When I was in the final stages of editing Why We Live in the Dark Ages, a collection of poems about how we talk about science, history, and culture, Jeffrey Schultz, among other dear friends, had a look at the book.
When I was in the final stages of editing Why We Live in the Dark Ages, a collection of poems about how we talk about science, history, and culture, Jeffrey Schultz, among other dear friends, had a look at the book.
This poem used to have an epigraph: "Exploring the solar system as a united humanity will bring us all closer together."
This comes from the mission statement of Mars One, a non-profit foundation that aims to establish the first human colony on Mars by the mid-2020's. When I first became aware of the Mars One marketing campaign, my emotional response included incredulous wonder, to be sure, but also anger and fear.
For me, "writing" is mostly scowling at what'll be left on the threshing-room floor: failed attempts to smooth out the insurrection. It's not cathartic or even particularly pleasurable. When it's going well, the scraps are about to coalesce into comprehensible piles.
The appearance in print of the selected poems of Donald Britton is an affront to cynicism and a triumph over fate. When Donald died, in 1994, it was sadly reasonable to assume that the influence of his poetry would be confined to the few who had preserved a copy of his single book, the slender, deceptively titled Italy, published thirteen years earlier. As the few became fewer it seemed all but certain the audience for his poems would disappear.
Today before sitting down to write about the poems in Work & Days I was out in the garden, by which I mean basically the whole space around our house. We have tomatoes and kale and fennel and favas in garden boxes out front, artichokes on the sidewalk median strip, lemons, potatoes, rhubarb and figs in the back. It is California, says my husband. The landscape should be edible.
In this political climate, I've notice how easy it is to define oneself in opposition to another, and "Grown to Covet," dips into my ambivalence toward the relationship between politics and ego. I want to remain human in my politics, and not get lazy by taking on simple popular rhetoric or preconceived sets of beliefs.
A few years ago, my partner and I spent a month volunteering at Hospital San Carlos, a rural hospital in Chiapas, Mexico. A medical student at the time, my partner saw patients both in the hospital and in the indigenous communities in the surrounding jungle that were reachable only by foot. I spent my time helping Lupita, one of the elderly nuns who ran the hospital, write grants for new hospital beds, stethoscopes, ultrasound Dopplers, and other medical equipment.
This is one of my favorite Hai Zi poems. Its folkloric simplicity, startling imagery, its fine balance between mystery and clarity, emotional openness and restraint are among the qualities that compelled me to translate Hai Zi's work in the first place.
A year ago I fell in love with the poems of Peggy Freydberg and quite immediately afterwards, I fell in love with Peggy. Peggy was 106-years-old when I met her in the fall of 2014 on Martha's Vineyard.
SEPTIMA is interested in names, and she has changed her own a few times. At first, of course, a poem has no name—but when it finally acquires that object of language to signify an individual identity—that's when it really starts to become a poem. So for me, names and titles are an important part of the writing process: they help get to know a poem, a book, or a series, to let it grow into a real thing.
The African Poetry Book Fund is a project that seeks to undermine the easy ways of reducing Africa to notions that do not recognize the complexity and variety of experiences and practices that constitute poetry written by Africans. In many ways, it would be tempting to try to offer some definitive statement about what African poetry is, but this would be a silly thing to attempt, and, at the end of the day, such exercises belong to our colleagues in academia and not to us in our capacity as editors.
The 2014 mass kidnapping and murder of 43 teachers' college students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico brought renewed international attention to the ongoing precariousness of life under the country's dirty war, its "narco-politics." Sadly, many of us in the United States usually know very little about what's happening in other countries, even though our tax dollars are often directly connected. Money, the quiet fascia of state violences. How easy it can be to be gently seduced by USAmerican comfort and privilege.
As I mention in the author's note for Honest Engine, I wrote this book while wading through a torrent of bereavement that started with my grandmother's passing and ending with my college roommate being negligently run over by vehicles involved in a police chase.
When I was a young kid, I had to take a school physical. My mother came in with me, and the errand was supposed to be quick, but I refused to undress. The doctor and my mother didn't force me to do anything, but I remember them both asking me why I wasn't doing it, and what was wrong, and I remember not being able to answer
The title comes from teaching a poetry workshop at UC Berkeley during the Occupy movement. The class met late on Tuesday afternoons and its beginning coincided with the arrival of media helicopters circling and re-circling overhead, hosing the campus in spotlights to be televised on the nightly news.
1. I don't normally close read my skin.
2. My first impulse is to close read the poem.
This poem was written with some anger, during a time when all my poems were rebuttals to anticipated put-downs and critiques, especially the ones scaffolded by racism and misogyny. I was getting frustrated with my writing and my voice, feeling suffocated by an ingested, self-reproducing colonization in my bloodstream.
There are poems that answer questions, and there are poems that take you further into the question without any hope for an exit, an exhale, a reckoning. This is a poem without hope of finding its way out.
Born and raised in the Central Valley of California, I spent many sweltering summers picking vegetables with my parents; for years it had been one of the main sources of income for our family. We'd go to other people's farms (mostly relatives) and pick green beans or Thai chilies, hauling buckets and boxes from dawn to dusk.
I'm always drawn to contemplating extreme states—of being and mind—and the post-apocalyptic world offers instant access to extremity. For those of us on Earth who don't already know poverty, hunger and habitual discomfort, an apocalypse could mean a complete overthrow of the comfortable life we know now, one that reduces us to our most basic skills and instincts
"Ars Poetica: After a Dog" is a parable about sound. I imagine there are many readers who miss the primary prosodic constraint of this poem—the strict decasyllabic line. Let me come back to this.
I am forever mishearing and misreading surroundings, it's how I edit (others and myself), it's how I practice living and tell jokes and in this small suite I let the method be clearer, I showed my work. Humor is that tracking. Palimpsests are proof of that work.
"To Body What's Around Me" is a love poem with a problem: it does not clarify who the You of its address is. At moments it feels like a beloved other: "These are the days in which you come to me…"
During my stay in Antarctica, I met a woman who'd spent several years teaching Yup'ik children in Alaska. Joolee told me how baffling the Common Core curriculum had been for the elementary school kids: they had no reference point for a cow, a lawn mower, a grandfather clock.
This poem began as an ars poetica. A glorified play on words. I wanted to riff about words and how they haunt us in our sleep. Or, better yet, when a poem writes you. What is the responsibility of the both-eyes-wide-open poet? How do we access freedom in language in discussing topics many audiences would rather not hear about, such as racialized violence?
When I wrote this poem, I lived in a narrow house perched at the top of a hill in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. I was a newlywed, and it was an extraordinarily hopeful place to live.
The following essay is the Translator's Note from My Ogre Book, Shadow Theater, Midnight (Siglio, 2016) and is reprinted here with permission. You can read a selection of Broodthaers's poetry here.
The artist and poet Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) is the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 11 – May 15, 2016, the artist's first museum retrospective in New York. Coinciding with this retrospective Siglio press has recently published a stunning volume containing two of Broodthaers's books of poetry translated from the French by Elizabeth Zuba and Maria Gilissen Broodthaers.
Broodthaers's interest and writing of poetry began early in his late teens. He was deeply influenced by French Symbolists Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as the painter René Magritte, who gifted him a copy of Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés in 1945 and which Broodthaers would later transform into an artist's book that replaced the scored typographical text of the poem with black bars, further highlighting the junction of language and image. Over the course of his career, Broodthaers continued to fashion new forms of language through writing, sculpture, painting, printmaking and film.
