Freeman, Sholl, Aizenberg, et. al.

Freeman, Sholl, Aizenberg, et. al.
February 26, 2024 Plume

Jan Freeman on “Eating the Madeleine”:

This poem began percolating when I was walking by a walled-in garden in the village of Auvillar two years ago. It brought back memories of the rose arbor where I played Mean Mother with neighbors when I was a child. Which opened into thoughts about the solitude of children, and the need to be seen and loved. Which opened into my teenage longing to be cool, to be chosen. And that spiraled into a memory of my mother telling me about her father obsessively drawing and painting her as a girl and a young woman. The act of writing revealed that legacy of confusion, the penalty of being seen, of acquiescence, obedience, love.



Betsy Sholl on “Dear—” and “On Misreading a Line by Mario de Andrade”:

The poem “Dear—” was languishing on my hard drive for a couple of years because I couldn’t figure out how to write it.  A could-have-died experience with your life flashing before you seemed like it wanted to be told.  But straight-forward wasn’t working. Too much me and not much else.  I’d pull it up and look at and pretty quickly send it back into the slip bucket, poetry limbo. Then at some point, with nothing to lose, I began pulling it apart, trying to—not subvert so much, as submerge the narrative in something bigger.  It also seemed as if the rush and terror of the immediate experience maybe deserved a little rush and roughness in the form.  Let me add that the person who performed the Heimlich on me is the very fine poet Elizabeth Tibbets and this is dedicated with deep gratitude to her.

“On Misreading a Line by Mario de Andrade” came from merging two writing prompts I had given students during a summer conference.   One was to begin a poem by using a line from another poet and the other was to write about the experience of being mistaken, misreading a text, a situation, or even ourselves—the many ways we mistake things.



Susan Aizenberg on Wind, Blue Sky:

I wrote the first draft of this poem last summer, speaking it into my iphone as I walked my youngest grandchild in his stroller.  It was one of those rare, serenely mild August days, the kind that make me think of Henry James’s famous “Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”  I’d been taking a course on mindfulness and meditation, neither of which come naturally to me except as they do in the act of writing, and as I watched Jonah taking in everything around us—the feel of the breeze, the sounds of cars passing, the sight of dogs trotting by—and listened to him happily babbling that lovely song babies sing before they’ve learned to speak, it struck me once again how naturally mindfulness comes to well-loved children, unburdened by the past and without any notion of the future.  Unlike me, Jonah lived in the moment, all awareness and delight, and as I walked with him I was able—almost—to experience for a little while the world in that same way.  I very rarely compose aloud while walking, as I did that day, and I think the rhythms of that walk inform the poem.



Karl Kirchwey on his poems:

EPITAPH: Beth Olam Cemetery, which is on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, NY, is the resting place of Emma Lazarus, author of the famous Statue of Liberty poem “The New Colossus,” and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo. It is also the resting place of poet and scholar John Hollander. Once when I visited his grave, I arrived after the imposing gates of the cemetery had closed. But I had bought flowers nearby, and was determined to leave them on his grave, so I threw my flowers over a  fence, then climbed the fence myself.

ROMAN MORNING: My favorite library in Rome is that of the so-called Centro degli Studi Americani (American Studies Center), which is housed in an ancient palazzo in the historic center of the city. The library stacks occupy a connecting  series of high-ceilinged, frescoed rooms, though a visitor is discouraged from using any but a single small reading room.
MUTABOR: VILLARS: Long ago I attended a school in the French-Swiss Alps, and those mountains have become a part of my imaginative landscape. Since 2007, I have been working on a long poem called MUTABOR which concerns, among other things, the history of photography, the history of aviation, the geology and natural history of the Alps, and the Holocaust. Our son is an enthusiastic boulder-climber, and the  coincidence of watching the sport climbing championships on television taking place in the town where I had once lived was too striking to resist.

Rae Armantrout on writing “Without Me”:

It’s not unusual for me to be excited enough about something I’m reading to want to engage with it by writing a poem. I’m (still) reading a book called The Rigor of Angels by William Egginton. It’s a study of the relations between the thinking of Heisenberg, Kant, and Borges. It turns out Heisenberg read Kant, Borges was influenced by both of them—and all three were obsessed with Zeno. What does this have to do with “Without Me”? There are no quotes from the book in it. All three of these thinkers, however, emphasized the role of the observer in constructing reality as well as the limits to what we can possibly know. The thought of putting human perception and reason at the center of nature has always troubled me. This book was pretty brilliant though. I am trying on the ideas expressed in it to see how they look and feel in practice, what they might mean for a person. I’m no mathematician or philosopher, so I kept the language of the poem simple. The image and the assertion in the first section may seem absurd—so be it. I’m being serious.

Not that it matters but the blinking blue light in the second part was a reflection on a Xmas tree ornament.



Charles O. Hartman on “The Minefield” and “Uncanny Daddy”:

In Downfall of the Straight Line, forthcoming from Arrowsmith, “The Minefield” falls right before “Uncanny Daddy.” The book includes several poems that contemplate the experiences of being a son and being a father. Claudius points out to Hamlet—disingenuously, under the circumstances—that “your father lost a father, / That father lost, lost his.” Each of us is an excerpt.

My father had a paralyzing stroke a few years after my mother died. Of course I wrote about it—of course not cogently. My files include various poem-fragments entitled “Stroke,” one dated November 1985 and a different one “mid-’95.” There’s a try at cobbling these together at the end of 2016. Three years later, in a draft finally called “Minefield,” the medley had ingested that anecdote of my father’s from about 1944. A full chronicle of “The Minefield” would overlap most of my career as a poet.

I read about the “uncanny valley,” territory that bedevils puppeteers and roboticists, where the resemblance to humans is not close enough to fool us but too close to be anything but creepy. When my memory stumbled across an incident from early in my son’s life—he was born the year after my father’s stroke—it was through this lens that I saw it, and myself, and both of them. The poem went through barely a dozen drafts; it was quick because I had few materials to manage: an idea, an event, and the glue of my gratitudes and regrets.



Xander Gershberg on “Grandpa David Told Me Once of Carpathia, a Place He had Never Been”

Many of this poem’s details came from a dream I had shortly after my grandfather’s death. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down some of the details. Over time, they began to coalesce into a grief recognizable yet uncanny. The surrealism made me feel as if I was grieving a version of my grandfather I did not remember, as well as for my grandmother whose death I was then anticipating (she died two years later). This felt like a kind of folklore, both individually familial and laden with the stories of a collective Jewish diaspora.  I attempted to lean into these impressions in the shape and order of the poem, trying multiple forms—a prose poem, one-stanza, couplets, long lines—before finding this final one. Eventually the highly-enjambed short-lines captured the slow yet propulsive feeling I felt in the dream and in my memory of my grandparents. This poem is for them: Grandpa David z”l and Safta (Tamar) z”l.