Jessica Goodfellow on ‘On My Diagnosis of Pulsatile Tinnitus.’ :
We had just moved into a new house when the pulsatile tinnitus started, so at first I was convinced it was actual noises in the house; for weeks, I wandered from room to room, pressing my ear against walls. Later, as the noise got louder, I thought someone was in the woods banging on some metal pipe. I could not believe no one else was hearing it. Pounding out the rhythm on the top of the washing machine for my husband, I was gobsmacked when he said he thought the sound I was so desperate to stop was the sound of my own heart.
Alpay Ulku on “Triangulated”:
By the time this poem got accepted, we had recently left town. When I first arrived to work as a translator at a university, prices were beginning to tick up. Then ISIS. We started seeing streams of refugees coming through from Iraq and Syria, many from Aleppo. The young men would stay in the parks a few days or the courtyards of the mosques, and mostly push on to Istanbul. The poorer families tended to settle closer to home, in the region wiped out by the earthquakes a couple of months ago. The wealthier families spread out more. The ultra-wealthy bought condos by the handful, rented whole floors of hotels for months at a time.
The earlier set of Russian residents had been around Antalya for a couple of decades, mostly in a neighborhood called Hurma (“Dates.” Must’ve been date groves once?). As the Covid restrictions spun down, and the war spun up, a new wave of Russians came, bypassing Hurma and settling along coastal neighborhoods of Antalya, particularly my own, Gençlik. Pro-Putin Russians, anti-Putin Russians, Russian Ukrainians, western Ukrainians, displaced by the war, young men avoiding the draft (both sides), young women whose husbands and boyfriends were drafted, maybe killed. Moving on with their lives. Rents more than quadrupled, then rose some more. Same with the price of even the oldest, most rundown condos.
So we got priced out, my wife and I. We saw that more was yet to come and moved.
I live not at the crossroads, but the suburbs of history. Every now and then, it builds a road and comes to find us.
It came to find the farmers too. Antalya was a sleepy town in the Eighties, a fraction of the size it is now. A lot of farmers sold their land and became millionaires. They built apartment buildings in town, switched trades for construction. That changed the culture, too.
Antalya changes with its changeable weather, its changeable climate. Every year, it’s getting hotter and hotter. That was reason number two why we left. Earlier summers, every year more humid and hotter, later winters with more intense rains, every year. Don’t shoot me: climate change is real.
I love Samsun. It’s cooler here and our sea is the Black Sea now, north instead of south at our feet like the Mediterranean in Antalya. I prefer its cooler blues and grays and forest greens over Antalya’s warm blues and vibrant pinks. Place and weather has always been both my muse and my subject, so it’ll be fun to see what poems come out of Samsun. This time we bought a place. And prices are starting to take off…so hopefully we’re staying.
I have a long-standing argument of sorts with a handful of poets, Wallace Stevens and Robinson Jeffers first among them. I don’t necessarily like their poems, but somehow I keep engaging with them. In Triangulated, I’m talking to Stevens. Not sure what I’m telling him though. Something about change. Perspectives.
I watched that ship from my window for a month. Those yummy chewy cheese poğças hot from the oven that the men were eating, are available everywhere in Türkiye. Come by and have you some.
Volodymyr Tymchuk on his poems:
The ongoing war in Ukraine that was instigated by Russia’s aggression has lasted for 9 years, not just since 24th of February 2022. I’m an officer who has served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, so I have taken part in some military missions during this time. The president of Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky, who was elected in the spring of 2019, declared a stable, verifiable ceasefire which stipulated a moratorium on any kind of warfare. But our enemy—the Russian Army and its special forces and collaborating troops—felt free to disregard Ukraine’s decision to maintain peace, so hurtful, tragic events occurred in which high-ranking Ukrainian warriors were killed or wounded or arrested. We lost a commander of the mechanized brigade and a few officers of special forces. National news stations failed to report on the actual situation that was occurring on the “silent front.” “The Roll Back” is a poem that addresses the atmosphere of that time. It wasn’t easy to reconcile the disparity between “noncommissioned modernized tanks,” “foxholes-blinds,” “nerves and blood,” with “foam from hype, political shows, ratings, and laughs,” “all-expenses-paid-for funeral service,” and “terroristic group.”
