Requiem with an Amulet in Its Beak by Elizabeth Knapp (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2019).
In her second poetry collection, Requiem with an Amulet in Its Beak, Elizabeth Knapp springboards from the pop and political zeitgeists of the eighties and nineties to invite her readers into the morbid and everyday spectacular. In reading a Knapp poem, you might converse with the ghost of Kurt Cobain, lament loneliness with Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, belt out George Michael and David Bowie hits, explore Jean Baudrillard, or reexamine art by Francisco Goya and Cindy Sherman. These ekphrastic commentaries are often channeled through a self-referential “speaker” oscillating between poet and persona affected.
Requiem won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House’s 2019 Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, awarded to a collection by a writer in the D.C. region. While her first book, The Spite House (C&R Press, 2011), brings similar pop, art, and historical allusions, Knapp’s new book feels like a shift in perspective. If certain poems build energy by breaking the fourth wall, drawing attention to artifice, others steadfastly avoid self-reference and attempt to astonish their reader into immersion. Unlike The Spite House’s more straightforward, less filtered voice, Knapp’s poetics in Requiem most often move in between acknowledging the poem’s construction and exploring unguarded emotion. A search for gratitude within life’s paradoxically brief and languorous passage permeates Requiem, and the two epigraphs that lead the collection hint at the shiftiness in the poet’s voice and the themes the book explores: “But listen, I’m warning you / I’m living for the very last time” (Anna Akhmatova) and “This life & no other” (Larry Levis).