"The things you think of to link are not in your own control. It's just who you are, bumping into the world. But how you link them is what shows the nature of your mind. Individuality resides in the way links are made." Anne Carson said this. I'm interested in the relationship between language and the mind. And so the mind's relationship to meaning.
This section is the turning point of Osip Mandelstam's long poem Voronezh Notebooks, the Continental Divide from which the waters of the poem descend, imperceptibly at first, but ineluctably, in opposed directions. On the one side a reflexive, desperate assertion of his old prerogatives as a poet, now impossible; on the other a sort of acceptance, and an eerie contemplation of the future.
"Mountain and River on the Kiso Road" is based on the woodblock print of the same name by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). The poem is from Swallows and Waves, which is comprised of sixty poems, each inspired by a different Japanese Edo-period artwork.
"Blaxploitation" begins with an episode of Taxicab Confessions. Visiting home from college, I caught this particular episode one sleepless night: two black gay men talking about fraught and humiliating sexual encounters they'd had with white men.
I have always been intrigued by ancient Greek cosmological views, in particular the apeiron. In a cosmic infinity, what exists at random and what survives by error? Is the idea of a cosmic infinity still relevant to a human sense of self—can it help us to confront our present-day violence?
Poetry is a losing context.
The shooting at my college was in 2007. I tried to write about it for years after in a subjective, direct way, and failed. In 2011 my workplace held a workshop—Active Shooting Training. Making notes, reminding myself how to survive, on a campus in a lecture room at a much different place and time, hearing the sort of matter of fact instruction that confronted a new gruesome reality was the only slant, cold, way I could approach the topic, so I just transcribed it. That language indicates more about the experience than any more direct attempts I had been making.
In April 2010, I write and exchange a daily poem with Adam Clay. Often the poems are quick and sent before the day's responsibilities; other days are fits and starts, culminating in an email sent minutes before midnight. Weeks are no luxury, nor the shaping of multiple drafts. April spills forward and poetry becomes a serious addiction.
I'm going to start outside this poem, outside the book it comes from, and begin with that book's cover. My oldest and best friend, the artist Stacy Jo Scott, had been doing these strange spectral line drawings for a year or so before I asked her if I could use one for M.
It was the time of the fiercest battles in Iraq, the early days of the forever war. All around us, there was a new language— "homeland," "Operation Iraqi Freedom," an argot of fear pouring out of television anchors and sometimes even our public intellectuals, turned overnight into macho men on death drive.
When I think of the soul, I think of furniture. The two occupy a similar place in life, so domestic as to be mostly ignored and thereby capable of seeming totally surprising and alien when looked at closely.
It's funny: now that I look at Honest James, and imagine myself back into the poems' different inceptions, I have trouble separating fact from fiction. Or: is it all fiction? Could I tell many plausible-sounding stories about the composition of each?
Edward Estlin Cummings was born into a family that celebrated poetry, and both his parents nurtured his artistic impulse from a young age. His mother, Rebecca, dreamed that her baby boy would grow up to become a poet, and she recorded his earliest attempts in a notebook titled "Estlin's Original Poems." In my new picture book biography of the poet, Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings(illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo), I included his first known poem, spoken at the age three.
The poems in my new collection It Shouldn't Have Been Beautiful share a common way of entering the world: most were struck into being by a charged phrase or moment, a zap of understanding—and the desire to leave the "I" behind as much as possible and to be on stage only very briefly.
This poem is about a bourgeois woman caught between two men: one, the uneducated mechanic she is having an affair with and the other, the educated father of her children. This poem is about a woman who wants to find a man who would make her feel anonymous, outside of her personal history, outside of her education, outside of her marriage and profession.
The following poems are the first two sections from Bolivian poet Jaime Saenz's 9-part 1967 long poem, El frío, as translated from the Spanish by Kit Schluter under the title of The Cold, and recently published by Poor Claudia. The subsequent prose excerpt is the final two paragraphs of Schluter's afterword to the translation, written in direct and intimate address of Saenz himself, over thresholds of distance, language, and mortality.
Jaime Saenz was born in 1921 in La Paz, Bolivia, the city where he was to spend his days until his passing in 1986. Poète Maudit in letters and life, Saenz was rumored to have stolen a limb from a corpse at the university morgue, and to have brought a panther home to his wife on their wedding day. It was around his now notorious, magical Krupp Workshops that a generation of young La Pazian poets burgeoned, and his body of work was the first Bolivian, and among the first Latin American, to openly explore bisexual experience. He lived nocturnally, excoriating the false divisions of body and language, debauchery and exaltation, and life and death in his many novels, plays and volumes of poetry, including El Escalpelo, Los papeles de Narciso Lima-Achá, and Muerte por el tacto.
I am a poet; I am a translator. It is something else entirely to be both of those things at once, which is why I initially (and forcefully) resisted translating poetry. When I look at my English-language version of "Mudras" from Carlos Pintado's wonderful book, Nine Coins, it's hard to see past the music of the original and the imperfections of my own.
The National Youth Poet Laureate initiative (YPL) is a program of Urban Word, an award-winning youth literary arts and youth development organization, that strives to elevate the voices of teens while promoting civic engagement and social justice. Through building visible and deep-seated partnerships with city agencies and government, the YPL program situates youth voices in spaces of power and attempts to equip young people with opportunities to creatively respond to the litany of social and political factors that impact their cities and their lives. To be recognized as a city or region's Youth Poet Laureate, young people undergo a comprehensive and rigorous application process that considers not only the artistic merit and subject matter of their writing, but also their commitment to servicing their communities in a number of extracurricular ways. The first and only of its kind in the nation, the NYPL program strives to provide a platform for youth to assume central roles in the cultural and political climates of their communities.
There is so much missing here. First, it might be important to tell you that this poem was once a novel. The novel is now missing, of course, and the missing novel begins with this missing quote by Hannah Arendt: "the freedom to call something into being, which did not exist before, which was not given, not even as an object of cognition or imagination, and which, therefore, strictly speaking, could not be known."
The plan is simple, as publishing plans go. Publish seven to ten chapbooks by African poets each year. Promote said chapbooks. In ten years there will be seventy to one hundred chapbooks by African poets that might not have existed before. Oh, and make sure the work is first-rate, representative, and new. This plan only works if there are seven to ten really gifted African poets who have not yet had a major publication.
I'm fascinated by the idea of "new old" and the consumerist mentality that underpins it, the belief that everything is disposable and replaceable, that anything old can be recreated. What about old growth forests? How shall we remake those? It will certainly require a great deal of planning, and that must begin with infrastructure.
When I first started thinking of what to write about this poem, attempting to formulate cogent thoughts—usually while jogging in the June heat—that would theorize and illuminate this poem of memory clots and digressions and non-sequiturs that, as the title poem of the book, promises to hold the major themes together, I became really stressed out. Like really stressed
I wrote this section in my final year of work on We Are Nothing and So Can You, around the time of the first wave of riots in Ferguson (August 2014). I was hugely inspired by the determination and consistency of the people out in the streets there. Whereas other popular eruptions in response to anti-black police murder would often dissipate after a few days, the people in Ferguson kept coming out, night after night, for weeks.
The word was first introduced to me in a workshop by the brilliant poet, Dawn Marie Knopf, and it means a spoken curse. It was irresistible as a conceit, but I didn't touch it for years. Imprecation. I grew up sealed shut, ashamed of my body, ashamed to speak. From imprecari, to invoke, call down upon.
