The words my friend chose were voices and harrowing. He was right in noting that voices is an important word because the collection is a composite, a chorus, of humanity over time. Only the geographical place is static. So, in my ear, there is a Sophoclean echo--an inexorable non-listening woven into the multitude of sounds. In the manuscript's most recent rejection, the publisher lamented the lack of a overarching personal story. But the Sophoclean echo is not personal. I cannot pretend otherwise.
And harrowing. That is a more subtle recognition, for the word has two definitions--"disturbing and distressing" and "breaking up soil." The voices are harrowing in both senses: they evoke, recall, predict the perpetual terror of our interactions. But these characters, whether they are individuals, organizations, human constructions, fatalistic metaphors, are also plowing their furrows into the history of the earth. Harrowing is a physical relationship with time.
As the poet, I was also harrowing and being harrowed. This is the first book I have ever written in which I have lived so intensely inside the voices of other people. I've always done it occasionally, in individual poems; but to push myself to become, in essence, a sort of maggot in the ear of history has been exhausting, daunting, thrilling, and terrible. In the meantime, I've occasionally had readers who've felt compelled to manufacture a vision of me, not as poet but as their summary of Dawn, inside the voices of these others. That, too, has been harrowing. I am not claiming, of course, that I don't exist inside my own work. But emphasizing such a reading can come to seem not only pointless but demeaning. Shakespeare exists behind and inside the character of Coriolanus, but the character of Coriolanus is not Shakespeare.
Does this letter sound pompous or arrogant? I don't mean to sound that way. Mostly I am just tired. I worked hard, in this collection, to figure out something new about the task of poetry, my task as a poet. Rereading the poems now, I reprise the nausea of falling into that unknown. This makes it difficult for me to speak objectively of the collection, so I'm grateful to my friend for giving me a couple of words to borrow.