Catharsis & Poetry, Maxwell Knowles

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

"The experience of art cleanses the emotions; through it we touch the wildness of life, and its basic intractability." — Aaron Copeland

Greetings community,

Our leaf today will be in the form of three poems from our bud and a good friend of mine, Maxwell Knowles. He grew up in Los Angeles with an acting past in several commercials and I think I may be jealous of him as when I was growing up in LA, I also auditioned for some pieces to be on TV. 

He may have taken my spot in some of those commercials that were rightfully mine.

In my opinion, he is one of the strongest creative writers I have read in our age group in particular to word usage, structure and play - save, of course rappers that we have grown up around who typically develop their talents in their mid to late teens, and early twenties.

He has worked under two cutting edge professors at the peak of their careers, so I am excited for you to read what he has for you.

There is a brief introduction on who he is, three poems and an outro explaining what they mean...


I’m the third of four kids from a conservative Christian homeschool family and the second of three brothers to go to Claremont McKenna. Today, I’m still Christian, but not so conservative. I like to tell people I dig Adam Smith and then reference his Theory of Moral Sentiments, pretending like The Wealth of Nations doesn’t exist. My parents tell me that I didn’t talk for awhile growing up, and I struggled with reading and writing throughout elementary school. In high school I listened to Coldplay and Jon McLaughlin, wrote my own lyrics, and also picked up piano. 

My whole family has acted to some degree, varying from theatre to TV shows to independent film to TV commercials. I personally worked from my toddlerhood through early high school, mostly shooting commercials, with a few neat scenes in shows. My claim to fame is pretending to shoot a spit wad at William Shatner in Boston Legal (Red cap, 28 min, 35 sec - 29 min, 20 sec).

In college Henri Cole and Leland de la Durantaye inspired me to chase down poetry. The art form comforts me, as it is an attempt to bring order to ambiguity and mixed feelings. It has helped to keep me soft in tough times and has cultivated patience that has helped me with everything from tough conversations to competing in the javelin throw in track and field. It’s a humbling art form that I hope to practice for the rest of my life.

Below you’ll find three poems — an untitled poem I wrote driving home in a van last fall, a second titled lucid dream that I wrote last summer on a bus in San Leandro, and a third titled Night Walk from my first poetry seminar three years ago.


God is hiding

behind an opaque film

of false conceptions,

an idée fixe defined

by the transient 

as doctrine;

fact has endangered truth

and now only metaphor

can save it.

lucid dream

love is a lucid dream,

where you feel awake,

but are surprised it is so;

where you swear you act

by your own will,

superfluous to how

she’s stripped you

of your agency;

where you wish this

new place you’ve found 

would never end;

then you wake up.

Night Walk

I walk in the cool dark and


My breath shows against

a lonely lamppost 

exposing me

for creatures hidden.

They follow through thickets,

Counting my steps,

“One, two, three…


I feel my feet wet

in the clasp of dew

reflecting the lunar luster

of a late hour upon the grass.

In still presence,

I can’t

fall into fear.

Ignorance offers awe,

as the stars raise me

above the mortal doubts of time,



The first poem is my attempt to channel Wallace Stevens through my Christian lens. Stevens has become one of my favorite poets and thinkers, wrestling with projection and appreciating the role of metaphor. I would strongly recommend reading through his old notebook entries (please reach out if you want a short paper on that!). 

The second was a piece that I wrote independent of any heartbreak at the time, trying to capture the experience of losing your control to gain something so beautiful, only to lose it, with no ability to go back. The poem is structured with visually thin lines, something I love about Kay Ryan’s work. 

The last one is what I consider to be my first sound poem. I was creatively frustrated with the constraints of the class and my own inhibitions, so I did something new. I turned on Coldplay’s Ghost Stories album, coaxed my mind out of its conscious space and got completely enveloped in the process. It was neat. Regardless of how good the poem is, that experience was worthwhile and led to something I liked as a 19-year old, filled with space and consonance. Thank you for reading.

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