I think that as I’ve grown to learn more about poetry this year, one of the things I’ve come to realize is inevitably true is that if you are a poet who has successfully created a new form, you are one badass writer. Poetry is a medium of art that has been prevalent for thousands of years, an impulse so primal to human behavior that despite the immense passage of time, we are never finished with poetry. Poetry is ancient, and I am always in awe when I read an author that makes poetry feel new again – poets that give me chills or cause the water to swell in my eyes or leave my head spinning. Susan Stewart is such an author – a woman who makes poetry feel continually new.
            After reading “Apples” by Stewart in class, I frantically ordered her latest book, Columbarium, on amazon, so quickly that it felt as if my life depended on it. While reading Columbarium and reading critical theory about her new book, I realized why Stewart’s poetry elicited this immense emotional response from me, why it felt unlike anything I had ever read: In this book, Stewart invented a new form of poetry which she calls “shadow georgics. These poems respond to and reconfigure the traditional georgic, a didactic poem about rural life,” writes Edward Hirsh for The Washington Post. In her poetry, she combines the ancient and the novel, creating an illusion that you’re being sucked through the torrent of time as you enter her words. Her themes contemplate nature, history, time, selfhood, and an oracular look at what it means to be human at this moment in time.
            In her poem “Apples,” Susan Stewart opens with a definition of her worldview when she declares that “If I could come back from the dead, I would come back / for an apple, and just for the first bite.” In this declaration, Stewart reminds the reader that we are corporeal beings, existing of the body and for worldly pleasure. To be human is to desire sensation – sight, smell, taste, sound, touch. At the core of who we are is a desire to feel, and to feel anything, which is what Stewart captures in these lines. She would not come back to end world hunger or to prevent Hitler’s rise to power, no – she would come back for the simple, magical first bite of an apple.
            In the following stanza’s, Stewart comments on the human desire to say the names of those who are gone, but she describes this through brands of apples. “Some apple names are almost forgotten / and the apples themselves are gone. The Smokehouse / Winseap, and York Imperial,” she writes. Recalling a name, stating a name, resurrects an entity that has been lost. This sensation of beating death through utterance is the reason why I came to write, because every time I say Ansley you are forced to think about her, despite the unavoidable fact that she is dead, and has been for four years. This ability of poetry to resurrect is also commented upon in Larry Levis’s poem “Though His Name is Infinite, My Father is Asleep,” where he describes death as condensing your being into the syllables of your name, so that you can be conjured whenever it is spoken. “Tell how two words / that mean nothing to anyone / else, once meant a world / to you; how someday, even you / in the sweep of those syllables – / wind, crushed bones & ashes – / begin to live again,” writes Levis, describing how names are the machine of resurrection. Levis and Stewart seem to talk to each other in their poems, commenting on a primal human instinct of utterance of the lost.
            The human desire to name, though, is flawed, because a name can only be a name. “If an apple’s called Delicious, it’s not,” writes Stewart, problematizing the power and integrity of names. What we call things is never exactly what they are, because to sum up an entire entity into a few syllables will inevitably fail. The desire to name things is a solely human desire – no other species gives everything under the sun their assigned syllables. Naming things, then, is a sort of ink blot test, imposing our worldview onto the things that surround us.
            The first three stanzas seem to be spoken by Susan Stewart, giving her distinct and individual worldview. Between the third and fourth stanzas, however, we are taken on a leap, away from Susan Stewart and into a sort of mysterious, oracular utterance, where the speaker becomes a seer. The voice of the oracle emerges, taking this poem from the highly specific to the universal. “Water has no substance / and soil has no shell, / sun is all process / and rain cannot rise. / The apple’s core carries / a birth and a poison,” writes Stewart, using a hypnotic, repetitive rhythm. Before these lines, the poem has been fairly straightforward, not requiring a lot of work from the reader. After this shift in tone, however, a space is opened up for the reader to occupy, to contribute to the sense making. After this shift, the reading slows down, which after all, is what art is meant to make us do. In a technology and capitalism centered world, art is the sole hope of slowness, of forcing us to appreciate beauty.
            From here on out, Stewart seems to go so far into her imagery that we cannot go there with her, a feat that is initially frustrating but also empowering, forcing us to work. Then, when she has just about lost me, she pulls me back in with a return to the tactile, the earthly, when she practically gives a step by step tutorial on how to grow apples. “If you’re interested in immortality / it’s best to plant a tree, and even / then you can’t be sure that form / will last under weather,” she writes following her tutorial, reminding us that no human will ever be immortal, and that all of our bodies are destined to fail. This reminder reinforces the theme that we need sensation and feeling to remind us that we are alive, and that our time being alive is limited. Stewart, throughout this poem, weaves so brilliantly and seamlessly through the tangible world and the intangible world, guiding us through her mind and attempting to take us with her through these worlds.
            “There is so little difference between / an apple and a kiss, between desire / and the taste of desire,” writes Stewart towards the end of her poem, expanding her argument from a simple first bite of an apple to the beauty of intimacy. To be a human is to want to feel, and it is our duty to our humanity to follow our desire wherever it leads us. In “Apples,” Stewart argues that we should live our lives according to our desire, following our passions and recognizing that we are corporeal beings who will eventually be no more than a name.
            When reading “Apples,” I was immediately reminded of the movie Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino, which is a movie about primal human desire, a desire that does not see age or color or sex or any other factor that attempts to define us. Both Call Me By Your Name and “Apples” argue that sensory desire, whether it be for an apple or for the warmth of another human being, is the most important aspect of being a human, and that we should pursue desire ceaselessly with the limited time we have in our bodies.

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