Marking the beginning of Multiverse—a literary series from Milkweed Editions written and curated by the neurodivergent—Hannah Emerson's debut collection invites the reader to an encounter with the cosmic and to experience ecstasy in the everyday.
Emerson, a non-speaking, autistic writer, communicates a sublime personal cosmology in poems vibrating with an energy that derives, in part, from surprising repetitions ... Emerson’s work provokes ecological awareness through musings about animal consciousness, plant life, and the paradox of an individual psyche that might engage in an elemental dissolution into snow, sunlight, or mud ... [an] unforgettable collection[.]
As the inaugural book in a groundbreaking series, The Kissing of Kissing carries a heavy responsibility. It has to represent poets like Emerson and broaden readers’ notions of what poetry can be. It does all of this and also delivers well-crafted, exciting poetry ... In general, the repetition provides structure, both to the individual poems and to the collection as a whole. Words like 'freedom,' 'light,' 'kissing,' and 'hell' loop around again and again, as they might in a sestina or a ghazal, or in some free verse collections ... Since many of the words in her poems come from this stable of vocabulary, rarer words...spring from the text with fresh urgency. Emerson often writes in response to her own paintings, and this use of language reminded me of paint layered on a canvas, with these rarer words standing out like an orb of color in a Rousseauian jungle ... There are moments where the tone sounds slightly naïve, where words like 'soul' made me recall poetry workshop dictums, but overall, it’s as though her position, at a certain remove from typical society, allows her to consider more seriously life’s mysteries ... a brilliant new voice like Emerson’s should be celebrated. The Kissing of Kissing is a valuable addition to the world of poetry, both for what it can teach us about neurodiversity and about being human.
Hannah Emerson has exploded cultural assumptions about how we should write, how we should communicate, and what it means to be alive ... Emerson uses repetition like a weaver at a loom, knotting the same words (kiss, try, breath, life, yes, yes, yes, please) together over and over in dozens of bright, unique poetic patterns. The resulting collection is cohesive and startling. It is moving—as a beautiful song is moving, yes, but also as a river moves, rushing toward a waterfall ... The poems are guided meditations, of a sort, with Emerson drawing the reader out of their trance and into the real world, which to her is grander, vaster, and freer than we all might realize ... In the crowded landscape of modern poetics, which often conflate obfuscation with artistry, The Kissing of Kissing stands out, stark and radical in its directness ... Emerson plays the imperative voice like an instrument, shifting its tone from forceful to didactic to pleading, always delivering, always impelling the reader forward.