‘On March 15th, poet Richard Siken—author of Crush and War of the Foxes, editor at Spork Press—had a stroke. The brain injury, as is often the case, left him agitated, fearful, and confused. He was unable to speak in complete sentences or move the right side of his body. He had trouble recognizing friends. He couldn’t track conversation. He does not remember most of the first few weeks.
For us, there were alternating days of hopefulness and deep concern, and often a pervasive sense of helplessness. None of us knew if Richard would be able to walk again, or navigate a wheelchair, or even get out of bed by himself. Although Richard is determined and optimistic about his recovery, he is reluctant to admit that he needs significant help. He is making great progress with cognition and language but cannot walk unassisted, he cannot drive, and he fatigues easily. He has difficulty dressing, preparing food, and performing simple chores. The return of feeling and movement in his right arm and leg comes with considerable pain and spasticity. We are working to find ways to support him, but it is difficult to know how extensive or long-term Richard’s needs will be.
Given the sudden change in his circumstances, we—as Richard’s publishers, community of friends, and extended family of writers and readers who’ve come to love his work over the years—need to rally financial support to help him through the coming months. Although we have set a goal of $10,000, his expenses will far exceed this amount, and any generosity is welcome and needed.
We do not know what level of independence Richard will achieve. At this time it is unclear if he will be able to work again or if he will need disability services and federal housing. It is, however, very clear that his insurance and his savings will not cover his basic needs for much longer.
As a community, coming together to support Richard’s financial needs is one way to help insure that he can live as healthfully as possible, and that his poetry continues to find its way into the world. We can all be friends to Richard and patrons of this brilliant poet’s career and legacy by helping him in this difficult and unexpected situation.’
When I first come across ‘Litany In Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out’, tucked away in some corner of the internet, I don’t know that it’s going to change my life. I don’t know that it’s going to make me feel like my heart is bursting out of my chest, like everything is real again.
But that’s what Richard Siken does to you.
You don’t read his poetry, you consume it—there is urgency and panic and flashes so vivid, they can almost bring a dead man back to life. There is a dreamlike feeling to it all, like you keep chasing something but every time you close your hand around it, it disappears.
Richard Siken is the reason I start reading poetry. He’s the reason I start writing poetry, the standard that anything I read or write has to live up to, but never does.
I order his books ‘Crush’ and ‘War of the Foxes’ off Amazon one night, and think of nothing else for the next five days, waiting impatiently for them to arrive.
‘Crush’—his first collection of poetry, published in 2005—is a book that tugs at every heartstring I have. When I first read it, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting from it— I don’t know if it’s a story, a series of experiences, lessons of a lifetime. All I know is that nothing else can make me feel alive like Richard Siken’s work does.
Surprisingly, it takes me a while to realize that Richard Siken’s works are inspired by a boy. In fact, it is not until I come across this particular excerpt, that I realize that Richard Siken is gay:
‘The blond boy in the red trunks is holding your head underwater because he is trying to kill you, and you deserve it, you do, and you know this, and you are ready to die in this swimming pool because you wanted to touch his hands and lips and this means your life is over anyway. You’re in eighth grade. You know these things. You know how to ride a dirt bike, and you know how to do long division, and you know that a boy who likes boys is a dead boy, unless he keeps his mouth shut, which is what you didn’t do, because you are weak and hollow and it doesn’t matter anymore.’
As someone who identifies as queer, realizing this makes me resonate with his work and appreciate it even more. In fact, he seems to have inspired and helped not just me, but hundreds of people around the world—people who are and aren’t a part of the LGBTQ+ Community.
I asked some strangers from all around the world to share how Richard Siken changed their life and how his work impacted them. Here are some of the answers I received:
‘Richard Siken is a poet I’m always reading. From his beautiful imagery to the way he breaks his lines Siken is one of the best poets writing today.’
-Laura Buccieri, Copper Canyon Press
‘Richard Siken’s work has been a rock for me through very intense change. His poems have spoken to the longing and desire I’ve felt in ways that have connected me to deep healing in my life. For a period of time, the line ‘Tell me we’ll never get used to it’ was my heart, keeping hold of me when I felt hopeless and alone. I needed to know that there could be something in the world that was worth never letting it become routine or background or unimportant. That I could be those things in myself. That the intensity with which life could be felt was worthy of the work it took to find it. I needed to hear this from a queer person, as a queer person myself. And he gave me that.’
‘His poems blow my mind, and he is a poet at a very high level. I translated his poems into Turkish because of how much I love them.’
-Onur Sakarya, Turkey
‘Even before I first read all of ‘Crush’, I knew a few quotes that resonated strongly with me, although I wasn’t sure why. And then I finally read the whole collection, around the time when I was in the midst of figuring out my own sexuality. And it suddenly all made sense. Suddenly every poem was like a personal gift, like a friend nodding their head sagely because yeah, they understand. I finally had words for feelings that up until then just seemed like a weird dream I shouldn’t tell anyone about.’
‘I first read Siken when I was about 15, and immediately fell in love with the depth of emotion and the power behind his words. More recently, I came out of a complicated relationship, and so many of his poems have impacted me more heavily now than they did before. The line from Snow and Dirty Rain—which has to be my favourite Siken poem—‘We were in the room where everyone finally gets what they want, so I said what do you want, sweetheart?’ is such a beautifully simplistic line that is so poignant to me because I saw my emotions and my feelings reflected before I even really realized that was what I was feeling. Siken’s work has helped me learn so much more about myself and my own feelings by holding a mirror up to things I didn’t realize I needed to be highlighted.’
‘Richard Siken’s words breathe life into the confusion. Without fully providing a remedy, he creates space in which that confusion can rest and find comfort. Siken has taught my mind how to cope with this psychological, romantic and at times, violent confusion, in order to move forward with greater ease amidst disorder.’
-Josiah Gunderson, USA
‘Richard Siken’s poetry has always left me feeling very confused and disoriented, like they are remnants of a dream; I felt a lot of emotions but I couldn’t specify what made me feel that way. ‘Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out’ is one of my favourite poems to read, the vibe it produces resonates in every stanza and his usage of metaphors and imagery is something I’ve tried to reciprocate in my poetry as well, but to no avail. I really, really love reading his poetry.’
-Sanjana Nair, India
‘Richard Siken’s poetry has gotten me through several moves around the state, a divorce and more. Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am.’
-Carly Siegle, USA
For me, personally, there is nothing that can make me feel more alive than Richard Siken’s poetry. Not only is he the reason I started writing and reading poetry, but also the reason I have any hope at all. Knowing that someday, I may be able to feel, in real life, as alive as I feel when I’m reading his poetry, is what gets me through a lot of things in life.
‘War of the Foxes’, his second collection of poetry, is drastically different from the first, trying to understand the world and how it works, raising questions about morals, beliefs, representation and politics. It still manages to be just as brilliant as his first collection, if not more.
About a year ago, a conversation through e-mail with Richard Siken about the meaning and purpose of his poetry, led to him telling me that he writes to evoke an experience, to create a space for people to feel something, which he does more successfully, I believe, than any other poet today.