Harmon, Fagan, Buckley, et. al.

Harmon, Fagan, Buckley, et. al.
March 25, 2023 Plume

Bradley Harmon on translating 2 Poems by Katarina Frostenson:

A poem, like many poems, that upon and after reading infuses my mind with erratic thoughts and surrounds my body with a kinetic aura. A poem, like many poems, that I at once feel like I understand and simultaneously know that I never will. A poem, this poem, that I have translated and into which I have sunk my teeth—no, I have not consumed its language, but my tongue has tasted its words. A poem which I have given a title illiteral to its source, not only because I followed the cue of its iteration in French, but because the poem incants, pulsates, reverberates its mute echo inwards and out. A poem: “Incantation”

“In this resonance my self ceases.” If there was ever a line that would crystallize Frostenson’s poetic concerns, it would be this one. How does the body contend with the sound it puts out and takes in? How does language, insofar as it forms our self-understanding, contend with the world as we experience it (to paraphrase Wittgenstein: the limits of language are the limits of world). Since her debut in 1978, with the selection aptly titled “I mellan” (In Between), Forstenson has sought out the thresholds, interstices, and liminalities that characterize the self’s relation to its surrounding milieu. In an extended essay from 2000, Frostenson writes that her poetry, up until that time, was evermore focused on the directness of sound and resistant towards the deception of metaphor and images that for her concealed “raw world, thickened the texts, so the tendons and bones of the poem disappeared.” Instead, she wanted to “write forth a space where the world was instead written more directly, where it was written down without being transformed and where its echoing could be heard; I wanted to create a space for the clanging sound to be in.” Even into her sixth decade of writing, Frostenson is just as concerned with the embodied subject, where it ends, where it begins, and everywhere in between.

The two poems appearing here are taken from Frostenson’s 2015 collection The Space of Time (Sånger och formler), which was awarded the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2016, with the committee deeming it “a story of life’s physical and spiritual revelations…with constant transformations portraying life’s multifaceted oddity.”


Kathy Fagan on “Perspective” and “Day Sex Ode”:

“Day Sex Ode” is the result of formal exercises I practiced with my students last semester in our prosody class. I meant to write an ode, of course, but I’d had sonnets and blank verse on my mind for so many weeks already I’d got stuck in the meter—or it stuck to me. A whole lot of my exercises stayed just that—the students, on the other hand, did brilliant work—but this one seemed worth saving. When I remembered “Perspective,” which I’d drafted many years ago and kept fussing with, it occurred to me the two poems made something of a saucy pair together; and it made me laugh at myself to see how abundantly indulgent I am with lines of all sorts, line being what I cherish second most highly in verse, traditionally formal or otherwise.


Christopher Buckley on translating poems by Ernesto Trejo:

Writing in Spanish, Ernesto was concerned with poetry free of the rhetorical style of early modern Mexican Poetry. This concern attracted Ernesto to the poems of Jaime Sabines and with Philip Levine he translated and published TARUMBA: The Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, 1979.

Ernesto taught part-time for the Spanish and English departments at CSU Fresno. He published three books in Spanish and in 1984 he published his last book in Spanish, El dia entre las hojas. In 1985 he took a position in the English Department at Fresno City College where he taught until 1990.  Entering a Life, Ernesto’s first full-length collection of poems in English, was published in 1990 by Arte Publico Press at the University of Houston. Barely 40 years old, his life was cut short by cancer.  Most recently, Ernesto Trejo’s work can be found in NAMING THE LOST: THE FRESNO POETS—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press, 2021.

Since the early ‘70s Ernesto had encouraged me to struggle with the Spanish poems.  A few years back, I began translating some of the poems from El dia entre las hojas, Letras Mexicanas, 1984.  I hope I have done the originals no disservice. He was a dear friend to me and a cherished friend to all the Fresno Poets. Ernesto was a great and unique poetic talent and one of the sweetest souls I have ever known.


Jo-Ann Mort on “In Case the Messiah Comes”:

Through the years, I watched the settlement of Ramat Shlomo grow into a behemoth with over 20,000 residents. On a hill in East Jerusalem, it is surrounded by Palestinian neighborhoods. Its inhabitants are all Haredim, ultra-religious Jews, who believe that redemption will come with the Messiah. At the end of the settlement, is an intersection that leads in one direction toward more Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, the other direction to mostly Jewish neighborhoods in West Jerusalem. The electric light rail that runs throughout Jerusalem snakes across the intersection, weaving among the traffic with timed traffic lights. While Jerusalem’s neighborhoods, East and West, religious and secular, are mostly segregated, the light rail system is integrated. All of the varieties of humanity that live in this extraordinary but tender and tendentious city sit together there. The poem came together for me as soon as I saw the light rail as a snake slithering past the traffic, connecting people in a city that is ostensibly united but is far from it. In spite of those awaiting the Messiah, Jerusalem a city with both earthly wonder and deep distress.


