Robin Behn on “In my Thorn Dream” and “In My Path Dream”
These two poems are from my forthcoming book Quarry Cross (heartfelt thanks to Plume Editions!), in which there are about a dozen poems that mention dreams. Of those, “In my Thorn Dream” was the first dream-poem I wrote. It arose from an actual dream. I almost never remember my dreams, but when I do, I tend to recall not only slideshows or movies of images, but also strings of floating words—I see them typed out, words floating in their phrases in the space around me while I’m dreaming. This time, upon waking, I could still see the phrase “my vest of thorns,” and still had the feeling of being inside an almost-touching garment of thorns which, on further inspection, I realized were twigs woven together. And there was also the sense of something “out there” beyond myself, watching me and knowing more about the outside world and my purpose there than I ever would, but I couldn’t tell what or who it was. And so I started writing the poem to find out.
In “In My Path Dream,” as in most of the dream-poems that followed “In My Thorn Dream,” the notion of dream is used in different ways. Here, the speaker of the poem is not caught inside an unconscious dream. Rather, out hiking, she takes in the dreaminess of the world—the exquisite beauty of the Cinque Terra stone path alongside the exquisite feats of engineering holding off the next rockslide that would destroy it. It’s a precarious dreaminess that makes her a little giddy. Then, there’s a kind of dreaming-of, wishing-for, wanting: a wishing to be immersed in a shared sense of all humanity, and a wish to be somehow conscious of that sense.
Dreams have been so done in poems over the eons. I had to get over my worry that dreams in my poems might seem cliché, or not apropos at this dire time in our so-called democracy. But in the crusade for the survival of the species, the survival of the environment, the survival of justice, law, dignity, mercy, truth, fairness, and hope, the inner life has much at stake.
Will Schutt on translating Edoardo Sanguineti’s “the ugly purple corpse”
and “you haven’t changed a bit”
The two poems by the Italian avant-garde poet Edoardo Sanguineti, which appear in my translation in this issue of Plume, were originally published in the 1970s: “the ugly purple corpse” in the 1971 collection Reisebilder and “you haven’t changed a bit” in 1977’s Postkarten. The poems of this period mark a departure for Sanguineti—messy, diaristic, playful in comparison to his earlier work, they seem, to this reader at least, to take capital P Poetry down a peg in order to elevate the small and fleeting moments of life.
I may have read these poems in 2004, the year I discovered Sanguineti’s poetry, though I can’t be sure. I do remember the day I first opened Sanguineti’s last volume of selected poems, Mikrokosmos. I continued reading it straight out of the bookstore while walking home in my then home, Siena, Italy. Reading and walking isn’t a practice I’d recommend, especially in a city, yet it strikes me now as being unusually appropriate given the urban odyssey quality of Reisebilder and Postkarten, and the sense I had of having bumped up against something entirely unexpected.
Partidge Boswell on “Ode to My Dap”
Certain songs play our whole lives without us hearing. We sing along and even dance to them, oblivious. This one finally became audible walking past an all-night salon, or rather several salons, late one autumn night in Manhattan. Stylists and their clients enacting their own dance of tongues in bright mirrored light, as herds of young lonelyhearts headed home from nightclubs. The same music I’d hardly noticed countless times in neighborhoods from here to Central Africa where dap reverberates as an art form woven into the daily fabric of society. In an age when ritual and symbol are readily turned against ourselves, I now hear these notes more clearly than ever—a jubilation reaching beyond identity to embrace our common longing for belonging.
Linda Pastan on “Dog in the Manger”
Since adopting a rescue dog last year, I have become obsessed with dogs—mine (Toby), the ones I pass on the street (particularly poodles and ridgebacks), dogs who appear, however briefly, in a movie (will something terrible happen to them?). And why in the world are so many expressions about dogs pejorative? Because I am also obsessed with language, this poem was inevitable.
Virginia Konchan on “In the Late Style of Eros”
“In the Late Style of Eros” is a poem is from a series that explores the idea of a historically-situated sublime. The title is an obvious nod and homage to Larry Levis’ poem “My Story in a Late Style of Fire,” and takes up, in an abbreviated form, the themes of that poem (loneliness, otherness, nostalgia, regret), as well as speaking back to Levis’ lines “ . . . I wanted to explain this life to you, even if/ I had to become, over the years, someone else to do it” (with my lines “Why bother telling you/ you looked like a man I loved . . . “). As with the other poems in this series, I am framing the erotic encounter in temporal terms, trying to suggest in the closing two couplets that violence and ruin — in Levis’ poem, wrought by fire — are aftereffects of failed romance only inasmuch as they are aftereffects of time.
