Any poet has difficulty putting words around a large cultural ache while using private witnessings for fodder. Somewhere in the warp between seeing something to be shaped and shaping it -- that's the place of artistic exploration. It's an exciting time for poets writing into that space (Anne Carson, Joan Fiset), and Jessica Greenbaum is one of our best.
In her first book, Inventing Difficulty, Greenbaum is "inventing both path/and obstacle toward a reunion with happiness." She knows how people invent difficulty to bring them closer to each other (ah, the pathology!), and she combines that with the poet's desire to innovate until the truth pops clean from some tangle of worry. About writing itself, she contemplates, "I want relief from printed matter, because in these proportions/It's nauseating, the rate of obsolescence so dizzying/It feels like we're constantly being hurtled but toward what?/I need a break from the endless, daily attempt/To feel a working part of satisfaction, from the mind bender/Of how to make these gracious, given parts add up." She's observing the same obsolescence (the more writing that is made in the culture, the more it all disappears) that she invents, just like Wallace Stevens -- the great poetic inventor of difficulty -- who wrote, "After the final no there comes a yes/And on that yes the future world depends." Greenbaum longs for difficulty, that engagement for which Stevens wrote, "It can never be satisfied, the mind, never."
But this writer doesn't bow to the pathetic difficulty many writers might seek -- the "oh-good-my-uncle-died-so-now-I-have-pain-to-write-about" kind of difficulty. Rather, she inquires about the good, heady complexity of why things are as they are, how might we re-imagine them, and how we might create work that is heightened by the world -- a gluey mix of fantasy and intellect.