Rosenthal, Stratton, Aizenberg, et. al.

Rosenthal, Stratton, Aizenberg, et. al.
April 24, 2022 Plume

Mira Rosenthal on translating Tomasz Różycki:


The poems “A Room” and “Wild Strawberries” come from Tomasz Różycki’s tenth book, Litery, forthcoming in my English translation from Archipelago Books in 2023. The collection builds like a detective novel, following a lieutenant on the hunt for any clues that might lead 21st-century human beings out of a sense of emptiness and despair. Set against a landscape of authoritarianism rising across eastern Europe, the poems bear witness to protest movements in the region such as the Ukrainian Euromaidan and contend with difficult political history from WWII to reveal the individual’s longing for an absent hero—by turns angelic messenger, police detective, beloved, and, in a sense, the poet himself. Is there a culprit of the current state of affairs? Who might be able to rescue us from the history that informs our present and already has designs on our future?  


Bill Stratton on “What Almost Killed You”:

At some point, amid the mind-numbing endlessness of grading seven hundred or so pages of autoethnographies and researched persuasive essays, I took a break to send birthday wishes to friends on social media. I saw there a thread indicating that others should introduce themselves as something that almost killed them. Among the numerous times I recounted my life flashing before my eyes, so to speak, this one seemed to want to be a poem. The amalgamation of summers in the north country clawed its way out, and though I’ve changed some small details (the man from Germany is a friend of mine who was working with me at the time, and the name of the man in the fight is different), the stories are true as I remember them otherwise.  I don’t think of myself as having a good memory, but there are moments when they seem to come back to me whole, as if I’d just lived them, and I do my best to lose myself in the voice and body of the person I was then. To see the world as it was and not how I might want it to be, though perhaps that’s just hubris.  I wrote two failed versions of this poem, and then when this one finally came, it came mostly as is, which is rare for me. A handful of revisions and changes later, it was what it is now. I have a good group of writers who I am occasionally able to workshop with (via zoom these days) who are lovely and helpful, and I would be remiss to leave them out here.


Susan Aizenberg on “Forced March”:

It’s taken me some thirty years, since I first watched Rick King’s film, to be able to write this poem, and I think the best I can add here is that I offer it with the greatest respect in memory of Radnóti and those he marched and died with, and with gratitude for his beautiful, essential poems.


Zoë Ryder White on “Close to now”:

This poem is part of a series called Via Post, written during the blur of that first pandemic spring. In the midst of that particular combination of isolation/the unavoidable lack of privacy that came with sheltering in place with my husband and three children, I kept suddenly finding myself outside, wandering around the yard staring hard at plants. No matter where the self went, there the self was. I guess this is always true, but it felt particularly so, then. What are you doing out there, my kids would shout from the doorway, and I would shout back, I am staring at these plants! I originally envisioned each poem in the series as an epistle – a tether to the world outside my yard – so this came out in a block of prose, at first. It seemed to want a little more space, as I revised, so I gave it some, but kept the long prose lines. They felt suited to all of that yard-wandering.


David Lehman on his three poems:

On August 1, 2020, I revived an old habit and began writing a poem a day. The practice persisted through February 2022. The three poems in this issue of PLUME — “No One Speaks to Me Anymore”, “March Morning” and “After Breaking Three Ribs” — were written in winter 2021. To some extent, a sequence of daily poems necessarily resembles a diary or journal, so the reader can tell that the author broke three ribs in January. I trusted that the strictly autobiographical details would lead to, or accompany, insights into music, an Ithaca winter, aging, the reader’s varying relation to some of his favorite authors, and other subjects of interest..


