should do. (According to witnesses, after the body burned, the heart remained intact.)
Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain’s Left-Handed Guitar
The greatest risk of such a poem is sentimentality. How to render the longing of the object in a way that is both human and inhuman, inevitable and surprising, without lapsing into the obvious clichés? How to portray the subject—in this case, the speaker herself—through the prism of a persona who speaks only through the hands that animate it? The instrument could be anything—a guitar, a scalpel, a blade of grass. What matters is hitting all the right notes at precisely the moment they start to implode, like a stained glass window or a collapsing star. Remember Orpheus, downriver, still shredding his lyre? What matters is the playing.
Elizabeth Knapp's first book of poems, The Spite House (C&R Press), won the 2010 De Novo Prize for Poetry. The recipient of the 2015 Literal Latté Poetry Award and the 2007 Discovered Voices Award from Iron Horse Literary Review, she has published poems in Best New Poets 2007, The Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and many other journals. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a PhD from Western Michigan University. She is Associate Professor of English at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland.
Editor's note: The four poems above are part of a longer series. Two from the series won the 2015 Literal Latté Poetry Award and appear in the current issue: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/elizabeth-knapp/. Another in the series will be published by Spoon River Poetry Review.