Reading Will Alexander’s poetry is like walking into a Jackson Pollock painting: you get lost in a maelstrom of colors, lulled by beautifully constructed metaphors, and unexpectedly shaken by the jarring sounds of each hard-handed stroke. Through Alexander’s work, words fill three-dimensional forms and talk back to you with distinct colors, voices and angles. An autodidact born and raised in South Central L.A., Alexander’s early work didn’t fit into conventional, academically defined structures. After years of carving out his own niche, Alexander is now internationally recognized as a leading literary figure. A poet, essayist, novelist and visual artist, his accomplishments include the Whiting Fellowship for Poetry in 2001 and a California Arts Council Fellowship in 2002, and he was named by The International Biographical Centre in Cambridge as the Outstanding Scholar of the 20th Century. Alexander’s most recent collection of poetry, The Sri Lankan Loxodrome, is a surreal adventure embedded with a lexicon all its own and laced with seemingly disconnected words applied to the page like that of smattered paint.
Staying true to non-linear storytelling, “A Nexus of Phantoms” was initially inspired by the color of lorikeets but is most simply the result of what he deems as his ability to hear poetically. I sat perplexed by this poem’s many metaphors an hour before our meeting, trying to find the thematic tie-ins to the title poem. Instead, I only found a nexus of my own. I thought that with some explanation on his part, I would be able to put this poem into context, neatly boxed and ribbon-tied. How very wrong I was, and I think that’s exactly the point.
Alexander’s poetry is a fluid landscape of words wherein meanings are changed by the context in which they are read. He tells me he hears words in a certain way, as if he were a living, breathing vessel through which words move from source to paper. He scribbles words down as they come to him, hence the pen and paper he always keeps handy in his coat pocket. With the exception of having to make a few minor grammatical adjustments, Alexander’s published poems are basically the same as their first drafts. Why? “Because that’s how they came to me. They came in that order, and that’s how they were intended to be read,” he explains. “I let the words sit until they speak back to me. They tell me what I need to know.”
The idea of words swirling and lingering on the page is just another example of his ability to enchant with imagery, which transports the listener into the cosmos. “I am not a literary person and this genre is nonlinear in that sense. The power is in terms of the hearing. The ability to hear poetically,” he tells me. “William Blake mentioned that as well: to actually hear language at another level as if it had been alchemically brewed. It could be a common word, an arcane word, but the level is soaked by a certain kind of poetic energy, another level that escapes a measurement and can no longer be maintained quantitatively. Reality has a tremendous range; you just have to look at nature. Look at the lorikeets.” This skewed sense of reality is the root of the issue, according to Alexander, because life isn’t linear. His poems come to him in fragments and his poetry reflects that natural pattern. “This is the problem that we are in,” he asserts. “These old ideas and boundaries are starting to break down.”