"It is not sad, or I would laugh," writes Laura (Riding) Jackson in "It Is Not Sad," a poem that struck me with its will and clarity a couple of years before I wrote the one above. Looking back, I see why this line, in one broad stroke, moved me. I am subject to the swerve—when presenting something difficult or heavy—toward a kind of ecstatic resignation, toward laughter.
I love the elegance and music of ghazals and wanted the inventiveness of language that a ghazal's rhyme scheme demands. But not only do I suffer from the need to rebel against rules—even the ones I set for myself—I also found that the lilting rhythm of the ghazal was at loggerheads with my sense of indignation.
In the past, we traveled to unknown cities, loaded our cameras with a roll of film, smiled and said "cheese," hoping a set of 24 photographs would expose a beautiful journey. Time and time again, I returned home from such trips eager to see what images I had captured, and upon developing my photos was surprised to find I had taken significantly more pictures of unknown pieces of art from inside a museum than of the usual landmarks and landscapes.
This poem started when a friend challenged me to write something "elegant." On G-chat, I followed his suggestion with a "lol." Elegance is something my poems never aspire to. I write about disappointing one night stands, peeing on street corners at night, getting too drunk to hide how I feel. As a woman, I almost cringe at the idea of being elegant, weary from men on the street telling me to smile and averse to anything that insists I "behave" or be "lady-like."
I wrote "Fable" before Trickster had a title, even before the title poem was written. "Fable" was a crucial poem for me because it was a literal drama of double binds between art and nature that was resolved paradoxically.
The central concern of Rag is violence against women and girls as it surfaces in film, fairy tale, daily life, the news. Against that, I wanted to record intimacies of all kinds, but especially between children and parents and between friends, as a response, maybe an answer, to such threat.
The Murty Classical Library of India aims to make available the great literary works of India from the past two millennia. The series provides modern translations of classical works, many for the first time, across an array of Indian languages, including Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Pal Panjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
The poem—more dirge or chant—I composed less to conjure an encounter than to become rich with the echoes of its absence. What we do when we are helpless against our losing. The utter dread of loss. Our anxiety to circumvent grief simultaneously propelling us toward its void, as though we are concentrically orbiting that inevitable point of departure—so dense nothing we do can escape its pull.
The best way I can think of to write about writing, my writing, is to write about "Community," since I had a lot of trouble writing it / since it took me a lot longer to write than most of my poems / since I had never before, and have never since, written another poem in quite the same way.
In my new book, I explore the theme of migration in a multitude of ways, including its relation to colonial land takings, military enlistment, education, debt, tourism, memory, citizenship, food, and extinction. The poem above, however, looks at migration in relation to time zones and telephone calls.
The poems in Void and Compensation feel like rehearsals for and engagements with both loss and connection…I guess the two go hand-in-hand. The lyric, then, can serve to distill experience…it offers a chance to find compensation in singing, in finding a presence within our circumstances and our thinking and our feeling.
Blue Yodel is populated by the strange, the outcast, the bizarre, the different, the so-called "freaks" who live on the social outskirts. The Girl with Antlers is seen as an abomination of nature simply because she defies easy categorization. People fear the unknown and are often made uncomfortable when confronting someone who upsets their fixed definitions of personhood and notions of being in the world.
Once after a poetry reading, someone from the audience asked whether I am a person of faith. "Judging by your poems," he said, "you either hate God or you love God."
The poem is a derivation of Diane Di Prima's "Revolutionary Letter #19" ("if what you want is jobs / for everyone, you are still the enemy,/ you have not thought thru, clearly / what that means…"). It's the last poem written for the book. Red Epic tracks the world following on the global collapse of 2007, trying to grasp it both systemically and at the level of local textures of life.
I was once a little black girl writing poems, and one of the standard gifts for birthdays and holidays, from those relatives who wanted to encourage me in my literary pursuits, was a book of verse – Shakespeare sonnets or the more cherished Phillis Wheatley collection. At the time, hers was the name they knew. The first black published poet. She became my measure.
This poem like many poems was born from the zygotes of other poems. In Torrington, CT I had a room at the Yankee Peddler Inn. The room was ugly but the housekeeping made an effort to fold your toilet paper into a V every afternoon. Something about the tub made me uneasy. The whole place made me uneasy. The Inn was built in 1891, the original owner died in a room on the third floor. There were ghost rumors and I think the decor tried to play that up. I thought I'd get some writing done away from New York and I did.
At this moment when neuroscience is able to map so much of the brain's activity, what's interesting is that in spite of all that mapping, and countless theories spanning centuries, the construct of the self, both one's self-perception and how one behaves in any given situation, seems to defy understanding. Perhaps because it's not possible to tease apart all of the elements that contribute to it: genetics, education, history, nutrition, viruses, bacteria, the air one breathes, the enormity of culture—all of which morphs continuously over a lifetime.
I have learned so many times in my life that no one is beyond reproach. This was true at the 2010 Cave Canem Retreat where this poem was written, approximately a year after my father's death. After the first workshop, I was called out by friend and poet, Aricka Foreman, because I was avoiding "going there," or "going deep enough," or going to any other place that poets and poetry had taught me to seek when writing a poem.
"Third Standoff," which appears near the end of The Wynona Stone Poems, is the last of the "Standoffs" between various people in Wynona's life. First, she tries and fails to confront her boss, Lois; later a horde of Wynona's former lovers takes on her latest squeeze, the Channel 5 weatherman. But "Third Standoff" is unique in that it addresses Wynona directly.
Un Coup de Dés [A Roll of the Dice] has never before been designed and typeset properly. The closest version is the Michel Pierson & Ptyx limited French edition of 2002; this edition, however, slavishly attempts to match the last round of proofs for the never-materialized Vollard edition of 1897, which Mallarmé was correcting at the time of his death. In our edition I've done my best, in the design and setting of the original French version of the poem, to match the typography of those proofs but also improve their typographic infelicities; the result is basically what Mallarmé had approved and was actually seeing and working on, but with tightened and corrected typography.
Jennifer Tamayo's poetry is one of interruption, outspokenness, lawlessness. The first time that I encountered her work, was during a reading in Oakland. Tamayo was singing her own rendition of Rihanna, then talking about consumption disorders, then pouring a gallon of milk over her head and chest.
I had many reservations about joining OKCupid. Half of my brain thought: 1.) I'd say I'm arguably attractive, and therefore a little arrogant. Surely I'm above this meat gallery of human loneliness. 2.) When my friends find out that I'm on the site, won't they come up to me and say, "So, how does it feel to be both a customer and a piece of merchandise in the Goodwill of romantic love?"
Hustle by David Tomas Martinez is raw and unpretentious. This debut collection of poems speaks of the realities lived by so many young latin@s (such as myself) who have been waiting to see their lives more accurately portrayed. In Hustle, Martinez uses the summer of '94 as a backdrop to discuss the intersections of latinidad, masculinity, sex, love, family, violence, gang life, and more. This debut collection is a ray of California sun- it warms you, then it burns.
It's a strange thing to look back at DANCE. I have to do this reconstruction, this remembering—which I, personally, have always found difficult. I am not good at remembering why I did what I did or how it felt to me. How could I be? I'm a different person
The inspiration for this poem, "The White-haired Girl", grew out of my fascination with tales about wayward women. The poem is named after a Chinese opera and film based on real-life stories from the 1920s and 1930s—it's about a girl, Xi'er,who was forced into marriage with her father's vindictive landlord and flees her captor by escaping into the mountain.
I wanted to explore what an unconventional love looks like. To most of the outside world, this kind of love would seem abnormal. I worked within the freedom and constraint of the couplet form, going for the duality of thought within the speaker's mind.
