Virginia Konchan on “Liquidation”:
“Liquidation” was written at the height of the pandemic, after reading a list of products made obsolete by technology; I thought of how ideas and social formations (even socializing itself) too, could be rendered obsolete by historical forces, some irrevocably so. The narrative litany that resulted concludes with a challenge to the quote that “elegy is endless,” which I read in a literary review, and I hope the poem reads more as an homage and celebration of “archive fever,” and an articulate desire to embrace futurity, in the Copernican sense, than it does an elegy to obsolescence. Lastly, the poem evokes Freud’s dualistic drive theory, which opposes Eros (the life-instinct) to Thanatos (the death drive), imagining instead a higher synthesis between life and death, love and loss, that poetry (and all art) represents and can materialize, aesthetically and culturally.
Theresa Burns on “Letter to My Almost Former House”:
This poem was written in perhaps the fourth year of a five-year stint of our family’s unemployment, when it became clear we’d have to sell our nearly 100-year-old house. The detachment process felt weirdly like a romantic break up, including the mental fake outs we do to inoculate ourselves against the loss. I’d had a tough time transitioning from lower Manhattan to suburban New Jersey when we bought the house 16 years earlier, after the second kid arrived. I held the house and its demands somehow responsible for my misery. It took a few years, and the slow rhythms of the garden, for me to envision a happy life for myself out here. Only then did I begin to appreciate the beauty of its rooms, its quirky charms. And not long after, the reality that we could lose it.
An important truth of this poem for me is owning the pride we feel in the spaces we live in. It’s embarrassing, I feel, to be caught loving a material thing. The story has a happy ending. A year after I wrote the poem, our long period of unemployment ended, and I write this now from the dining room of the house we never left.
“Letter to My Almost Former House” will appear in my first collection of poems, Design, coming from Terrapin Books next year.
Adriana Scopino on translating Concha Lagos:
How could I know, that when my daughter gave me a gift of a small book from her visit to Cordoba, that the Andalusian poet Concha Lagos, born in 1907 (or, by some accounts, 1909), would become so important to me? For many years an important presence on the literary scene in Madrid, Lagos withdrew into herself during the last part of her long life. When NYC in lockdown became the epicenter for Coronavirus in the U.S., memorized poems of Concha Lagos kept me company. More than other translations, these poems needed time and patience. Lagos’s mysticism and interiority, her deep song, contained depths revealed only gradually. If not approached with the right sense of containment, the poems slipped away as if through holes in a net. Never has frustration and longing been so much a part of the translation process for me. The technical brilliance of the poems was also not something that could be taken in all at once. Lagos’s musicality, concision, and inventiveness could be overwhelming once grasped and has been a challenge to find a way to carry over into English. As a reward, the translations became a way to look at the world. Magnet-like, they drew life around them in meaningful connections.
These poems culled by poet Juana Castro from Lagos’s extensive body of work in the collection Agua, amaze in their freshness.
Brian Culhane on “Pain ” and “Ophelia and the Nine-and-Fifty Swans”:
Last spring my wife and I went on a road trip that ended in Corrales, N.M., where I suddenly felt inspired to write, spurred in part by my reading of John Burnside’s criticism (The Music of Time) and his poetry (black cat bone). We were staying in our friends’ beautiful old adobe home. and I was graciously allowed use of the sewing room, which was perfect: small, cozy, and dark. I must have written half a dozen poems in that sanctuary. These two poems came out of that trip, both of which, I see in retrospect, deal in some crucial way with art. They also share a similar stanzaic form: each having three short lines breaking willy-nilly, producing a jagged effect, emphasized further by slight distortions of normal speech patterns, with few punctuation marks to guide the reader along. There’s a risk here since such a form demands from readers a certain kind of attention to flow, but I felt that the particular voice in these poems required a spare, impersonal, even stripped-down, style.
“Pain” was prompted by my reading of Crane, and in reading about him I came upon the anecdote about Siqueiros’s portrait of the young poet. I admit to having to look up the various ways a crow’s caw can be described and came upon “grunk,” which I instantly fell in love with.
In “Ophelia and Nine-and-Fifty Swans,” the art lecturer’s “private joke” was actually a remark made by a professor I once heard discussing how Yeats must have lied about his exact count (in “The Wild Swans at Coole”). He was an arrogant, disagreeable fellow, and that too made it into the poem.
