Brian Culhane on “On Not Translating Polish Poets”:
I once read that Ashbery would ask his students to translate a poem from a language they didn’t know. My own poem rests on the improbable premise that a would-be translator’s lack of Polish could lead to a “peculiar intensity,” one ironically derived from ignorance.
The poets mentioned— Herbert, Szymborska, Zagajewski—are ones I inevitably return to again and again. On my desk right now is Zagajewski’s Asymmetry, a late collection (2014), beautifully translated by Claire Cavanagh. I say “beautifully” despite my having no Polish to judge her versions by. I suppose that paradox dissolves when one considers how some translators come up with English versions that immediately strike the ear as infelicitous, whereas, say, Joanna Trzeciak’s translation of Szymborska’s Selected Poems charms with a simple style. Introducing that collection, Czeslaw Milosz identifies that style as “existential meditation, leaving behind pure lyric and embarking on discourse, which had always been thought prosaic.” Is it this quality of existential meditation verging on discourse that makes these poets susceptible to being so powerfully translated from a language sharing few obvious linguistic ties with English?
nicole v. basta on “take heed, hazard”:
This poem was written in a studio, on a farm, in a field pulsing with a strange, transient, magical history. It was a one fell swoop poem, a rarity for me. I am always mulling over all we cannot see, what we’ve come from that no longer can be weighed or held, and I suppose that’s not unlike the wind. there isn’t a headstone/ for all that no longer breathes is both honoring the unknowable and the very real people who die without anyone knowing their whereabouts. This piece is part of a larger body of work that explores many facets of my maternal ancestry including my ancestors who are members of the world’s disappeared.
Paula Cisewski on “Unbeckoning Glass”and “Time Faking Surprises”:
Often in the darkest days of the year, I lead private writing workshops, but in the second year of the pandemic, I didn’t have it in me to lead much of anything, especially anything that would last eight weeks. Yet I was torn. I craved community and creating with others—even through Zoom—as much as I craved relinquishing any whiff of overwhelm. Luckily, when I proposed a cooperative writing workshop, an inspiring group of poets and musicians were willing to experiment. Each week, one of us prepared a two-hour tour of our current fascinations along with a generative prompt or three. Both of these poems came from those weeks in early 2022.
Karl Kirchwey comments on poems for Plume 12.20.22:
“A Miracle of Saint Anthony” dates from a month I spent in Padua one summer years ago. The ekphrastic mode—poems about works of visual art— has been done to death, including by me; but I was interested, in this case, in how something as inscrutable, or ineffable, as a Roman Catholic miracle (still required by the Church for canonization) might have been felt by someone who is not a believer. An answer seemed to be suggested by the young woman in the fresco, who interprets the physical aspects of the miracle as invitations to try on a different personality. Living in the United States in the spring of 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I felt a sort of galvanizing awareness, both of the scope of the crisis in racial justice, and of the groundswell that was responding to that crisis. “California King” (referring to a mattress size) considers the domestic simplicity of connubial joy—it needs to take up no more space than a bed—but then considers how nothing, in this country, is unshadowed by race and the “sagging load” mentioned by Langston Hughes in his poem “Harlem.” The other phenomenon of the spring of 2020 was the COVID pandemic, which (because of cancellations) made available to me and my family a small cottage on Cape Cod. But the beach experience was not what it had once been: families were weary and leery and fragile-feeling. For this reason, I found my fellow vacationers’ spontaneous reaction to as routine an event as the breaching of a humpback whale not far offshore both startling and reassuring
Christina Lee Barnes on “The Classics”:
The first few lines of “The Classics” floated into my mind after a rewatch of White Christmas in 2012. At the time, I’d been writing mostly sonnets. As I worked to finish this poem that had more or less started itself, I found the form to be a helpful container for a topic I usually struggle to write about—how as a kid, I was almost always on a diet. And how, anytime I dropped a few pounds and dipped into obvious thinness, most every adult in my life praised me enthusiastically for it. It was as if they were noticing me for the first time. So, thinness began to feel like the most important thing, and the only way to get noticed. To be honest, I still struggle to disentangle myself from that early conditioning…but writing and publishing this piece has been healing for me.
Don Bogen on “Photographer’s Song” and “Nothing Song”:
I’ve been working on poems I call “songs” for a number of years. There are a dozen or so in my most recent book Immediate Song (Milkweed, 2019) and several others published or forthcoming since then. The term “song” is, of course, a very broad one. For me it implies certain key elements. My song poems are brief—no “Song of Myself” approaches. They almost always make use of short, equal-length stanzas: anything from couplets to six-liners, which are usually closed. The lines are generally metrical and short—nothing longer than tetrameter—and along with attention to sound overall, they often employ varieties of full and slant rhyme at the ends. I’m pretty liberal in how I define “slant.” In “Photographer’s Song” and “Nothing Song,” the second and fourth lines of almost all the quatrains rhyme in various ways. “Photographer’s Song” is in loose trimeter, and “Nothing Song” is a 4-3-4-3 ballad.
I suppose all of this is to say that my songs have to stay short and they have to sing. I’m not sure why I was drawn to these particular “rules” some years ago. I’ve definitely written in other modes as well. But songs allow me a certain direct emotional quality that I tend not to find in my free-verse poems. Their brevity and lyricism lead me to discoveries about my feelings—in this case rather dark ones about the nature of art—that I wouldn’t have been able to make working in different modes. I expect I’ll keep on “singing” this way for a while yet.
Jehanne Dubrow on “Joy”:
I’ve been a collector of perfumes for nearly 15 years and have explored the relationship between scent in language before, in my first book of nonfiction, throughsmoke: an essay in notes, and in an anthology I co-edited, The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume. At the start of the pandemic, I found that I could barely connect to my own body. I stopped wearing fragrances for many months because I couldn’t stand to smell all those beautiful aromas. Slowly, as a way of coming back to myself, I began to write poems in the voices of some of the favorite scents from my collection. “Joy” was inspired by one of my true loves, an iconic perfume from Jean Patou, which had been recently discontinued. When a perfume is discontinued by its maker (or worse, when it is reformulated), the scent becomes irretrievable and therefore precious. The poem was my small way of preserving a lovely, lost thing.