Sophia Galifianakis on “Pacemaker”
I started this poem years ago when my father had a heart attack and had to have a pacemaker put in.The last word in the poem was the inspiration. On hearing that he was in stable condition, I was reminded of how flimsy that concept really is, how trauma doesn’t close its doors after an event has ended, but holds on, and holds the door open for generation s to come.
Troy Jollimore on “No Country for Old Men”
On “No Country for Old Men”
Kenneth Koch, I believe, said that it was mostly reading poems that made him want to write poems. And that’s been my experience, too. In fact that’s been my experience even if I’m wrong and Kenneth Koch never said that. What I also find is, going to the movies makes me want to write poems. In fact any sort of experience of art, any art that touches and moves me or adds something to my life, makes me want to write poems. So recently I started writing a series of sonnets with the working title Spoiler Alerts, in which each sonnet is dedicated to some movie that has meant a lot to me. (At this point there are only three completed sonnets, plus a few in progress that I’m not at all happy with yet. Sonnets are hard to get right.) Part of the idea was that the first line of the sonnet would be, more or less, the title of the movie. Although in this case I wanted to start, instead, with a slightly modified version of the first line of the Yeats poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” from which the title of the film was taken. It interested me, I suppose, that the film came from a novel whose title came from a poem, and maybe it felt a little like I was completing a circle here, by writing a poem about the film in a kind of traditional, Yeatsian form. (Not that I’m comparing myself with Yeats. Or the Coen Brothers, for that matter. My ego isn’t that big.) And I was also interested in the idea of works of different genres coming together, in part because of the things the Coens do with genre; the way, in particular, Llewellyn Moss in No Country is mistaken about the genre of the film he is in—he thinks he’s in a kind of action movie, which is what many viewers of that film also mistakenly thought—and ends up dead as a result. At any rate, I think that “Sailing to Byzantium” is one of the greatest poems ever written, and I think No Country for Old Men is one of the greatest films ever made, and if I were to give a list of reasons for living, the way the Woody Allen character does in Manhattan, both of these would be on it.
MARGO BERDESHEVSKY on IT IS STILL BEAUTIFUL TO HEAR THE HEART BEAT.
Is this a back story? Was it before or after I read words of a Swedish poet who wrote between worlds, and in the boundary between them? I don’t honestly know or remember. Because I also have written between worlds, timelines being nonlinear for me much of the time. But also because I am often a poet who asks this question in her poems, and in her life: how close is death, how near is a god … these particular lines struck a chord.
“It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.”
— Tomas Tranströmer (from “After A Death” in “The Half Finished Heaven” )
And was it before or after the poem began to shape for me that the words I culled from Tranströmer became a title? Do I begin with a title or end with one. Either. Both.
In Robert Bly’s introduction to “The Half Finished Heaven,” he says of the poet whose words I’d read that even as a very young writer Tranströmer was aware that the dead “wanted to have their portraits painted.” And I had—been thinking about infants who were dying or twisted by the Zika virus, about their helpless, stung-in-the-dark, or fucked and infected mothers.
Did I think of these other words? “And what is empty turns its face to us /and whispers / I am not empty I am open…” Yes. Before, or after. I don’t know which. Time is often nonlinear to me.
Was I, in the poem that was in the process of becoming—becoming such a woman with such an infected infant in her crib, in my imagination? Or such a woman opening her legs to the man who would infect? In my somewhere in the dark—musing, that is what was happening. And the fear I have for our world and what threatens us, tiny, unseen, until it manifests, was finding language. And Tranströmer seemed possibly to whisper. And the poem moved from fetus to infant in its crib.
At this moment, in January 2018, the first case of sexually transmitted Zika infection has been confirmed in Los Angeles County. The completed poem is one in a new as yet unpublished manuscript titled “Square Black Key,” a poetic hybrid, that marries my poems and prose and photographs. At the moment, the poem lives on page 59. And IT IS STILL BEAUTIFUL TO HEAR THE HEART BEAT.
Joyce Peseroff on “Life on Enceladus”
I like to browse the website <ScienceDaily.com>—well, daily. Articles that have made it into in my notebook include “Hairy Skin Grown in a Dish” and “Naked Mole Rats ‘Turn into Plants’ when Oxygen Is Low.” The first is Dada, the second as resonant as myth. I often feel a frisson of awe when I read such news of the universe, either here or the in the New York Times Science section. I’m not sure which was the original source of information for the first 19 lines of “Life on Enceladus,” but I finished the poem fairly quickly, in six drafts, without punctuation to interrupt my sense of wonder. The last lines demanded the most revision—how to indicate the rarest filament of life in a void.