Sydney Lea on “Alone at 77 ” and “I Arrive at the Scene”:
A very unusual aspect of both my poems in this issue is that what you read is –but for a tweak or two– pretty much what I wrote in one or two drafts. I say unusual because the aspect of writing that for some reason I especially cherish (and thus sometimes overdo) is revision.
“Alone at 77”: In reconsidering this one, I batten onto “What does a mere egg’s lucency do/
against that one plate in the sink?” My wife was off with a younger sister on a (pre-pandemic) Florida vacation. I have to admit that, on such rare occasions as she’s absent, I’m an emotional mess. Midway through their stay, having made a meager breakfast, I contemplated that she and I seem to praise the vividly-yoked eggs that the manager of our local bank branch sells, and that we are grateful, as many would not be, to live in a place where such a thing is possible. But with my partner gone, I thought, “Orange yolks, big deal,” or something akin.
All during my wife’s getaway, I ceaselessly reminisced on our forty-plus hears together, and certain details came to mind as I set about this poem. The more I contemplated them, however, the more I missed her, and to save myself (ultimately, as the poem admits, without entire success), I engaged in a good deal of make-work.
The egg, the lovely late-winter landscape outside, the precious memories shared with the love of my life, the plain fact that after all these many years, she remains for me a physical paragon– these are clearly blessings, great and small.
In the extended periods of COVID lockdown, I am daily conscious of how fortunate I am to feel as I do about my spouse. I’ve considered certain contentious marriages I know, and have pitied both parties. At heart, in contradistinction, my poem is about the fact that I’m a lucky, and yes, a blessed man; the speaker’s tears at the end are token of that.
“I Arrive at the Scene”: My late friend Bill Matthews once entertained a baffling question from an audience member. “Are those real poems or did you make them up?” A hard question to understand, let alone answer. I suppose the man who posed it wanted to get at the factuality of Bill’s poetry.
Everything in this poem is factual, but its narrative is “made up.” That is, it considers disparate materials and seeks to find the connections among them. That, for me, is what imagination is all about, taking apparently diverse materials and forging from them a (tentative) whole.
A local high school girl had recently had a terrible one-car accident. She was popular: an honor student, an athlete, and an all-around decent person. Her given name is Sierra, and in lawns all over our neighborhood, signs were immediately posted—SIERRA STRONG. We were all pulling hard for the young woman (who, I’m glad to say, made an almost complete recovery and is now at college). I did this despite the fact she and her family are unknown to me, a bit of an oddity in a neighborhood so scantly populated that most of its residents know each other. This led me to the idea of the poem’s accident victim as a stranger.
Car accidents were on my mind, and I remembered passing one on I-95 (decades ago!) and noticing an intact milk jug standing upright next to the twisted wreck. That image was as clear to me as if I’d seen it the day before I started to write. The victims were, of course, strangers to me.
Prior to starting my poem, I thought how my friend and near neighbor John, local fire chief, is always summoned to smash-ups in these parts. I thought how quietly competent and hardy he is, and how glad I am that I’m not expected, as he is, to participate in such gruesome events. I imagined how I would feel if in fact I were so obliged, how desperately I’d long to be elsewhere.
I don’t of course mean that I forged this amalgam a priori. As always, the links of one thing to another and others revealed themselves in the act of composition.
John Rosenwald on translating Rilke:
My love for Rilke’s sonnets began more than half a century ago. In the fall of 1963 I was taking one course in creative writing and another on the history of German poetry. About the time we reached Rilke in the German course, John Nims, the creative writing instructor, assigned as an exercise a translation of Rilke’s sixth sonnet to Orpheus. Two years later, studying at the Universität Tübingen on a Fulbright grant, learning the culture as well as the language, I dedicated much time to the fifty-five Sonnets to Orpheus, all written, as I had learned, during the month of February, 1922. On the forty-ninth anniversary of Rilke’s death, I made a pilgrimage to his grave. By the time I sailed back to the United States in the summer of 1966, I knew most if not all the sonnets by heart. My small “Insel-Bücherei” copy of them was filled with clarifications of unfamiliar words, interpretations of difficult passages, complex metrical analysis, and a few potential translations. That small book was with me every minute as I did this work. During the following thirty years I created one complete version. Then another. Each summer morning in Maine, looking out the window of our small cottage on Garland Pond, I struggled to understand, to clarify, to make meaning and music coincide, coming to believe the need to maintain the poet’s commitment to form as integral to his music and also to his understanding and critique of the Platonic/Aristotelian philosophy that has dominated western culture. Another twenty years later, preparing to celebrate the centenary of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, I completed a new translation, for me a final tribute to the poems and to their creator.
