Interview with K. Iver

The following interview is part of an issue on poetic closure. Writers were asked to respond to W.B. Yeats’s, Robert Frost’s, or Marianne Boruch’s ideas about ending a poem, and to discuss poetic closure within their own work. All the interviews were conducted over email in the spring and summer of 2023.

The Editors: W.B. Yeats says, “The correction of prose, because it has no fixed laws, is endless, a poem comes right with a click like a closing box,”and Marianne Boruch says, “Closure must open, must give us back the world somehow.” These feel like contradictory statements, but we can see how both might resonate with a particular poem. How do you define or think about poetic closure?

K. Iver
K. Iver

K. Iver: I often remind students that writing is the one art form that does not make direct use of the senses; instead, it uses our memory of them. Language, when it’s not performed, cannot be sound, taste, touch, etc. By default, all words are metaphorical. Poetry offers what can feel like precision in describing a person, place, thing, emotion in a way that illuminates them, lets us re-see them. That transformation is, to me, where the openness is.

I’m thinking of Lyn Hejinian’s argument that poetry is either closed or open in “The Rejection of Closure.” Closed texts, according to her, yield a single interpretation. She cites the “coercive, epiphanic mode in some contemporary lyric poetry” as an example. She says, “However pleasurable its effects, closure is a fiction, one of the amenities that falsehood and fantasy provide.” The ideas you’re putting together complicate that argument. Aditi Machado has an expansive take in her essay “The End,” arguing for the value of the long, perhaps endless poem. She names the formulas of trendy poems and points to epiphanies as part of that formula. I have a weakness for the epiphany, but not necessarily as an end, and that’s one possible meeting at the threshold for Boruch and W.B. Yeats’ ideas. Biblically, the epiphany is delivered as a “shining forth.” When I think of illumination, I think of surprise, encountering an old thing as new. For me, that’s an open experience. An illumination arriving before the end of the poem is one example of refusing to finalize an ending. I think of Patrycja Humienik’s poem “Reading Szymborska at Friday Harbor” where the lines “How can I trust myself / when I am so seduced by beauty?” are placed almost right in the middle. It’s the opposite of a declarative statement—a question that I both identify with and want to keep chewing on.

Eds: Is there a specific poem that has given you insight into your understanding of poetic closure?

Iver: I think Vievee Francis’ “I’ve Been Thinking about Love Again” arrives at that threshold of the kind of closure and openness postulated in the quotes from Yeats and Boruch you provided. Francis makes a clear distinction between “Those who have it and / those who live to give it.” She metaphorizes those who have it “to give” as cardinals and also rabbits “[h]ard to see / except for those who would prey upon them: / all that softness and quaking and blood.” Those who “want it” are “eagle-eyed” and will take anything with fur. The last stanza—“I wander out into the winter. // I know what I am.”—delivers a certain “I” without revealing which animal the speaker is. Because of the poem’s direct syntax and accessible comparisons, because of its easy-to-see imagery so far, we expect to know more at the end. The added surprise of this last unknown leaves the reader hanging.

Eds: Consider one of your own poems that demonstrates how you applied this insight, or gave you a different or deeper understanding of poetic closure.

Iver: I’m hoping that the poem that closes my book, “Because You Can’t,” does what Boruch says, that it gives the reader back the world somehow. The speaker attempts to reach across time and physics, through the natural world and space, probably as a metaphor for the miracle of arriving at joy from despair, if for only a moment. In the poem, the death of the beloved is established as certain and so is movement of the “I,” sometimes in the same sentence. I hope that “opens the closure.”

Eds: Did you note a pattern among the poems in Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco and the manner in which they ended?

Iver: Oh absolutely. Well, I didn’t notice until the poet Steven Espada Dawson pointed it out to me when he was workshopping my manuscript. I ended several of the poems with at least one repeated word, such as “joy” in “Family of Origin Content Warning.” And some nouns and metaphors were repeated throughout the book, often to remind the reader of one moment of sweetness, as when the speaker and their beloved meet, because there’s a lot of pain the book is processing. I hadn’t realized, until answering this question, that in many of the poems’ endings, the speakers are reaching out from a fixed, unbearable place for one of possibility. Thank you for helping me see that!

Eds: Several of the poems, including the title poem, are prose poems. Does poetic closure function differently in a prose poem? Can you speak to poetic closure in “Nostalgia,” “Tupelo, MS,” “New Testament,” or one of your other prose poems? How did ending a prose poem differ from ending your lineated poems?

