Alex de Voogt on translating Cavafy:
In 1915, Constantine Cavafy wrote a poem with hemistiches, a set number of syllables per half-line and a particular meter. It was this new verse form with historical antecedents that he would use for eighteen of his poems. The last one, from 1929, was composed only a few years before his own death in 1933 and the title translates as “Lovely flowers and white ones as was very befitting.”
In this verse form, Cavafy experimented with enjambments across half-lines and lines, creating complex connections. The last three in the series were not only his longest, but he also started to end sentences in the middle of a half-line or leave a word suspended with the rest of a phrase waiting in the next half-line. He pushed the possibilities of this form, which makes this final poem particularly intriguing. Not only does it speak about death with Cavafy’s passing only a few years away but it also epitomizes and ends his interest in this verse form.
The translation adheres to Cavafy’s rules for the hemistiches and syllable counts but mostly tries to keep the effects of enjambment and his use of punctuation that disrupt and connect Cavafy’s poetic phrases in the human drama that he masterfully unfolds in this poem.
Ira Sadoff on “I’m not Waiting”:
“I’m not Waiting” was written after the death of my dear friend, poet Jane Mead. It might as well have been called “Against Becoming.” She was plucked off the earth so quickly, so unexpectedly, how could I not only grieve her loss but also to try to come to terms with my own death. There’s not much time left, which accounts for the propulsive cadences of the poem. I’ve always been a self-improver, and when I was younger that drive served me well as a poet and person. But it also impeded my self-acceptance. This poem tries to take down the monster of hopes and idealizations in order to better deal with the real, complete with the regrets and imperfections that make us human and the world real. You can’t love someone in the hopes that they’ll somehow come to appreciate you (the bracelet being the one moment of backsliding in the poem), you can’t wait for America to become a just country (you just do the existential work you can), you can’t wait for recognition, you can’t recycle your guilty regrets. I don’t know where The Now will take me, but in this poem that’s where I aspire to live.
This is a lyric poem, and all I ask of it is that it be metaphorically true.
Nancy Mitchell on “Sister Dementia Remembers” & “Phone Booth”:
Sister Dementia Remembers.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched helplessly as a dear friend and family member progressed from short-term memory loss into full-blown dementia.
It seemed, in both cases, that as the present became more shrouded in fog, specific memories from the distant past would flash brightly and momentarily through the scrim. Although in in the telling, they demonstrated what specialists call “a lack of cohesion in discourse,” to my ear, and mind they were strung together with an intriguing associative lyric logic of sound, syntax and meter which made perfect sense to me. I guess my ear was alert to these patterns—who knows? —but one morning while making coffee, I “heard” the first line of this poem, wrote it down, and the rest seemed to write itself.
While I stood in line in the lobby of the defunct hospital built in the ‘50’s, which had been repurposed a Covid vaccine clinic, I noticed a phone booth discreetly recessed into the paneled wall. I was thinking how it offered privacy, a sort of sacred space—like a tiny chapel, or confessional—for a personal conversation. It struck me how private phone conversations are now often public, and, maybe, like phone booths, privacy is a relic of the past. When a group of folks from a nursing home—quite elderly and infirm—were wheeled in for their “shots in arms” I wondered if any of them had called out from that phone booth and with what news.
Hoyt Rogers On “Dust”:
What is the fundamental purpose of poetry? I would say that beyond its metrical, musical, metaphorical, and other qualities, the aim of poetry is to bear witness. In this poem, the presence that accompanies us to the grave is poetry itself. The gesture raised in words is the poem. The poem teaches us that the truth happens only once. The hollow song is filled each time we read or say the poem. We are our own witness. We bear witness to our life through poetry.
Martha Kosir on Translating Katja Gorečan’s poems:
It’s been a truly exciting experience to work on the translation of Gorečan’s poetry collection The Sufferings of Young Hana. Researching young Slovenian poetry, Gorečan’s collection struck a particular cord. The poet’s candor, paired with humor and irony, were without question refreshing, and her feminist focus unmistakable. In exploring the world of young Hana, Gorečan ultimately explores the persistent struggles of women as they endeavor to define their feminine essence in a world where behavioral patterns remain normative. This is especially evident in the two poems featured in this selection. Gorečan questions these patterns and expectations through a masterful use of irony and the power of language.
Brendan Constantine on ‘A Controlled Substance’:
Years before I began to write, I had a rather grave problem with drugs and alcohol. I’ve been in recovery since 1990 and haven’t had a mind-altering substance since then. However, this subject rarely appears in my work. At least not directly. Honestly, I don’t know why. That is, I haven’t avoided it, it’s just part of my ‘foundation,’ as it were, the place where I begin.
In this poem, I’m not the narrator, but the absent brother, though I know what it’s like to sit at that table. I’m afraid alcoholism and addiction are part of a family tradition. And to be a drunk or a junkie, indeed even to love one, is to watch a person slowly disappear, as if from a family portrait, steadily fainter. This sense of vanishing is also, somehow, outside of time.
I should add that the person I was doesn’t feel gone. Wherever I go, whatever I accomplish, that man is still with me, still down and dreamless in his dark bed.
Really, this poem was created from a history of exchanges. It began pre-pandemic, at Kelli’s dining room table, spread with index cards filled with words heard or read in various piles of books surrounding us. Outside the window, the waters of Hood Canal showed us various moods and shades of grey, with seabirds passing by and sea life sharing in our narrative. And when we could no longer meet in-person to write poems together, we exchanged prompts via email, taking turns writing the same poem until it took shape and became its own being, both of us sharing wonderment at the riches of the Universe, and fragile beauty of which we are a small part. Writing this, and other poems together, is a way of honoring this connection of friendship, and kinship with all that is.
Elizabeth Jacobson, Three Stages of Friendship and Grief:
I began this poem during the first year a dear, dear friend was diagnosed with cancer and worked on it until after his death, which came three years later. The first section is somewhat optimistic as the treatment my friend received offered the possibility of a long remission or recovery. In the second section, my friend was two years into treatment and his mind, his thinking, were working in new ways. The third section of the poem was written after he died. Writing the different sections helped me to appreciate both my bond with him, the sorrow I felt for him during this time of immense suffering, and my own isolated pain over losing him. During these years, it was never clear if he would have an untimely death, but then the cancer came back full force. As the title suggests, the three sections portray different phases I went through with him, the tone, the texture of his life during this time as I experienced it through our friendship, and the shifts in our friendship, which became deeper, darker, more intimate are all mirrored in the individual sections. Aside from meeting my friend regularly at a coffee shop, or sometimes at a bar for a beer, we had a steady email correspondence. Some of the lines in the second section are from him.
Pablo Pinero Stillman on “What I Learned from ‘Saved By The Bell'”:
The inspiration for this poem came from S. Rich’s “What I Learned from Bewitched” (Blackbird Vol. 19 No. 2). Even though I’ve never watched a single episode of Bewitched (nor the 2005 N. Kidman/W. Ferrell po-mo remake), the piece transported me to what a girl in 196? felt—not just watching the show, but existing in the world. That understanding of the human experience is what art’s all about, right? In the poem’s ending, Rich moves away from the screen &, in just a few strokes, paints the girl’s home life with an enviable dexterity. “What I Learned from Bewitched” stayed with me long after reading it. It made me think of those Saturday mornings when I (religiously) watched Saved by the Bell, how they represented a certain type of loneliness I felt & how the show framed the way I saw the world. That’s when the poem began brewing in my head. By the time I sat down to write it, it was practically done.