I'd been thinking about mythology and archetypes. I'd been thinking about that Persephone's being carried off by Hades felt analogous to my experiences of being sexually violated as a child. The experience of being taken again and again into an Underworld.
It began in failure. Perhaps most poems do, but this was an especially staunch case: the lines went nowhere.
I suppose I needed to figure out just what they meant, or where they "went," but I was in no great position to know then. It had been an especially fraught winter. My mother, whose home was half a continent away, was sick and was suffering and had already suffered. My family was in disarray, and the relationship I had been kindling for two years had sagged to ash without an ember
Once upon an April, I forced myself to sit down and write the too late love poems for a few boys who came into my life brief, but grand seasons. I was thinking about the many loves that were never lovers—how intimacy and romance can occupy a room without taking hold of the body.
A letter to the poet and critic Thomas MacGreevy establishes the date of composition as early July 1936 (immediately after the completion of Murphy, which contains the phrase 'a slow cascando of pellucid yellows' in the penultimate paragraph of chapter 12), at which point Beckett seems to have thought of 'Cascando' as two poems (a follow-up letter twice refers to 'poems', and the two-poem idea gives extra foundation for the phrase 'saying again' at the head of the second section of the poem), sections one and two as published.
This poem is a contrapuntal, which means it can be read three different ways. Musically speaking, a contrapuntal imposes two or more distinct melodies upon each other simultaneously, and in doing so, creates a brand new harmonic relationship.
"Nectarines" really started when Melissa asked me if I'd write a poem for a track off Siamese Dream. She used to host this reading series called Polestar in the basement of Cake Shop, and the idea was you take a record like Doolittle or Super Fly and you assign each poet a track. Give them a little head start, maybe a month to write a poem that approaches their song in some way, and when everyone meets in the basement they read their poems in the same order as the track listing.
The first line of this poem, "Snow would have been breaking the drifts that day, on a mild mood," persisted in my mind long before I set down this poem to paper. It makes sense to me now that a poem that thinks about the tensions between the world outside us and the strange ones inside us would begin in an image of gesture and atmosphere.
When I was writing "Plaisir Minus +/-," I was thinking about meaning as a process of addition and subtraction—the isolation of a word that leads to a new fusion in a line or sentence or stanza. The way words are companions to each other. The way the word is companion to the mind. The way context infuses. Language as simultaneously remedy and refusal.
I thought love had failed me. Probably I had failed love. I was, as they say, going through a hard time. In attempt to restore myself, recreate myself, I looked to the poetry of the Elizabethans. I reread my Sidney & Spenser, my Donne & Marvell. Because isn't art supposed to assuage the crushing pain of existence? to save us? It did not help.
Being in an aftermath is difficult. One wants to argue with it. One wants to make it into an order. Being inside it is also difficult. One might be able to organize it but is there another way? One wants to bring something up. One wants to change it. One wants to exist. One wants to do one thing. To "rise above it." But there is no way to "rise above it." You are "in," not "above," and through this "within" you can determine, can "figure out" your way.
If I had a rock band, I might call it Haunted by Mothers or, maybe more aptly, Haunted by Babies. My poems can't seem to be rid of either one, even though I'm neither.
I imposed all that came after onto this.
The narrative accompaniment originally written to appear here bore no actual relationship to the poem's inception. The futility, the wherelessness, the overarching visuospatial dysgnosia of the poem, in conjunction with the task of tethering its construction to a particular temporal episode, convinced me that it had been written in the aftermath (or in the midst) of a series of traumas from which it took me nearly four years to emerge.
One of the interesting things about the poem--to me, anyway--is that it was semi-planned. Although I worked through many drafts, from the start I had a sense of what its structure would be and what I wanted it to contain. To be specific, I knew that I wanted to write a long poem in couplets that was organized around if/then statements. I love the mysterious causality that such statements can imply.
Several years ago I read Thomas MacEvilley's Structure of Ancient Thought. A book a friend gave me for Christmas. Not sure but think MacEvilley mentions there Hippocrates's "On Airs, Waters and Places." The title struck my ear, but got compressed. "Airs Waters Places." Eventually I did a "tracing" of it, a translation, sort of, all its simple, lovely pieces pared down, arranged with an occasional aside.
The poems are largely about love, and destroying the past experiences of love in order to arrive at a clean slate and a new hope to embrace love. It's baby clean love, it's baby no, I've never loved/been loved this way before. "The crescendo of love being arrival," we arrive at a clearer point of existence on the spectrum of our lives in order to love anew.
As some may recall, February 2013 was marked in Los Angeles by the "manhunt" for an ex-LAPD officer named Christopher Dorner. Dorner, unable to find justice for what he saw as his unfair dismissal from the force for filing an allegedly false report accusing another officer of brutality, had taken up arms against his erstwhile comrades and their kin.
I started the "Allerton in Winter" poems during the first semester of my MFA program and continued tinkering with them while taking Brenda Hillman's class on the Arcades Project. Walter Benjamin's unfinished work – an assemblage of aphoristic observations and quotations – would irrevocably shape my writing and thought.
How do we approach the seemingly unspeakable through language? As a writer, there are things that are easier for me to write about, and feelings or experiences that are so difficult to articulate that they become long stretches of silence.
I didn't think prank at first. I didn't really think anything beyond the image—a baby grand piano resting on a sandbar in Biscayne Bay. Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Harrington said it wasn't a prank. He said it was "more of a movement." I thought then, on January 25, 2011, youth. I thought of being fearless and reckless and so full of ideas.
Translating these poems is an act of archaeology. I work with co-translators, unearthing with raw strikes of the shovel until I can see the lines of the poem and switch to gentle brushes. When I first saw the shape of this poem, the shape of its idea, my mind began to echo with its nothingness.
Troy, Michigan is a collection of sonnets inspired by the city map of my hometown—I wanted to represent the rectangle shapes repeated throughout of the city plan. I chose the sonnet form because younger writers often use it when they attempt to become a poet. Even though I no longer qualify as a younger poet, this book was also about bringing to life a version of myself from the past to try to make sense of the landscape that had shaped my understanding of both safety and danger.
"Continuous Acts" comes near the end of O, Heart a verse-drama rooted in the utterance of an omniscient or all knowing narrator, never named, who speaks on behalf of the woman, the main character in the book. All of the poems posit and argue the main questions in the piece, i.e. what comprises what we call the human heart, how can we know our "heart's truths," and how the answers to those questions by women and men provide differences in kind historically to the question of sincerity. The main "drama" is the dialogue—between what we call the humanities and what we call science, and the inconclusive answers provided from both disciplines.
I started writing this poem on a Columbus Day. At the time, I was working for the federal government as a contractor. I had the day off because Columbus Day is a federal holiday and our building was closed, but I didn't get paid because the contractor did not recognize that holiday. It's a screwed up situation.
"The City State" is something of an homage to Guy Davenport. In "The Trees at Lystra," the opening story in his collection, Eclogues, Davenport recasts from a Greek adolescent's perspective the New Testament story in the Book of Acts in which Paul and his companion come portentously to the lively village to inveigh against polytheism and are mistaken ironically for Zeus and Hermes.
The poem is what I call a "transliteration" —a meaningful sound-alike—of William Blake's classic poem, "The Tyger." I was in the middle of writing Who Said, my third book of poems, which is full of poems in direct conversation with an iconic poem. Many of them are also transliterations, or are other kinds of odd translations.
Aside from this poem having the most boring title ever, I've grown increasingly fond of this quiet, formally simple poem after sharing it aloud at recent poetry readings.