Carol Moldaw on “First Days at the Conservancy”:

When I was asked to be an artist-in-residence at the Merwin Conservancy for a month in the summer of 2022, I didn’t think about how daunting it might be to stay and write in the house W.S. Merwin built and lived in with his wife Paula for his last decades. It didn’t occur to me that I might feel haunted by both their strong presences: their floorboards, walls, books, and objects still carrying the living sense of them. I didn’t think about being intimidated by his—their—accomplishments and life together. Still, I made my husband take Merwin’s study, cope with his desk, the surface largely covered in inkblots, talismans, and baskets of eyeglasses. I took Paula’s much smaller room, the small secretary desk I used not even original to her, but supplied afterward, for the likes of me. The house and the surrounds, those acres and acres of palms, were clearly the product of their entwined lives, their creative spirits, their celebrated love. I knew it must have been Paula who cooked and William who sat in the high canvas director’s chair. Hers were the love notes, his, the poems; hers the understory, his, the palms. The house was crammed with all they had collected and prized; it still embodied them. To make room for myself, I had to admit them into my psyche as I had been admitted into their abode. And so, I wrote this poem.


Rebecca Foust on “Reading Heidegger Brings a Wild Joy.” :

I wrote this poem while reading Heidegger in the days after a good friend perished in Tomales Bay when a squall blew up and his kayak overturned. Mark was a terrific athlete and an experienced kayaker, and no one could believe he could have been taken down in this way. One day he was there, vibrant and joyful and alive, doing what he did best, and the next he was gone. Friends and search parties combed the shoreline for more than one dark week before he was found. When a death happens like that, so suddenly, it is hard to process, and your doubt about it having been possible begins to bleed into your doubt of everything. Not just—is this real, but—is anything real, then was anything real? The poem grapples with these issues and tries to make an assertion about lived reality while at the same time making any kind of memorial to Mark, who was. and in some way still is and I believe always will be.


Jay Parini on ‘Elevator Boy”:

When I was about 15, I got a strange job as an all-night elevator operator at the Scranton YMCA, a dismal gym and boarding house. The dozens of residents were mostly down and out, poor, lonely, odd. I took to the job and felt as if I might be learning something about the world, its byways and social crevices. I never forgot my time at that job, but it took nearly half a century to write about it. One evening the poem arrived. Better late than never. It more-or-less wrote itself. The form helped, with the five-beat line that can seemed to inhabit a music of its own.


Miles Waggener on “Steer’s Head Triptych”:

“Steer’s Head Triptych” emerged from a road trip and a flashback.  During the pandemic’s early phases, I decided to take a long drive from Omaha to Phoenix.  At one point in the journey, somewhere between Payson and the valley, I hit a massive blackened burn area in the desert, where nothing was growing.  The classical music station was cutting in and out.  The noontime glare through my cracked and smeary windshield hurt.  I thought about all the flowering cactuses that used to be there.  Then I thought about popular culture in Phoenix when I was a child in the 70s and 80s.  The family steakhouse, with its buckaroo décor and taxidermied cow heads dominated dining back then.  How sad and bewildered it was, thinking about the kitschy prodigal past while crossing the bleakscape present!  The parts didn’t seem to fit, but I was living them. That said, the triptych structure lent itself to flashback and cohesion.  Also, I’d never center-justified a poem before.  Ever.  I hope it works for readers. The italicized words in the middle section are from René Char’s Leaves of Hypnos, translated by Cid Corman. I’m honored that it’s in Plume.

Anton Yakovlev on “Regret”:

I wrote this poem on a plane from Copenhagen to Catania immediately following a sleepless overnight flight from New York. It was a small plane with tightly packed seats, and I’m 6’3”. As soon as we took off, the person in front of me reclined their seat all the way back, leaving me even less space. To avoid concentrating on my discomfort, I took out my laptop and started typing. I will not pretend I could see the moon from the window, but the celestial setting felt conducive to write about it, while my discomfort set the tone. I wrote the first draft on that flight and revised parts of the poem over the following month. In the first draft the poem went on a bit longer and the cashier at the bookstore made an appearance. I eventually realized the interaction with the cashier was superfluous.