What’s On Our Mind: Erin Wunker on Anne Boyer’s “What Resembles The Grave But Isn’t”

Erin Wunker: I love Anne Boyer’s poem “What Resembles The Grave But Isn’t.” I love its repetition. I love how each sentence hits the mind with the determination of someone walking past the point of exhaustion. I love it for its acknowledgement of both physical and emotional labour. I love it for its resilience, and also its refusal to be celebrated for being resilient. I love this poem for the work it does, and for the way that it reminds us that the work of life is too often moving from one hole to another and continuing to climb out, to carry on, to persist. 

What Resembles The Grave But Isn’t

Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

Anne Boyer is the author of the award-winning Garments Against Women, published with Ahsahta Press in 2015 and the inaugural winner of the 2018 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry from the Foundation for Contemporary Art. She took part in our Spring 2016 Off The Page Festival. Boyer’s newest book, A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, is forthcoming from UDP in early 2018.

This poem has been posted with permission from the author.

Erin Wunker is the chair of the board of the national non-profit social justice organization Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) and co-founder, writer, and managing editor of the feminist academic blog Hook and Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe. She teaches Canadian literature and culture at Dalhousie University. She is also the author of Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life, published in 2016 by Book*hug Press.