This was written in Brooklyn in 1996 and 1997, shortly after getting my MFA from Columbia. As it took shape, I was seeking some kind of employment; teaching jobs were impossible to come by and I eventually took a position as an administrator for a financial services company on Water Street, very close to the bottommost point on the island of Manhattan. I had a small portrait of T.S. Eliot smoking a cigarette on my desk, framed in mauve, taken when he was with Lloyds Bank and doing the most important writing of his life. A lot of the brokers thought this 80 year old photograph was actually me, or my father. My boss hired me at first because he thought I had an MBA from Columbia.
I don't think that I will ever get over the feeling of looking out the window of a flying airplane. It isn't so much that it's shocking—which of course it is, if you think about it. It's that it's so interesting. Part ant colony, part lit-up window of a stranger's house, the earth, arrayed and displayed 30,000 feet below, scintillates. It rivets.
In many ways, my collection Easy Math is about how hard basic communication can be, and this poem, the first in the book, examines that idea. It also examines the absurdity of our daily lives, the excitement that we can reap from the weirdest cultural prizes (Three strikes! Turkey!), and the disconnect between what we are living and what we are feeling.
"Rainy Afternoons of the Soul" is a poem that surprised me. After my previous books, featuring poems that included everything (even one kitchen sink), I'd been trying to write shorter, slightly more focused if still meditative, poems. However, what I'd come up with—poems I thought of as "single-gestured," most of which were under fifteen lines long—seemed too tidy, at best, and in any case unsatisfying.
Liu Xia (b. 1961) is a Chinese poet and artist, born and raised in Beijing. She worked as an editor and then a civil servant for the Beijing tax bureau until she quit the job in 1992. Liu Xia started writing poetry in 1982 and has continued to this day.
As wife of the imprisoned Noble Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (b. 1955), some of Liu Xia's work needs to be read from the context of the political situation in China and her personal experiences. She met Liu Xiaobo in the 1980s at a literary gathering and married him when he was imprisoned in 1996 (so that she could visit him in prison legally as she explained). Liu Xiaobo was first put in jail from June 1989 to January 1991 due to his involvement with the June 4th student movement. He was detained without trial from May 1995 to February 1996, then sentenced to three-year imprisonment from October 1996 to October 1999, and finally given an eleven-year term in December 2008. Liu Xia herself has been under house arrest since 2010.
Probably "Single page drawing" began in 2005, when an acquaintance introduced me to Cy Twombly's paintings and prints. That introduction marked a shift in my ability to identify things as language, and in my tendency to think of language as something to be seen as much as read, to be felt as much as known—to be felt as a way of knowing. Not that I began writing the poem then. But every time since then when I have stood in a room with Cy Twombly's work, I have felt two impulses: to largeness and to inclusion.
I began to draft this poem when I lived in New York, after one of many times someone stopped me and asked for directions.
The draft began as a conversation between me and an "offstage" character. Almost a monologue, but not quite. What drove me to the page is that I felt helplessly pleasant when asked for assistance. The sensation was awful on some level. I look like a nice, unthreatening person. And I am. Yet something about that is slightly intolerable. I kept writing to try to understand why. It has to do with power—power is at play in this poem. I am far from being a power-hungry person, but where is the line between helpfulness and manipulation? That question seemed the burning center of the writing.
For "poems" read, too, insurrections, from insurgere, "rise up." The word "Foxconn" was once the word "morning."
In the meantime I returned again and again, on my then-girlfriend's yoga mat I wasn't using for yoga, to images of the webbed netting to stop suicide at Foxconn. At the same time I learned gray foxes sleep in trees, in dens as much as 30 feet from the ground. I remembered hearing at 16 Beaver of treehouses connected by netting, occupied through the summer of 2011 in Puerta del Sol.
I wrote most of For Another Writing Back during the first year of my son's life. Motherhood created an urgent narrative situation in me: I had to write about my life. I wrote fast—it felt fast—and under the ardent sign of motherhood I chased subjects I'd glossed or abstracted or left out of previous poems. My sentence was the sizzling rope connected to the stick of dynamite under the door in a cartoon—out of time, out of time. Write it! detonating in my ear during my son's naps.
My dad is not a poetry reader. He reads nonfiction mostly. He's a Timothy Egan and Malcolm Gladwell fan, to name two. But when he came for a visit to Tucson this month, right after my new book, The Courier's Archive & Hymnal, had come out, he read it one morning before I awoke.
When I was an adolescent, I wanted to become a ballerina. I practiced with more dedication than I knew I possessed. Some nights I dream I can still dance the way I could at my best.
"Self- Portrait in the Body of a Whale" is telling the truth only in the first line, the rest is imagination. I did "come upon the body of a whale" on a trip to Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island in the middle of winter. There is nothing I love more than an island in winter. It is the only time you can have a whole beach to yourself. To me it is heaven. I grew up on an island, so perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about this.
I got obsessed with China. I used to live in Beijing, population 21 million. When I arrived I didn't speak Chinese, didn't understand it, and the city was alarmingly, indigestibly verbal. If not for a small group of expats who welcomed me into their world and gave me some sense of regularity I wouldn't have lasted long.
I work at a big state university: cement parking structures, orange construction mesh, scuffed stairwells that lead to halls where the clocks tell different times. Near campus there's a bubble tea place run by a friendly Asian couple. One day someone taped a piece of college-ruled paper to the wall with the question, "How Do You Feel?" written in ballpoint pen across the top.
When I think of this poem, I think of Math. I mean "Math uab Mathonwy," the fourth branch of the collection of Middle Welsh prose stories known as the Mabinogion. I wrote this poem after reading it.
I wrote "[taking away taking everything away]" in response to an assignment I gave my graduate students at NYU. I was teaching a course I called "Terms of Engagement." In this workshop the students wrote new poems every week in response to various modes of engagement including: ekphrastic, kinetic, narrative, collaborative, textual, hypnopoetic, historical, social, political. The first mode we considered was ekphrastic.
This poem is one of three in The Cloud That Contained the Lightning that share the title "Hibakusha," which is a Japanese word translating to explosion-affected people. It is used in Japan to refer to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I began this series of poems later into my writing of this collection, which centers around J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb.
A translation, whatever else it might be, is an attempt to recreate an experience. The tricky question is, whose experience? The German of Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies would have sounded very different to one of his contemporaries than it does to a modern German's ear, just as we recognize, say, Keats's language as being from an earlier period. Do you try to make Rilke sound slightly archaic to reproduce the experience that a modern German might have of the original, or do you try to find an equivalent for the experience that a German-speaking contemporary of Rilke might have had?
I wrote "The Descent of Man" after a long layoff from writing—or, to be more accurate, from trying to write, which is largely what I do. Poems written after a long layoff in my case usually turn out baroque, or more baroque than ones that are the result of working habitually. Not writing can be writing, too, but if it isn't the internal pressure that builds up in a real layoff, the fancy ideas that come from reading too much, and the overreaching resulting from all the built-up energies spilling over can create artifacts that are supersaturated, conceptually overdetermined.
We undertook this translation because we feel that interest in Mallarmé, among younger poets in particular, is dead. Our primary aim was to create translations that sound like his poems—that bring his music into harmony with the 21st century.
My childhood was built atop an apple orchard. Or rather, my childhood home was constructed on what used to be a former orchard. A single crab apple tree in our backyard remains. My friend Katie and I (both of us six years old) were digging in the backyard when we discovered a buried trash heap that must have been quite old.