Two other poems I wrote in 2019 in the Donetsk oblast—a territory that has been temporarily occupied by the Russian army—includes “Night on the Front Line,” which is about the myriad dangers that hadn’t been cleared during the peacekeeping period and, an important poem in this group, “Among the First.” I’m persuaded that the first observers of the new occurrence—the bright nativity star as it is referred to in the Gospel of Luke, were not only shepherds or wise men, but also “forbidden soldiers” at their observation posts. It is my Christmas poem. (I enjoy translating Christmas poems of different nations into Ukrainian).
I wrote “Bread and Salt” and “Nothing Forgotten” in 2022, the year of the “Great War.” I was assigned to Donetsk oblast in June, so it wasn’t strange that the fields were full of wheat, sown the previous autumn, before Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February. But the combines were absent in the fields since enemy artillery had destroyed the farms, along with killing most of the farmers in the Ukrainian steppe. The Russians succeeded in occupying all of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, declaring those regions theirs by the Kremlin. We Ukrainians needed arms and rounds to stop this Russian offensive lest the Russians now assume they had the freedom and right to ignore international law and invade sovereign territory with impunity and unbridled violence in their quest to rule the world. We grew depressed watching long debates in Europe and other countries over how to support Ukraine—the various oral declarations from high tribunes seemed simply sarcastic when Ukraine was bleeding, their toothless proclamation that they were “for all good against all bad.” Nowadays we are grateful for real support for our resistance, especially since it isn’t only ours. When we achieve a just peace, we will be glad to invite all the guests in Dopropillia in Donetsk oblast to partake in the bread and salt according to ancient Ukrainian tradition. We never wanted to go to war. What T. Snyder and S. Plokhy said with regard to America’s involvement in World War I and World War II apply to Ukraine as well during this time of Russia’s invasion of our country—we value life and freedom, even when the ‘red color’ of the Soviet regime and the Bolsheviks’ expropriation policies violated our lands.
Charles O. Hartman on “Dead Tree in the Back Yard” and “Gait”:
“Dead Tree in the Back Yard” began in a yard I nominally owned in Mystic, Connecticut. When I wrote the first draft in March 2000 the tree stood, a bone-pale monument to itself, and for several years I watched it do as the poem describes. It woke me early on September 16, 2005 (I have a photo) with the noise of its falling. The home broke up; I sold the house. When I came across the old draft last year, what it said I found I wanted, still or more pressingly, to say. I wrestled with the urge to bring it up to date, to tell the truth: the tree had fallen long ago. But it was the earlier truth of foreseeing that compelled me to work through the repairs and fill the voids and put the poem into Downfall of the Straight Line.
“Gait” began from an idle thought about Edward Muggeridge (who amid nineteenth-century British fetishization of Anglo-Saxons renamed himself Eadweard Muybridge) and his famous photographic experiments: some fancy about a Muybridgean poetry that could ask, What is motion? What makes a poem move, or be moving? Replace those serried cameras with ranged, focused, trip-wired facts, and maybe the poem could become—as did, after the fact, sequences of Muybridge’s photographs of people and other animals running and walking and pole-vaulting—a developing film aware of its own uncanny elements… That would be another poem; but I do think of “Gait” as a group selfie for vertebrates.
Julie Bruck on “Spoiler Alert”:
After Season 2 of The White Lotus reached its grisly conclusion, I dreamed of winged cats and a problematic severed head. There was no sense to be made of any of it, only vividness, which may explain the allure of trying to weave these moving parts together. In the classroom, I often preach letting go of preconceived intentions for early drafts. Writing “Spoiler Alert” reminded me of how much fun it can be to give a poem its head.
Amit Majmudar on “American Upanishad (IV)”:
Commentary on a poem is dangerous because you risk making the poem a vector of mere meaning. The wonder becomes a sign. Yet scripture encourages commentary. What about a poem that aspires to the form of scripture? Oh, but that English word is all wrong. The Sanskrit one is shruti, simply, what’s heard, or perhaps what’s listened to. To “give ear”: The original sacrificial offering. The Bhagavad Gita is, traditionally, the last of the Upanishads. It is an act of devotion, and a mark of hubris, that I have presumed to add a few more. “The I is a pillar,” begins the sequence, “Ionian, lonely.” I never feel so ringed about by my ancestors as when I write to them, through them, in poems. The Upanishads are not “scriptures” in the Abrahamic sense, infallible because revealed. Not the word of God but the words of people. They, like their American replications, are a human record of speculations and visions and assertions, sometimes in dialogue form, goading reflection and reverie, coaxing to transcendence, and describing tattva, the thatness of existence: What is heard, echoing what is.
