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Body of Work

By Ben Grafe

David Keplinger

Photo of David Keplinger by Jake Adam York.

David Keplinger, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Literature Department and director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing, has released his new book of poems, The Most Natural Thing.

“[These poems were] a matter of experimenting in form, as a way to discover new subjects,” says Keplinger, who considers that one of the most important parts of writing poetry.

The process of discovery, or treading into parts of the self, is ultimately represented metaphorically in the book of poems through the themes of anatomy and translation. The collection grapples with the idea of how the human body has individual functioning parts that all work jointly together.

In the following poem, the jaw is the point in which the meditation rises:

The Jaw

You must hit to the jaw, my father says. I know his hands ache in their taping, and mine do, too. As a young man in a bar in Barcelona he was hit from behind with a bottle and fell into his attacker’s arms, who cut him in the face. We must hit to the jaw, he says, and when it’s my turn the bag is still swaying. He’s seventy three years old. He holds his hands in protection, up high. He’s filled with these crazy expressions: Hit to the jaw. Keep up your guard. Punch hard, once. Don’t think you have forever.

“I see each poem as a window into the self,” says Keplinger.

The poems are structured as prose, into paragraphs, inextricably linked to create a narrative, a way of sharing thoughts, memories, and even dreams.

“The form is helping me to revive parts of myself, to go imaginatively where I have never gone, or to places in memory I’ve forgotten,” Keplinger says.

In this way, he says, poetry is a means by which we can explore ourselves and our relationships with others and the outside world. And by doing so, he explains, “You are going to this place where you are less likely to go. You discover things that are deeper, that are coming from a more dangerous place, a more vulnerable place in you.” 

Much of the material ties into his older works and has no set theme. The poems are a compilation based upon experience, and so these poems, Keplinger says, “can take years to finish, even if at the end they are the size of a paragraph."

For Keplinger, the meaning of every word comes into play. “The reader brings meaning to the work through the ways in which words converse with other words.”

The Most Natural Thing will be published March 12 by New Issues Press. Keplinger is the author of three other works: The Rose Inside (Truman State), winner of the 1999 T. S. Elliot Prize; The Clearing (New Issues Press); and The Prayers of Others (New Issues Press).