I wrote the first draft of this poem in a third floor studio apartment in Mexico City. An aging architect owned the building, and his office stood adjacent to the three-story home, an office comprised of glass. His own Philip Johnson's glass house.
This poem contains one of my favorite ways to think and talk about poetry: "a game called all of this is hypothetical."
It also happens to be the very first poem in my first book You Are Not Dead—first firsts seem particularly pleasurable. In the summer of 2011, when I wrote this poem, I had moved across the country to Western Massachusetts for poetry school. Living in the midst of relentless new was both overwhelming and productive—I'd never before so consciously watched other people, inhabiting all manner of physical space, for seemingly no reason at all.
My friend was at work when a visitor to the building began to cough up blood. Medical help came quickly with no heroic measures needed, but the whole situation prompted a what if conversation among my friend's colleagues about deficiencies in their office emergency kit, which failed to contain a particular kind of transparent mask.
Usually it goes like this: Able-bodied poet evokes disabled veteran, or friend in some accident/illness, or figurative language thereof. We recognize these poems and we feel bad. We have been reading these poems since the Bible. It has gotten a little ridiculous, lately, with poems that use amputation as metaphor for Fragmentation or the Dead Father or Pick-Your-Sadness.
"On Dissonance" is a sequence of prose poems from the second section of my second book, Equivalents, the title of which I borrowed from a series of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz. His Equivalents—all several hundred of them shot between 1922 and 1935—are wallet-sized, black-and-white silver gelatin prints of the sky that are now considered the first abstract photography.
At readings, I usually introduce this poem as 'my love letter to New York City.' And while there's certainly a vein of sarcasm that runs through that comment, there is also a real earnestness that drives the poem. I think both represent the broad catalogue of emotions one can tangle with during a simple stroll in New York City on any given afternoon.
My mother died on Easter morning of 2007 when I was 22-years-old. Just weeks prior to this event, I'd been accepted to Saint Mary's MFA program in poetry. I spent the summer in Omaha, Nebraska cleaning out our family's house, which felt like closing a wound that kept reopening. Many nights I'd end up sitting on a closet floor reading her books, trying on her jewelry, or just living in the smell her clothes. Ultimately, I ended up donating almost everything.
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro is the pseudonym of José Alfredo Zendejas Pineda, the poet immortalized as Ulises Lima in Roberto Bolaño's novel The Savage Detectives. Born in Mexico City in 1953, Santiago came of age during a period of acute political repression, artistic censorship, and violations of academic autonomy that culminated in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, in which hundreds of student protesters and bystanders were killed and injured, and over a thousand were arrested. The literary society Santiago encountered when he began writing poems in 1974 was stultifying and conservative. Turning for inspiration to Surrealism, Stridentism, the Beats, and Latin American avant-gardes such as the Peruvian group, Zero Hour, Santiago and a handful of friends—among them Bolaño—founded the revolutionary poetry movement, Infrarrealism.
All of the poems in the I Live Here Now section of Aphoria (which first appeared as a chapbook from Lame House Press) are untitled and appear with only a symbol of ( ) at the beginning of each poem. They appear this way because they are all a part of a quasi-linear thought process, or thought movement, with a focused concern on physical and emotional orientation, the way the body and mind moves through the world and how it relates (or doesn't) to its surrounding.
"They used to call him 'Blood and Guts Al,'" my father says about the newscaster who haunted my Cincinnati childhood, Al Schottelkotte. We're in my parents' living room, the day after my poetry reading at the University of Cincinnati. My father tells me this bit of information, though, after my first book, Hemming the Water, has been published, after my mother asks why I wrote this poem.
The same poem can serve several purposes. At my most single-minded, I began to understand this, against my will, in the years after my mother left the earth on May 22nd, 2008. For a time (and I'm not sure whether this time has actually ended, or will ever end) everything that felt like poetry also naturally resembled mourning.
"We Laid It Down. We Got Tired." was my attempt to be Rodeferian. Written long hand in a Xanax-and-alcohol stupor on a plane that seemed to be slowly crashing toward Memphis.
This poem began with its title, which emerged for me in the last few moments of a dream. The whole sentence surfaced at once, like a seashell revealed at low tide. My dream, as I remember, was an anxious one. I had to assemble an object composed of tiny, elaborate parts—screws and gaskets, a loose pile of flat washers that, maliciously, began to disappear when I grasped them.
I think that this might be the best place to say that I got a 5 on my American History AP test. Sometimes I think about sending WALKING ACROSS A FIELD WE ARE FOCUSED ON AT THIS TIME NOW to my high school history teachers—but I don't know if they would like it.
Had you driven over the bridge that night, you would not have seen the body in the bed. You would have seen the lighthouse. You may have seen the beacon flash. You may have, because it was late, seen the lighthouse as more of a shadow than a white, peaked structure. It would have been surrounded by snow.
Like Auden, I believe a poem should be more interesting than anything that might be said about it.
Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight champion, was one of the greatest mythmakers of the early 20th century. His skill in the ring and personality out of it were so outsized that almost anything he claimed seemed possible. When he said he hoboed from Galveston to New York City alone at age 12, everyone believed him. When he said he fought a 25-foot shark with nothing but his fists, no one questioned it.
The nuts that make up this poem were what I wrote on postcards to my friend the poet Genine Lentine. She was living at the San Francisco Zen Center, which has its sister temple, Tassajara, in Carmel Valley, CA, where I was going to live for the summer of 2010.
For a few years, I've been writing poems in which I use the natural environment as a force field and I try to receive frequencies, intuitions, from natural beauty to fuel and form a poem, in the same way radio waves and microwaves and light waves in the atmosphere carry content and meaning.
"After All These Years You Know They Were Wrong about the Sadness of Men Who Love Men" was written after a weekend in Palm Springs with my friend Matt. He lives in Los Angeles and invited me to join him and a group of his friends, most of whom I didn't know, to celebrate his birthday.
Comedians do more than make us laugh; they woo crowds into the world of a joke. With facial tics and anaphora and alligator shoes, they often sit us down in neighborhoods we distrust or are not privy to. They make us feel safe, activate the car alarm then crowbar the window for the knock off satchel sunning in the passenger seat.
This poem is the postscript to the 70-page title piece from my book The Year of the Rooster, which I spent most of a year or two writing, wrestling with the artifice of character. I was trying to figure out who this Roo was and why s/he kept bothering me, cutting a furrow at the outer-most edge of my thoughts by pacing back and forth there, exactly along the newly-forged neural pathway from too much thinking about Alice Notley's wonderfully vitriolic, fearless, mammoth, and terrific Disobedience.
As a teenager, yearning to leave my small hometown in the South and hungry for literature, I managed to get myself to New York City's Upper West Side. Without any money, lonely and out of my depth, whatever that could have been, I spent most of my time digging around for books of poetry to read in the dark innards of Columbia University's Butler Library. I'd studied Spanish in high school, and was on the prowl. Well, in no time, I found poems by Miguel Hernández.
Much of the work in my book, The Youngest Butcher in Illinois, was driven by a need to make sense of things from my life and, more specifically, family history. This poem is one of the oldest in the collection (I wrote it seven years ago). I included it because I thought it set up some of the book's concerns, and as such, it feels like the grandparent to others.
Inception: I found myself writing "The Contagious Knives" in a fury of contagion; a corrosive tide of rage and frustration at the state of the world, its steady state of exploitation, coercion, misery, metals, charisma. Everything comes out in the river, as Steve Jobs, now dead, said at TED: first time as industrial waste, second time as carcinogen. This is why the language of this play (as in life!) is itself toxic, tidal, runs headlong in riptides, loops in eddies, and piles up in scurfy little pools, reversing and resaying itself in the space of a single line or run of lines, rising in little violent crests.