The Glut: About “Her Stairs” by Gail Mazur:
I think of this as the poem I never wanted to write! My mother became a hoarder over her last decades. Hoarders don’t want to let people in. But I visited regularly, she and I scrunched together on the sofa in her den where she ate and slept and read and talked on the phone and watched tv during the long years of her widowhood. When I began to write “Her Stairs,” I realized I had to make order out of all the stuff, “the glut”—that’s how I think of this poem, making order out of glut, shaping it. There’s no exaggeration of fact anywhere, only the chaos of dementia made shapely—but to no end.
JT Barbarese on Baudelaire’s “Windows”:
Poets translate because they covet something in the original, or see something in it they need—to surmount a block, or to find a solution to a problem, tonal or formal, or because in it you sense some version of yourself. It’s not business; it’s personal, and inconceivable that it comes bursting out of a need to bring the High Culture to the uneducated masses or, even less likely, to make a buck. Examples abound. Eliot goes to Laforgue; Pound to the Troubadours; Moore to La Fontaine; Zukofsky (calamitously) to Catullus; Hughes to Aeschylus. Baudelaire’s obsession with Poe was similar, in fact self-confessed. Poe was “un homme qui me ressemblait un peu.” Which to me explains how Baudelaire was possibly one of the few who read “The Raven” (which he translated in 1860) and saw through this perennial warhorse’s overt melodrama to its scathing but unsubtle comedy, as a parody of the High Romantic authenticity con, which so often (and absurdly) elevated poetic vision above psychological realism and subordinated life to what Wordsworth celebrates as “the bliss of solitude.” Like Poe, when Baudelaire looked into a lake he was as likely to see nightmare as well a sign of one’s weddedness to nature, i.e. not what Wordsworth saw, who saw another Wordsworth wherever he looked. There is nothing in American or English poetry like him; Wordsworth’s preeminence owes much to his blasting English poetry out of the 18th and into the 19th century. Similarly, Baudelaire is the figure who pivots from Victor Hugo to the wildness that comes after, and predicts modernism and the age of High Irony—to Rimbaud, Verlaine, Valery, and the still terrifying Mallarmé, and in the graphic arts (he was an art critic, too) to the Impressionists. If that’s not nervous-making enough, he invents the prose poem, also bristling with backhanded ironies. “Windows” should leave you giggling at the narrator, a nosy guy who looks inside strange windows and sees not what’s there but his own narcissistic reflection. His license is a conviction that the outside world is subordinate to his grand inscape.
For me, his best translator is still the late Richard Howard, though it’s easier to get Baudelaire once you hear the work aloud., Ian Pennman said recently that it can sometimes seem dead on the page, but Léo Ferré’s sixty-some year old musical settings is a real revelation. Poems like “Invitation au Voyage” are set to jazz and sound like Sondheim accompanied by, say, the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Nancy Kangas on “Happy Hour” and “Babies Cry”:
On “Happy Hour”: The place of this poem was easy, an obvious stage for drama. And perhaps I enjoy taking on places as givens, and ask who’s there and what are they doing. But I couldn’t figure out what this woman wanted — besides to win, of course. For a long while, I ended this poem comparing her to a female praying mantis (who eats her mate’s head post-sex). There’s certainly some excitement to that, but dear god. I admired her ferocity but kept disliking this woman. I tried living with that. Then I realized I want her to win because she’s playing.
On “Babies Cry”: Here’s another place that presented itself to me as a stage, but here the drama is stilled to tableau. It guts me that babies might feel the loss of each day as I often do.
Nicole Cooley on her Three Poems:
I am writing a book about trash. At the start of the pandemic, I began walking restlessly, uselessly, furiously around my New Jersey town and the towns nearby. I stared at the ground and studied objects that had been discarded. I made lists on my phone. This project somehow tethered me to the earth in a difficult time when I felt helpless to tend to my children, my family or myself. Then I began to research the history of trash in the US, specifically in the NYC area where I live, and a new world opened. This is a project, at its heart, about environmental crisis and the way we take care –or don’t—our world. I have met so many wonderful people since I started working on this book of poems—from sanitation workers to artists to historians. Writing these poems has made me think in completely different ways about myself and the world.