On Possibility

By Keith S. Wilson, Poetry Faculty

For me, poetry is a balance, or a vacillation, between overthinking a thing until I’ve ground it to dust, and floating on the air, letting the writing happen. One translation of this happens when I try not to think at all, to the extent that that is possible, and write, and then follow that up later by looking at every last detail as I edit.

But of course both modes are fully impossible. I cannot actually be free because I am human. And I cannot write without burden or what I wrote might not even be legible, be words, but might only exist as letters on a page (such writing exists, but it is not mine). And even when I am writing words, I have obsessions (Crystal Wilkinson calls them ghosts) and trains of thought and more annoyingly, I have unbroken habits. Furthermore, when I sit to edit, I cannot actually look at every last detail because my mind does not know every last thing (though when I was younger how I tried!).

My art practice is based on two impossible things, an idealized grand freedom and immobilized deep-rootedness, that nevertheless make me some poems.

This is only how I write. Or, at the very least, I don’t suppose this is how everyone writes. But I think about this sometimes, the way possibility can be born from impossibility. That this is what ideals are, and dreams, and to an extent it is what heroes are made of, and for some folks, nations (though I cannot muster the optimism or the want or the energy).

And it is what art has come to mean for me in these days, the way that something that could not have existed without me now exists, and how at every moment the path has seemed impossible and how that absolutely matters, and yet it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes I manage it: here is a poem. Waking up has felt that way some days. Many days. Waking up is a poem. On days when I cannot write poems.

And I temper this with knowing that even when I am inspired, the spark of inspiration is not enough to topple fascists (though I would not complain if they were. I will have to write some more and see).

And yet! And yet the thought of writing, even when I cannot write, fills me with wonder, that we can make things in an impossible world, through impossible challenges and impossible processes. I may not be writing (I often am not) but I might. I will. I sit sometimes and think of my ancestors. I fully believe that what they went through, many of them, must not have seemed possible to them. War. Depression. The Transatlantic Slave Trade. It hardly seems possible to me and I am at a vantage that if any of them could have seen would only be the seeing of a dream. I hardly believe it myself and yet here: I am. Maybe writing.


Keith S. Wilson has spent the last month in Buffalo New York at a writing residency through Just Buffalo. Recordings of him performing poetry from his book Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love in different locations in Buffalo will be available soon. Keith also recently released a digital chapbook called “temporary hours” through a fellowship with Coresidency. Keith is also featured on the cover of the newest American Poetry Review and has visual poems featured there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s