A Protocol for Touch

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Contributor: Eleanor Wilner, judge Scott Cairns, Series Editor
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Paperback ISBN-13: 9781574410839
Paperback ISBN-10: 1574410830
Physical Description: 6 x 9 pp. 80
Publication Date: February 2000
Series: Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry | Volume: 7
  • Poetry Society of America William Carlos Williams Book Award, runner-up, 2001
  • Winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, 1999

"Constance Merritt is a poet to defeat categories, to oppose ‘the tyranny of names’ with a poetry that sets its own terms of encounter, its ‘protocols of touch’—tender and austere, formal and intimate at once. Hers is a voice with many musics, sufficiently rich, nuanced and various to express, maintain poise and wrest meaning from the powerful cross-currents in which the heart is torn. I have seldom seen intelligence equal to such a scorching degree of intensity, or mastery of form so equal to passion’s contradictory occasions. Merritt’s prosodic range is prodigious—she moves in poetic forms as naturally as a body moves in its skin, even as her lines ring with the cadenced authority of a gifted and schooled ear. Here, in her words, the iambic ground bass is in its vital questioning mode: "The heart’s insistent undersong: how live?/how live? How live?" this poetry serves no lesser necessity than to ask that."—Eleanor Wilner

Between us, how we wrestle over words
Strain to wring some blessing from the silence,
Deliverance from violence, its fear, its lure,
The tyranny of names: night day,
Sable and alabaster, flint shale,
Steel and lace. Who among us can afford
To speak the language—any language—rightly?
As if it weren’t enough to bear one heart
Eternally divided in its chambers?
We stand close enough to touch. We do
Not touch. Between us burns a sword of fire,
A rusted turnstile glinting in the sun.

About Author:

Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and educated at the Arkansas School for the Blind in Little Rock, CONSTANCE MERRITT holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Utah, and a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The recipient of two Pushcart Prize nominations and an Academy of American Poets College Prize, she has published poems in Callaloo, Quarterly West, American Literary Review, Disability Rag & Resource, and The Women’s Review of Books among others. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, while pursuing studies at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina.

Credit for art: "Bathing," by Jonathan Green, used by permission of Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida