Hongo, Hirshfield, Andrews, et. al.

Hongo, Hirshfield, Andrews, et. al.
March 26, 2022 Plume

Garrett Hongo on “To a Soldier in Ukraine”:

Like everyone else, I’ve been horrified by the invasion and killings in Ukraine.  I thought of soldiers and innocent civilians having to face death without notice and I was reminded of the poetry of Tadeusz Rozewicz, the great Polish poet who wrote lyrics of humane sentiments, direct statement, and faith in the rebuilding of civilzation in the aftermath of WW II,  particularly his poem “In the Midst of Life,” which has always been a beacon of compassion for me.  I once imagined my maternal grandfather, unjustly imprisoned by the DOJ during WW calling out to Rozewicz for solacefrom his prison cell.  Like then, I heard a voice of fundamental calm and resolve and wrote my poem.


Jane Hirshfield on “I open the windows.”:
“I open the windows” was the final poem written during a month’s residency at Yaddo. Such a chance to work in protected time and space is an immense piece of luck, and accidental. Others suffer equally accidentally, because of the place and time of their birth, of their lives. The obligation not to forget this feels to me  each day, each year, more pressing. The poem was written in August, 2021. This statement is being written in March, 2022. Ukraine is under invasion–its poets, its cooks, its plumbers, its farmers. To be able to write anything at all, at such a time, is a knife of two-sided blade. One must not turn one’s back on beauty, on peace. One must not turn one’s back on the hell realms.


Nin Andrews on “A Story of Mother Mary I Could Believe”:
I wrote “A Story of Mother Mary I Could Believe” when I was taking a class called Exploring the Sacred with Poetry, taught by the brilliant poet, Jessica Jacobs, whose luminous writings I have long admired. One of the topics she covered was Modern Midrash, a term I’d never heard before, which I took to mean a contemporary reinterpretation of scripture or Biblical tales.

I realized, while studying with Jessica, that I have an absurdly clear idea of what happened to certain Biblical characters in certain Bible stories. This poem is a case in point. Writing it, I thought: Doesn’t everyone think this about the Virgin Mary?


Maurice Manning on “The Latch”:
I see from my notebook that I wrote this poem in April of 2018.  In the margins I’ve made a few notes to myself: chatter of the wren, click of the latch of the gate, bird bobbing like a cork on a branch.  Below these is some sort of sketch and farther down the page the word, rafter. I was listening to the world and thinking of the sounds around.  Then I must have been drawn to the language for those sounds, and how that language can produce a natural sort of rhyme: latch, clap, slap, chatters, black, branches, and rafters.  Those short a sounds bumping up against hard consonants.

Nancy Naomi Carlson on Translating Louis-Philippe Dalembert:

Translating Dalembert opened up a new world for me, as I’ve never before translated a writer from Haiti, a country that shares its Caribbean island location with the Dominican Republic. First under Spanish rule, and later a colony of France, Haiti achieved independence in 1804 and was the first Black republic in the Western hemisphere. Despite its rich contributions to the cultural arts, including literature, art, and music, Haiti remains an economically impoverished country plagued by vestiges of colonialism, political repression (including a thirty-year dictatorship), and natural disasters.

Dalembert is considered “among the major contemporary voices, not only in Haitian letters but also on the global francophone and international literary scene” (Professor Micheline Rice-Maximin, Swarthmore College). In addition to writing about  “vagabondage” (wandering around the world), biblical allusions, and recollections of childhood, Dalembert’s themes run the gamut between lost love to sharp political and social commentary. Stylistically, Dalembert’s poems are lyrical and generally accessible, and include a minimal amount of punctuation. Lower-case letters begin new sentences, and titles of poems are not capitalized. Dalembert makes generous use of Haitian Creole. He consciously avoids locking himself into a language or an identity: “I claim all the contributions of my Creole identity—those which I inherited and those I acquired ‘en route.’” The poems presented here—”dune” and “the shipwrecked city”—give the reader a sense of Dalembert’s wide-ranging view of the world encompassing both the quotidian as well as the visionary.

Cecilia Woloch on “The Wars Between the Wars Between the Borders that Were Not There”:

I find myself again, in the spring of 2022, in southeastern Poland near the Ukrainian border, an area I think of as “the borderlands,” and that historian Timothy Snyder has called “the Bloodlands.” My own family history is deeply entangled with the history of this region – the bloody partisan battles, the shifting allegiances, and the ways that the lack of a fixed national identity (who were these people, my people, people of the margins, people from nowhere?) contributed to what amounted to a cultural genocide in the years immediately following WWII. While many in my grandmother’s village took up the Ukrainian nationalist cause, and adopted a staunchly Ukrainian identity, my grandmother and at least a few others were swayed by the promise of Communist ideology. In the end, I feel, everyone lost.

So, this is a poem addressed to the grandmother I never knew, and to others like her, who had to face, in those terrible years, a choice I have never had to face. And yet  here I am, here we are, again, back in that place, an unthinkable war raging over the right to self-determination, the very right for some of us to say who we are, to write and live the stories of our own lives, to be the authors of our own history and our own destinies.

The poem is still new, perhaps a bit raw, but this seemed like the time to share it, and to offer forgiveness, to forgive ourselves.