As a poet I've become increasingly interested in sound: how it works on the surface of a poem to disturb the image reservoirs below it, how morphemes and phonemes carry semantics, how slight disruptions in each bend meaning, in clang association and oneirologic. I've become more and more involved in music, blues in particular, over the past several years, so I think that informs my poetry.
When I was in high school men started hitting on me and I wasn't sure what to do. Most of my life I'd been trying to be a less assertive presence in the world (the general opinion of my elders and peers was that I needed to exercise humility, be less bossy, be less of a know-it-all, start fewer fights). I wanted to be a good daughter/ sister/ Sunday school student/ girl-scout/ slumber party guest and I suffered embarrassment and even grief whenever anyone indicated to me that I'd been, for example, a combative goody-goody attention-hog.
"Hand-Me-Down Halloween" was almost the title poem of my first book. It has no epigraph, but if it did, it would have one of the following:
Some research recently revealed that it is not too much information that is stressful or overwhelming, it's too much information that seems to be meaningful. For example a walk in the woods is full of enormous input: animal sounds, plant and dirt smells, textures, air moving, piles upon piles of elaborate visual details, and yet a walk in the woods is considered relaxing.
"My syntax shift" is both at the heart of Desiring Map and an outlier in the book. It is the only poem that uses the sentence as unit of composition, hence its title—so, in that way it certainly works within a different cadence, a different logic from the other poems. The poem also marks a shift in the book—away from the dreamy renderings of place in the sequence that it concludes and into the more concrete spatiality of the Kansas plains.
The truth is I had gotten obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Why are these considered girls' books? People are building log cabins! They're digging wells! They're getting chased by panthers and dying of starvation and eating the curliest part of the pig, the tail! They're sucking horehound, the most lawless candy! Territories are declaring statehood. People are waking up in the Dakotas at last.
I don't remember exactly how I wrote this poem. I remember that it occurred quickly and required only a little revision. It is my personal favorite poem in a collection I wrote calledHider Roser, but I'm not sure why. I like reading it aloud and always include it in my set list when reading to an audience.
After I'd written "Flemish," I realized that it contained many unresolved and insoluble puzzles, and that was fine with me. Belgium, Flanders, Benelux, Low Country—so many words associated with this tiny and stunningly gifted land. It speaks Dutch, French, German, and its own dialects.
May Be! was conceived of while I was in the throes of a poetic-critical double bind as the Occupy movement was surging in the Fall of 2011. At the outset of that momentous event, the first "bind" / subjective impulse I had to confront was the go! go! go! of the immediate moment.
Dutch is not my mother tongue, but it is my mother's tongue. Though my brother and I were not raised bilingually, we've heard it all our lives. The sound of the language first and always precedes its meanings to me (Frost's "the sound of sense"). In the past two years, I have been studying a small group of Dutch poets and writers, mostly reading them aloud. It's not a proper study, and the list is eclectic, guided by other people's bookshelves.
I'm disappointed when writers, in discussing their work, interpret it for their readership. This seems a violation of the literary contract between author and reader. That in mind, here I'll lay bare the ideas that undergird "Violet for Your Furs" without doing you the disservice of deciphering individual images. Cataloguing these ideas will require some name-dropping. Bear with and forgive me.
Many poems in my book The Frame Called Ruin (New Issues, 2012) investigate the intersection of beauty and destruction, of creation and devastation. "Blur" was inspired by the four people who died on January 29, 2007 when a suicide bomber blew up a bakery in Eilat, Israel.
Here are the first twenty strophes of our translation of Aimé Césaire's 1939 Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. This 725 line poem is a work of immense cultural significance and beauty. To date commentary on it has focused on its Cold War and anticolonialist rhetoric, material that Césaire only added to the revised 1956 text which turns out to be the fourth, and until now, primarily known version of the work.
When I was finishing up my book, my editor suggested I write a few new poems for the final section, poems that would perhaps move closer toward the idea of hope that sits in the book's title. This is one of three poems I wrote in that frenzied couple of weeks (I've never written so quickly in my life!) and, like most of my poems, I don't really know how it came to move from my head to the page to making any kind of sense.
When I was young, the penis crop was plentiful. Every year, a bountiful harvest. Then came hot flashes, mood swings, sleeplessness, and a long—very long—penis famine. Thus the first two sentences, which floated into my head one day. I remember being immediately pleased with my simile.
I began Partially Kept in dialogue with the great 17th century essayist, Sir Thomas Browne while reading The Garden of Cyrus. My career-long practice has been to link my own writing to the writing of others and often to those I have taught (Shakespeare for Why/Why Not, W.G. Sebald forVertigo), so that intellectual inquiry and creative inquiry inform one another, so that I find myself in the magnetic field of someone else's range and diction, so that I am moved out beyond mere self-reflection.
I should say, first, that this "The landscape" poem is one of a series of eight all titled "The landscape." In this series, and in the other series in In the ice house, the everywhere and the nowhere—the everything and the nothing—are prominent features, which for me presents an interesting problem in writing poetry. We are often told to avoid general or vague language in poems, the "heart" that is always about to become a clichéd symbol of love.
I began work on "The Maud Poems" several years before my mother died. I wasn't interested in autobiography but I wasinterested in my mother's particular vernacular and vocal imprint. She was an older mother for the time, she'd grown up in Topeka, Kansas, after the first world war; her father had left, her mother Olive ran a boarding house, and her uncle Meldrum owned a funeral parlor
This earlier version of the poem had the same basic stanzaic shape, action, and deployment of images as "Mappa Mundi" does now but its tempo and temperament were much different: the imagination was less musical and there was far less torque between what was being seen, felt and spoken.
Writing about Mary Jo Bang's new translation of Dante's Inferno (Graywolf Press, 2012) in Vanity Fair, Elissa Schappell declares, "readers who once considered Dante's terza rima rhyme scheme and allusions to 14th-century Florentine politics as their own circle of pain will find Bang's free-verse approach, wit, and poetic pyrotechnics heavenly."
Below we present Bang's translation of the first Canto, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher (all of which can be enlarged with a click). The book party will be Friday, September 7, at 7:30 PM, at A Public Space (323 Dean Street, Brooklyn).
This poem originally stood on its own under the title "Collapse." It was one of the first pieces I wrote in what became the title series of my book. I was intent on writing seriously about death. The Iraq war was just beginning and was very much on my mind. I was thinking about my own lack of power and courage in that context.
It's funny how poems tend to get generated in my mind. They never begin with what, in my teaching days, students called "ideas." Rather, they begin with some sensory recall, more often than not auditory. This can be the sound, say, of a certain woodpecker on a very still spring morning; a snatch from an old Monk tune; or, as in this case, a small chunk of conversation that has lodged itself in mind, whether or not I knew it had.
"De Forest Station" is a poem from my collection, Meat Heart, that explores learning to live somewhat peacefully in the body through the help of a map. The map is channeled by other people's voices. Once you have the map you get to keep it, but only if you share it with others.
When I was younger I was really into horror movies. Back then I read a lot of articles in Fangoria in order to find different horror movies to seek out, and there was a write up about a rerelease of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. I found it at this local hole in the wall video store (Video Village, long since closed) where tapes were fifty cents to rent for five days.
Mostly, for me, writing is a feral act. Mostly I am consumed by a hunch, irritated, harassed or made uncomfortable by something I can only clumsily accuse. I approach images and words as though they are a criminal or maybe just a far-flung snarl, and maybe that snarl is coming from me—I don't always know, though mostly I am the only one in the room.
