The Poets Speak

Jeff Friedman on   “Somebody’s Got My Hair” and “Cuffed”

 

I probably began this piece with the idea of retelling the Samson and Delilah story, coupled with the fact that my hair has been disappearing for the last fifteen years. As I was writing, a question came to me, not an angel or a messenger as might have come to Samson to warn him about drinking too much wine or cutting his locks, but a simple question appearing in bold letters in the blue space of my computer screen: If I’m losing my hair—and nothing in the universe is really lost—then who is finding it? Who has got my hair? That cosmic question in the vision of a man approaching two-thirds baldness triggered the rest of the prose poem. The narrator’s search for his hair became the center of the narrative, but there is still a connection—albeit a loose one—to the Samson and Delilah tale.

As I was working on a series of pieces dealing with injustice in America, “Cuffed” came to me in the form of a comic narrative, in which the speaker is a kind of everyman. I was thinking about a time when I was much younger, and my friends and I got picked up by the police in St. Louis, strip searched and held all night at the station. That experience mixed together in my mind with my recent experience of being someone who each year receives calls to contribute to a fund to help policemen and policewomen. In a few of those calls, the voice on the other end of the phone—informal and folksy—talked about community outreach. Since I now live in a small town in New Hampshire with a main street named “Main Street,” the idea of community outreach, the police and an everyman in a small town seemed a good place to begin. As I proceeded with my story, an ivory-billed woodpecker flew into the poem, though I don’t know if any ivory-billed woodpeckers have ever been sighted here. Certainly, we have our share of pileated woodpeckers. Community outreach, the police, an everyman who might be considered a little suspicious—it all came together with an alleged ivory-billed woodpecker in a story that winds up being a police story, and as everyone knows, a good police story always ends in an arrest.

 

 

April Bernard on “Swishing Tails of Horses, October”

 

Recently, I moved to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, where I teach at Skidmore College.  I live on a little side street very close to the famous racetrack, next door to the Fasig-Tipton auction center.  Not having grown up around horses, I am thrilled by what they look like close up; how the pale grey yearling filly’s skin shines pink under her grey coat, making her look young and rosy; how a side eye of a horse looks back at you with you inside it, as in a convex mirror.  Horses such as these are creatures of our making–bred and trained and raced, and often, horribly, thrown away.  The number of horses who die from heat exhaustion at the track every summer is a scandal, not to mention an occasional rumored murder, as when an owner gives up on a horse’s prospects and kills it off for the insurance.

 

 

Alice Friman on “In Praise of Wandering”

 

In short, this is a poem about wandering that wanders. My husband (my sweet young thing) and I love best getting in the car and taking off. A few years ago we took off for months, did twenty-two states pretty much all on back roads. We like to read to each other in the car, Vanity Fair, The Decameron, Jude the Obscure, and on that twenty-two-state trip, all of War and Peace. We had just finished Haldor Laxness’s Independent People when we decided to go to Iceland, that island of perpetual mid-summer and wildness.

The poem begins with a true depiction of how we travel, the idea being to “make do” and not plan too much. The second part describes in part what we saw, and then, much to my surprise, the poem took over and started to wander, leaving me holding on to its tail and wondering for weeks where it was going. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a poem takes on a life of its own and decides what it wants to be and how it wants to end. In this case, it seems, on a note of profound gratitude.

 

 

Christopher Buckley on “Three Poems”

 

These poems from my new book CHAOS THEORY engage the scientific evidence of our place in the universe; and ideas about our universe—string theory, eleven dimensions, parallel universes etc.—fit right into or up against my usual concerns about faith vs. doubt in so far as an afterlife, that hope vs.—as the basketball cliché has it—one and done!  My project has been to be sure not to simply repeat or report the facts and discoveries; for that you would go to the books or articles.  Rather, I hope to combine them with a lyric voice and concrete specifics to render something like a lyric/speculative poem that arm wrestles with the facts and faith, that incorporates popular culture and an accessible comfortable voice.  The scientific data work as imagery to amplify this contrast with the metaphysical.

Here are some bits from the interview I did with Nancy Mitchell for an issue of PLUME and which was collected in PLUME INTERVIEWS:

“I started reading articles and books on cosmology, astro and theoretical physics in the early ‘80s.  Articles in The New Yorker on dark matter (hence the title of a poetry book a good while back) got me started . . . I barely passed high school chemistry, took no Physics, dodged all the math I possibly could in college.  But many scientists started to present the new information coming up in a pre-masticated and imagistic style that would be accessible to folks like myself with essentially a 7th grade understanding of physics and the universe, 7th grade in 1959-60 that is. . . . I saw that all of this new information fit into/supported the old arguments and inquisitions re metaphysics, mortality, the temporal beauty of the world—my on-going arm-wrestling between Faith and doubt, so of course science and religion.  Political, economic, spiritual, philosophical—I’ve been trying to appraise our part in a cosmic roll of the dice, trying to find connections between the local, the global, and the cosmic.”

And in a recent issue of NEW LETTERS, an interview with Alex Long, I offered that:

“The battle between hope and despair is the bedrock of a lot of the work.  I realized early on that I shared an essential view with Charles Wright who said, “All my poems seem to be an ongoing argument with myself about the unlikelihood of salvation.” That is what an orthodox religious upbringing will do for you, once you realize what is most likely in the cards.  And if you share that view with Charles, there are not many crumbs left on the table when you get there.  Nevertheless, there it is, and I seem to come back to it often.   My interest in science and cosmology, which started in the mid ‘80s, is one half of that as it opposes most metaphysical notions.  But voice has always been my concern, the authenticity of its tone that comes from essential human concerns.

 

John Brehm on “Over the Moon”

 

Since the poem describes it’s own coming-into-being, I’ll just say here that I wrote it not long after I met my wife and was feeling very much “over the moon.” That we had stepped over a reflection of the actual moon the night before was impossible to resist for a poem. I was also immersed in Bishop and Schuyler at the time, envious of their lush descriptions. The Hermetic maxim, “as above, so below,” is a line I’ve long wanted to find a home for and was happy it fit here. The poem is in my new manuscript, No Day at the Beach.

 

 

J T Barbarese on “Pet Sounds”

 

I was a college junior when Uncle Mark, an officer in the Navy, asked me if I wanted to “take a ride.” He was driving to Boscobel, Wisconsin, to see his family, from where he would continue to San Diego and ship out to Vietnam. This was December, 1967. I had just broken up with my girlfriend and was bored with college, and —prophetically—Otis Redding’s  plane had gone down two weeks earlier in Wisconsin. I took this as a sign. In Boscobel, I met Mark’s niece, Rachel. I was smitten. I fed dried corn to her horse, Duchess, and drank warm milk

straight from the udders of a cow, and one afternoon, as we were standing near a pigsty, she sang me those lines from “God Only Knows,” then kissed me. That night, she took me to a cowboy

bar where a performer who went by the name The Fantastic Johnny C did a medley, a homage to Otis, and closed with an impressive cover of “Knock on Wood” (second only to the live version of Michael McDonald and Phoebe Snow). When Mark left, Rachel and I went down to Madison, where she had an apartment. Plan was for me to catch a bus from there to Philadelphia, but a line from Shakespeare kept running through my head: “Home keeping youth have ever homely wits.” Anyway, I was in love. Weeks later, she dropped me at the Greyhound station and we said goodbye. Having left my heart in Madison, I wanted pure askesis, so I left my money in

Chicago, where the bus made its first rest stop. I got off, thumbed it home, and two weeks later, got thrown out of school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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