Iver: I love the prose poem! Contrast is one way to “open” a text, and Charles Simic talks about the form as one of contrast by default: “The prose poem is the result of two contradictory impulses, prose and poetry, and therefore cannot exist, but it does. This is the sole instance we have of squaring the circle.”

Then there’s James Tate’s idea of the prose poem as a “means of seduction”:

For one thing, the deceptively simple packaging: the paragraph. People generally do not run for cover when they are confronted with a paragraph or two. The paragraph says to them: I won’t take much of your time, and, if you don’t mind my saying so, I am not known to be arcane, obtuse, precious, or high-falutin’. Come on in.”

I use this idea for my own process, writing most of my drafts in paragraph form so that I don’t intimidate myself. I left the poems you mentioned in that form because it seemed like the pacing demanded it. I was hoping that they would make the reader think of some of our oldest narrative texts—theistic scripture and fairytales—consciously or unconsciously. James Tates’ poem “Good Time Jesus” is both shaped and “told” like a parable, and I tried to follow his example. Short Film’s subject matter—queerphobia, familial abuse, mental illness, suicide, grief, etc.—called for whatever measures I could take to tell the reader, “Come on in.” I really do want to invite the reader over, show them some tough wounds, and I want them to want to look. I didn’t want an overexposure to more fixed forms to get in the way of that.

Eds: Repetition is a powerful device for creating structure and evoking tension within Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco. And, repetition seems essential to the shifts within narrative and emotion within your poems. How does repetition influence how you end a poem?

KI: I try to use repetition in unexpected ways. Surprise returns always have a powerful impact on me as a reader. Gertrude Stein said, “A thing that seems to be exactly the same thing may seem to be a repetition but is it.” She goes on:

Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition. And really how can there be…Expressing any thing there can be no repetition because the essence of that expression is insistence, and if you insist you must each time use emphasis and if you use emphasis it is not possible while anybody is alive that they should use exactly the same emphasis.

During my workshops at Florida State, I made a breakthrough after being encouraged to write more “obsessively,” or in step with how my brain works. And my brain is genetically predisposed to surfacing repetitive thoughts and memories. Stein’s thoughts on repetition as simply emphasis have illuminated not just the machinery of poetry but what my brain is doing. A repetition can seem like a closed circle that I can endlessly loop. But I can meet emphasis with curiosity and appreciation, both in a text and in my own mind. Sometimes a repetitive thought is emphasizing that I simply need a nap and sometimes it’s emphasizing that there’s some spiritual work ahead and, likely, a poem to write.

Eds: Do you have any prompts and/or readings (poems or poets) that you would recommend to poets who are exploring closure?

KI: I talked earlier about chewing on a question. That’s a productive energy from which to write. I like to start with getting my brain in a meditative state and asking myself, “What are you most unwilling to feel?” The Hua TouBuddhist meditation, meant to focus the mind, is often delivered from masters to students in the form of a question. An old one, for example: “Who is dragging this corpse around?” That one sparks a lot more curiosity and bewilderment for me than the egoism of “Who am I?” that Western Enlightenment offered. My poetry got much stronger after I went through Hua Tou-focused retreats. My teacher, Guo Gu, who I thank in Short Film, often walked behind us while we stared at the wall, reminding us to never look away from the question, to keep our eyes on it like a cat watching a mouse’s hole in the wall. I think, at best, that’s the process of writing poetry.

If you’re stuck, it sometimes helps to come up with questions yourself and they’ll hopefully sprout more questions. Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine are both great at writing from curiosity and at chewing. Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, probably my favorite book, stays curious about a high-stakes subject. For that and many other reasons, I recommend it for people writing in all styles. This moment, for example:

Define loneliness?
It’s what we can’t do for each other.
What do we mean to each other?
What does a life mean?
Why are we here if not for each other?

In the book, which is ten inches long, these questions are left floating above and below a lot of white space. The effect, for me, is an unending one. I want to ask more questions with Rankine. Maybe because American loneliness and isolation seem unending at times, or because it’s worth our deep attention.


Francis, Vievee. “I’ve Been Thinking About Love Again.” Poetry Daily. May 20, 2022.

Lehman, David. Introduction, Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present. Scribner, 2003.

Machado, Aditi. The End. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020.

Rankine, Claudia. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Graywolf Press, 2004.

K. Iver

K. Iver (they/them) is a nonbinary trans poet born in Mississippi. Their book Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco won the 2022 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry from Milkweed Editions. Their poems have appeared in Boston Review, Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Iver has received fellowships from The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. They have a Ph.D. in Poetry from Florida State University. For more, visit