#SummerReads #4: The Shipwreck Dress by Terri Witek

This summer, my goal is to read ten poetry collections. Click on the summerreading2015 tag to chart my progress.

I encountered Terri Witek’s work by chance at the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago. That discovery alone made the conference worth it (though generally speaking it was an excellent conference).

I bought Exit Island on the spot, read it as soon as I got home, and loved it, but am only now reading Witek’s older work.

After reading The Shipwreck Dress, I can see how her work progressed to Exit Island. One of my favorite features of the latter collection is a series of de facto word quilts: words arranged in a matrix-like grid that can be read up and down, left to right, or diagonally. (Not to mention the poems she constructs out of constellations and fractured pictures of animals.)

Molly Peacock says in her review of The Shipwreck Dress, “As Witek sensuously explores the most ancient connections between text and textile, she turns her poems into stunning, subtle word-kimonos.”

And how.


The “kimono” poems in The Shipwreck Dress seem to be the precursors to the word quilts of Exit Island. This series of poems features two columns. The left-hand column is made up entirely of colors, while the right-hand column has the poem proper.

Each line of the poem is assigned a color; there’s a progression of color as well as a more typical poetic progression. The color assigned to the line adds a layer of meaning to each individual line as well as the poem as a whole.

I love the range of these kimono poems. Some are sweetly nostalgic, some are sad, some are simply frozen moments poignantly captured. They also serve as a sort of stitching that holds the collection together.

Unlike with some experimental work, these poems are all grounded in reality. Witek uses all five senses to describe the world around her–a world of heartbreak, healing, and introspection.

Find The Shipwreck Dress at an independent bookstore near you.


What do you think?

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