Xi Chuan (pronounced Sshee Chwahn, not to be confused with Sichuan, the province), one of contemporary China's most celebrated poets, was born in Jiangsu in 1963 with the name Liu Jun, which means "army," reflecting the ethos of the era.
"Northern Baroque" emerged out of my thinking about visual art, and wondering how certain highly formal still lifes achieve their potency, their sense of urgency and intimacy. I also actually did have a vase of flowers before me when I wrote the first draft, and I couldn't tell if the flowers were dead or alive—but there they were, nonetheless, upright.
Now approaching ninety, Yves Bonnefoy is often acclaimed as France's greatest contemporary author. In selecting and translating the pieces for Second Simplicity, an anthology of his recent verse and poetic prose, I have been profoundly impressed by his enduring freshness of vision, his unabated will to set out anew.
For a number of years—and I suppose still—I've felt somewhat helplessly concerned with the figure of the Greek Chorus. I'd written a number of poems revolving around the Chorus before this one: a sonnet once, and another poem based on Eurpides's Herakles.
I almost never write a poem with a sense of what it will be about. I don't use preexisting forms (traditional or otherwise), writing exercises, or poetic formal devices to generate material. At this point in my writing life, I do tend to think about a whole manuscript while I'm composing individual poems, so I might begin a poem in relation to a manuscript with the thought that it should be a longer poem, or a shorter one, or perhaps lighter in tone, or maybe more fierce. But overall, I prefer to keep the parameters loose.
The world of this poem grew from a simple wish to play on the word "felt." I like the fact that the word houses both the material and the act of feeling (or the act of having felt). Also, at the time I wrote the poem, I was very interested in Joseph Beuys's work and was learning about his symbolic interest in materials like felt and wax.
"Bliss Street" was written in and about Beirut, where I lived for about a year, in faculty housing of the American University. My husband was teaching law, and I was tending to our two young sons. My first-grader was in the American school, which abuts the university campus; I was able to see a fragment of it from my balcony.
A few years ago I was in a writing group with some amazing poets—Noelle Kocot, Dorothea Lasky, Anthony McCann, Damian Rogers, Matthew Rohrer, Richard Siken, and Matthew Zapruder. The idea was we'd each write a poem every day for a month, and we'd take turns giving writing prompts.
This is a "distranslation" of the first poem in Alcools, by Guillaume Apollinaire. To say that I wrote it is less an offense than to say I translated it. Though it has everything to do with its correspondent text, the purpose of writing through "Zone" was not to reproduce it but to create an original work—the only real impediments put on the piece being its influences, which are many.
"The Figure" is an attempt to capture this mysterious, mercurial process. As a child, I remember painting in the art room, my favorite room at my elementary school. When my son went to kindergarten and we were given a tour of the art room all those memories of art class came forth. I was both compelled and terrified. What would I produce?
This poem was written over the course of several months, during which fear vied with hope and the idea of "trying" anything at all became almost laughably fraught. The poem became, in a sense, a meditation on effort, in which the suspension of effort was the aim of my efforts.
This is the first poem in Mean Free Path. I wanted the dedication to be integral to the book, not something set apart on a prefatory page. Because the poems are largely concerned with the possibility of writing and being for, with finding a mode of address capable of something other than ironic detachment or expressing prefabricated structures of feeling, it seemed like cheating to have a prose dedication external to the poems and their pressures resolving all of these issues as if by fiat.
In the summer of the year 2008, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to Berlin, where, in consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language: "Fauconnier and Turner argue that conceptualizing a situation in which the single monk becomes two monks, and then meets himself as the two of him walk in opposite directions involves a blending of mental spaces."
"Army Cats" is the title poem of a book that will appear next spring. It comes out of a trip I took in the summer of 2007 when I went to Lebanon and Syria to do some journalism about Palestinian refugee camps, and the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanese Israeli War. I arrived just at the moment that the worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 Lebanese War broke out.
This poem was one of 32 "recipes" commissioned from various writers by the visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra (the project was published in the June 2010 issue of Esopus magazine).
There was a small neighborhood park in Carroll Gardens where I would sit almost every day after the weather turned warm. Most of the people who stopped in the park were there to simply be: two-year-olds with their fatigue-ecstatic mothers, quorums of older news-bearing women, a guy staring at the grass, patients from a nearby hospital who had been wheeled into scraps of shade for an hour. I came to love this place.
This poem is a direct response to the introduction of Coleridge's "Xanadu-Kubla Khan" in which he explains thata most unwelcome visitor from Porlock disturbed his "anodyne" vision and ruined his inspiration for his poem.I was always fascinated with this poem: who was this friend? What business was Coleridge called to?
How did I come to write this poem? Well the oddest thing started me off.
A friend told me that when she was in Chennai in the summer she had trouble with her computer. It wouldn't work. So she got a tech guy in, and guess what—there were insects in her keyboard. I had never heard of such a thing before but later, asking around I did hear similar stories from others. In any case what my friend told me stayed in my head.
At first the poem "The Cup" came in response to an assignment I gave myself: try for 14 lines and a single domestic image. Obviously I didn't make it! But focusing on the cup let me channel the narrative drive of the poem. Originally it was only about how the cup smashed, the pieces of the event all squashed into 14 lines.
I wrote "Lunaria" almost by accident, while working on another poem, which was about Judas and was not going well. In my poem, Judas was an ordinary man. Everyone knew Jesus had to die, including Jesus himself. Somebody had to make it happen, though, so that the story could unfold, and in that arbitrary way He has, God had chosen him. My Judas was like a character in a novel, who appears to be free, although in reality the writer controls him completely, only the Judas of my poem had the consciousness of a real person, and was completely bewildered to find himself standing on the street with that bag of money in his hand. It was as if Anna Karenina suddenly found herself on that train platform and thought, What am I doing here? Actually, I have alternatives!
My poem grew out of my thinking about a new dishwashing soap that I had discovered in a supermarket, a nicely colored liquid in a curvy bottle with an unusually abstract name—Method—which I associated with Descartes' Discourse on Method.
"Hollywood & God" is the title poem of my recent collection of poems, a book that combines poetry and prose, and coming late in the sequence distills and reflects back on the issues of the entire proceeding. From the outset, I viewed the alliance in the title as the intersection of two streets – Hollywood & Vine, Hollywood & Gower, and Hollywood & God. The book, as well as this poem particularly, tracks a continuum along what traditionally you might style transcendence and what we've today come to call celebrity culture.
This poem arose from a coincidence: the phonetic and visual (but not, as far as I can tell, etymological) sameness between the word for a small dun-colored game bird and the verb, often used in reference to the heart, that means to wither or falter or give way to decline.
I wrote this poem as part of a collaboration I did in spring of 2008 with the painter Chris Uphues. Chris and I met at a bar after a reading I had given, and he told me he was a painter. I had a feeling he would be good. He sent me photos of ten paintings via email and I was blown away by his work, so I took his titles and wrote ten corresponding poems.
"The notion that wants do not become less urgent the more amply the individual is supplied is broadly repugnant to common sense. It is something to be believed only by those who wish to believe. Yet the conventional wisdom must be tackled on its own terrain. Intemporal comparisons of an individual's state of mind do rest on technically vulnerable ground. Who can say for sure that the deprivation which afflicts him with hunger is more painful than the deprivation which afflicts him with envy of his neighbor's new car? In the time that has passed since he was poor, his soul may have become subject to a new and deeper searing."