Review: The Kissing of Kissing by Hannah Emerson

The Kissing of Kissing by Hannah Emerson (Milkweed 2022)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which scientists recently captured on film for the first time. The author writes: “despite its ‘supermassive” designation, is not very large in the grand scheme of things.”

There is a black hole at the center of Hannah Emerson’s debut collection of poems, too. One that she keeps urging us to fall into. Among the flowers and wind and worms and (of course) kissing in Emerson’s The Kissing of Kissing, there is a swirling, looming nothingness. And with Emerson as our guide, we are encouraged to surrender to that nothingness. “Great great great lovely dirt,” she writes, “is great for you to get buried / in it if you dare to be with / the worms and mother yes.” And later: “Please try to go to the beautiful kissing / helpful great great great nothing.”

Yes, we want to kiss. We want to surrender. In her poems, Emerson creates an incantation of yeses: yes to moths, to song, to love, to death. It calls back to Nietzsche: “Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you have said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored…”

Or, as Emerson writes:


try to dive

down to the

beautiful muck

that helps you get

that the world was made

from the garbage at the bottom

of the universe…”

The Kissing of Kissing is a book about visceral, uninhibited joy – joy which looks death squarely in the face. It’s a book which is invested in the freedom and connectedness of all beings, and Emerson uses a unique and wild syntax to sing into that universal spirit. Ultimately, readers are asked to fall back into the great nothingness that connects all of us; to sit on the edge of void and gaze lovingly into the abyss. Because, as Emerson reminds us:

“Yes it is

lovely here

on the edge.

I want to go

to the edge


Buy this book

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