2014 Featured Festival Poet: Rachel McKibbens

Posted on by Victoria Russell, Festival Assistant
Photo courtesy of rachelmckibbens.com

Rachel McKibbens’s poetry feels like a product of dark magic–not meaning it is evil or bad, but rather a miracle arisen from misery. McKibbens is a phoenix, proud and resplendent amongst her ashes. She starts with darkness: pain, shame, abuse, violence, regret, neglect, longing, and then: BAM. She waves her magic wand, calls upon the forces of metaphor, and as the cloud of smoke dissipates, we begin to see a beautiful, shimmering crystal: a poem. Magic. Watch her performance of “For M” to see for yourself:

McKibbens’s past is the type that demands some sort of creation be born from it. Her history of childhood abuse and neglect, of violence and misogyny, and her ongoing struggle with mental illness, have given her two options: crumble, or create. McKibbens has chosen the latter, diving fearlessly into the task of crafting art from suffering. Her poetry is not for the faint of heart. With proudly immodest honesty and grit, she juts out her chin, balls her fist around a pen, and slashes at the paper until she has exorcised her ghosts–for the moment. In her first book of poems, Pink Elephant, she addresses her absent mother in “Weather’s Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”:

That’s the year I lost my appetite then found it
in men disguised as getaway cars. Sometimes a tingling sensation
sweeps across my face like an amputee’s phantom itch,
and I realize how much I miss the back of your hand.

McKibbens is a master slam poet. She is a powerful performer who knows how to work a crowd however she wants, like a charismatic magician alternately cracking jokes and provoking gasps. There is a time and place for every trick up her sleeve: a time to accuse and to confess, a time to draw laughter and to draw tears, a time to project to the back of the hall and to whisper into the microphone, a time to strut and a time to sob.

She commands. She interrogates. She also admits and implores. She never sounds stronger than when the cracks begin to show, and her raspy voice trembles like an old bridge buckling under a train. In those moments of raw tenderness and pain, she calls upon her strongest magic: her vulnerability. She crumbles into ashes, bursts into flame, then soars.

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We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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