It’s awkward (for me) to talk about my own poems — I can just say that this particular poem was written about 4 years ago, the first poem written for the collection I am now working on — and very different tonally from the poems that have come since– so I am not sure I have a place for it as the collection unfolds, but I may, and would like to as I am attached to this poem. It has been a while since the writing, but what it brings up for me (and I am not sure if these feelings are what sparked the poem) is the longing to get out of the city (NY) and see my many and deeply loved friends in Marin County — and go on the walk in the Lagunitas watershed — and listen to the creakings of the trees. They make me weep, those trees. I hug them best I can and kiss them. Schmaltzy, I know, but heartfelt.
Alan Shapiro on “Sweet Nothings”:
Aside from the title, there’s little in the way of imagery or figurative language in this poem. It is a poem mostly of abstraction, of discursive statement, analytical without the lyricism one expects in poetry in general, but in love poetry in particular. The challenge for me of such a poem is how to find non-figurative non imagistic ways of generating emotional intensity. I try to this rhythmically and syntactically by the shape of the sentences and by the way I draw them across the lines and stanzas so to embody or figure forth the dance of mutual deception in a certain kind of romance.
Carol Moldaw on “Mindfulness Training in La Jolla”:
“Mindfulness Training in La Jolla” went through many drafts, many siftings: I had too many impressions jumbled together but as I wrote certain things began to muscle out others on the page. Each stanza became associated with a time of day, an activity . . . compartmentalized, as I had been during the summer the poem recalls. Only after I’d written it, did I realize that the poem had become an exercise in the mindfulness work that had been at the core of the summer’s experience: how to see, experience and describe, without pre-conceptions, foregone conclusions, judgement.
Jules Jacob and Sonja Johanson on “Crow Poison”:
“Crow Poison” (also known as Fly Poison) is a common name for Amianthium muscitoxicum. This poem, and others from our collaborative work, developed from our mutual knowledge and fascination with poisonous plants and Nathanial Hawthorne’s short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” All plants named in the collection are injurious or toxic to varying degrees. We’re interested in their mythology, folklore, herbal and cultural usage, and knowledge of their correct use and/or avoidance as crucial tools to the communities where they’re found. Themes of science, oppression and idealized beauty, and the destruction of beauty are reflected in some of the work, as they are in Hawthorne’s short story.
All the poems in the collection were written with the goal of creating a single cohesive voice. While some poems were the exclusive work of one or the other poet, each reaching for this voice, most pieces were drafted and redrafted by both poets. Sonja wrote the first draft of “Crow Poison,” after which it went through several collaborative revisions. Amianthium muscitoxicum earned its spot in this collection by provoking questions of what can be salvaged in our personal and global disasters.
David Wojahn on “Threnody”:
Betsy Sholl on “Stammer”:
The movement of this poem pretty much came all at once. Its origin was seeing the recording of a Zoom interview I had conducted and being appalled by my bird-jittery and very unstill self. It was no big leap to those tics stutterers often have, to my own experience being a stutterer. The cringe I felt watching the recording was not unlike what I felt around that pudgy boy with whom I endured speech therapy in high school. Pity and fear, I thought: leave out the pity, and you get, if not cruelty, a lack of sympathy. The speaker’s hope for the boy’s future love and acceptance is a kind of repentance for her adolescent disdain, and it also reflects my own experience, so that now my stammer is more or less just a faithful companion, barking or asleep at my feet. All the noise at the beginning of this poem, the alliteration and assonance is, I think, an unconscious attempt to create something of the hesitations and repetitions a stutterer experiences. It’s never quiet, the words are always in there trying to get out. And birds¾their anxiety, their ability to soar. There’s always the chance a wound will become a gift, maybe passed on to others with different or less noticeable wounds.
Sandy Solomon on “Shame”:
So often poems come out of memories/images that stick—that proverbial burr on the sock after a walk in the woods. I had no idea of the form this poem would take when I finally started writing it; I’d begun several times to no effect, but the conch was there for years, waiting for me. First, I wrote long, and then, as I cut and shaped the lines, as I followed where the poem’s language and images took me, I ended up with stanzas of 13 lines, one line short of sonnet length—all, that is, except for a 12-line stanza, the stanza of most intense suffering. The poem tries to work against expectation—come up short—in another way formally—in the number of beats per mostly blank verse line. I hope the reader unconsciously feels those effects. As the poem began to cohere on the page (we’re talking about lots of revisions), I could circle around what felt like its heart: the crucifixion of the conch against natural beauty that humans take for granted and casually spoil.
Ellen Doré Watson on Adélia Prado’s “Satan’s Market” & “Our Lady of Pleasures”:
I’ve been translating Adélia Prado’s poems for four decades. Returning these last months to her most recent volumes, the pleasure of this work floods back to me: this voice, these concerns and strategies—how fresh and yet indubitably hers. Deeply religious, deeply appreciative of the quotidian, she is ever open to the tinges of sex, shame, and the simple contentment to be found there.
Freed from religious duty by the church closure in “Our Lady of Pleasures,” the speaker is fully embodied, stretching out in the sun, hoping for a “certain chicken” to become her lunch, whereas in “Satan’s Market,” where the ripeness of the fruit is “indecent,” she eats raw turnips “like an ascetic”—and what first presents as virtue turns out to be pride disguised as joy. Again and again I’m struck by how the muchness of the world can be either glorious or oppressive, and how Adélia’s disarming directness often embraces a disconcerting complexity.
Wei Shao on “Language Is a Form of Walking, Even at Age of 87”:
Ron Smith on “Rome/Glasgow: Early March”:
Sometimes I Want to Believe that Surface Is Depth by Ron Smith
Delores and I love the gaudy grandeur and exhausting vitality of Rome, visit as often as we can, find the Eternally City eternally changing. Ontologically, Rome is hereandnow, thereandthen, nowhereandneverbeen. It is enormity and triviality, existence and essence.
In my phenomenological bones, in my imaginative being, all other big cities serve as comparison, as notRome/likeRome.
I try never to think of poems as journalism or memoir—but the details in this piece come as close to documentary as my memory and my notebooks can provide.