Jane Craven on “Cockatiel” & “View From Another Planet”:
I may owe these poems to a four a.m. break-in at our house. The perp was drunk/drugged out of his mind and just looking for a place to crash, but I can’t forget our alarm blaring and the guy (in underwear only), bloody from breaking out the glass of our front door. So I think both these poems bloomed from concerns with personal safety. The narrator of “Cockatiel” is shaken to find a dead exotic bird in a parking lot, which unearths feelings of her own strangeness and alienation. While in “View From Another Planet,” a woman escapes to a fantasy where she walks the streets of her city alone at night, unburdened by fear. So, thank you Plume editors for the opportunity to publish in your lovely journal and for prompting me to ponder the roots of these two poems and their thematic commonalities.
Stephen Ackerman on “An American in Paris” and “The Sun Pours Forth”:
Daniel Tobin on “A Brief Portfolio”:
These four monologues are part of a book of thirty-three sections entitled At the Grave of Teilhard de Chardin. Each is voiced by an associate or family member of Teilhard de Chardin, the great but controversial scientist, mystic, and theologian. Other sections inhabit a wide range of voices, from the poet’s own (fictionalized of course) to those farther afield—the moon, a nautilus shell, the wake of a boat. At the Grave of Teilhard de Chardin, by turns, is the third in a trilogy of book-length poems—the first, From Nothing, on the life of scientist and priest Georges Lemaitre, originator of the big bang theory; and the second, This Broken Symmetry, which explores the life of philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil. Each has the same thirty-three sections of twenty-four-line tercets. A double helix of twenty-four-line couplets weaves around and across all three books which, together, will be called The Mansions, forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2023. From the intuition of the design in 2009, and with considerable travel and research, the process has involved discovering and realizing the polyphonic and fractal arc of the whole point by imagined point.
Lois P. Jones on “HOUSEKEEPING: Frida’s Future Kiss”:
My connection with Rilke was born alongside a desire to write. Any lover of his work will recall their first staggering encounters with his poetry divining the spaces where language can’t reach. Some disdain the trope of the hermetic soul living in silence but what was accomplished during these years of isolation made space for some of the most profound work of the 20th century. What would it have been like to live with Rilke not as lover but as a facilitator of his domestic needs, a co-conspirator of daily living within the stone walls of a 13th century fortified manner house known as Château de Muzot with no electricity and no running water. How would it have felt to awaken into and to lay one’s head each evening on that great cloud of silence. Perhaps it was like living inside the church of another even through the sometimes harsh Provençal summers and the long feathered winters. Who could survive such an existence even thrive in it? Enter Frida Baumgartner in October of 1921, Rilke’s housekeeper for most of the last six years of his life. She was young, reticent and with little experience. How she transformed into a competent, creative and bold protector of their dwelling was a story worth investigating. Frida’s brief memoir is the subject of my project A Stranger’s Needs drawing on and inspired by her time with Rilke. HOUSEKEEPING: Frida’s Future Kiss speaks to a moment of longing touching her own solitude and the occasional months Frida spent alone at Muzot. While she left shortly before he passed, she returned to the Veyras region and spent the rest of her life there. Scholars and admirers alike would engage Frida through letters and visits to come closer to this enigmatic and beloved soul. This, and the fact that she never married suggests that her connection to Rilke was at the soul level and shared a tenderness only two people in the heart of winter around a crackling fire can know.
Kim Garcia on “Notes on an Illness in Spain” & “the grist of gratitude is like ingratitude”:
I wrote these poems at a time when I wanted more of the world’s muchness to come into my poems. I love spare poems, tidy as monk’s cells, but I also get tired of my own urge to tidy things up. Sometimes I want to let the wild images overrun that monastery, let the dam break and flood my inner landscape, and allow myself to be changed by what overcame me. Overfilling the cup like that tips me into risk, knocks me off balance. From that place, a new pattern can emerge, and when it does, it feels like grace.