Katherine M. Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez on translating Antonio Gamoneda:

When speaking of his writing process, Antonio Gamoneda (Spain, 1931) has affirmed, “I only know what I think when my own words have told me. It follows that my language, my own language, is the creator of consciousness and knowledge. In other words, I only gain knowledge afterwards.” This holds true for the poems that make up his 1992 collection Libro del frío / Book of the Cold. Here, Gamoneda is at his most innovative and hermetic; here, as critic Miguel Casado describes it, “words—even the most precise—have no fixed meaning.” In this way, Gamoneda offers readers an alternative to more dominant trends in contemporary Spanish poetry, which privilege an accessible, sensible approach, grounded in narrowly-defined notions of what is common or normal. The openness and lack of fixity in Gamoneda’s work might seem like an impossibility for his translators, and no doubt they present a challenge. However, we would pose the poetic qualities found here are actually quite appropriate for translation, for they question ideas of accuracy and authenticity; they contradict the idea that words say what they say and nothing more.


Mark DeCarteret on “Lives of the Postmodern Poets”:

For some time, I’ve been immersed in a series of prose poems that goes by “The Year I/We Went Without.” One might guess by the title that they had rose up post-virus but they predate it by several months. I half recall Tom Lux saying that late in his life he’d become bored or couldn’t be bothered with stanzas. I suddenly started to feel the same way about the line. Always at the mercy of their rest-taking, memory lapses. And yet, while I was rethinking the virtues of the box, I found myself trying to talk my way out of it. Not ready to part with the trappings of verse which had served me well enough. Even though they were starting to turn on me.

The enclosed poem–“Lives of the Postmodern Poets” is a sort of offshoot of this series. Further spun-off, tossed aside. Nearly processed to death. The lines are clipped and picked over. Lending themselves to even more tension. Within the loosened-up slack of the form. The music seemingly in decline, tin eared. It has heard enough.

And though on first look it resembles a haibun. Its eyes locked on the East. It has seen enough, too. Is not given to travel in the least. Not only set in its ways but tiring too easily. Much too static and lived-in to be anti-anything. Sure, it signs off at the end. With that iconic appendage. But this isn’t distillation. Or even a last-minute send-up. Instead, the text has exhausted itself. Has so seriously had it. It has fled the scene. For yet another.


Jeffrey Skinner on Four from Delos:

Last year, for no apparent reason, I began writing small, three quatrain poems.  I’m never sure why or how I find myself in the midst of a new writing project, but perhaps in this case it had something to do with the fact that I had become interested in the family relation I saw between poems and jokes.  I love the art of stand-up comedy, and I feel that stand-up must be one of poetry’s cousins.  The three-quatrain form seemed the appropriate one to explore this relationship.

At some point in the writing, I came up with the Sylvia Plath poem, and it occurred to me that I could devote a section of this form to writers I loved, and who had been fundamental to my journey.  I wanted each writer I made a poem for to be somehow reflected in the poem—either by biographical fact, or by some element of their style.  It was good to revisit my demigods and goddesses (thus, Delos), good to try and express my awe of, and gratitude to them.  These are four of the dozen or so I’ve written so far.  I see that each is little more than an amuse-bouche, but I mean them as homages just the same.  These are writers lodged deeply in my soul.


Lauren Camp on “Small Scenes Without Apology”:

According to my notes, I began “Small Scenes without Apology” in mid-2015. The poem didn’t have a title or a form. It was merely a collection of profound details about the early days of my father’s decline into what would later be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. I did many drafts, looking to best capture and reflect elements of our new ordinary without relying on sentimentality. Ultimately, manipulating the poem to gaps and shifting lines let it click into place.


Danielle Blau on “(Blessed Are) They Who Preserve”:

A few years ago I joined my friend on a visit to some Bavarian family members of hers, and on my return people asked me (as is the custom) about my trip: the Biergartens? the Danube? the Alps? Well, yeah, that too—but what I really wanted to talk about was my friend’s godmother, a widow who mainly spent her days alone in a tidy Munich apartment feeding stray cats out her backdoor and making homemade fruit preserves. 

The expressions I got in response—alternately bewildered and bored—suggested it was time for me to move this conversation out of the bar and into a poem. In a poem I would be given space enough to get to the bottom of why this pleasant, timid woman’s unexceptional existence so moved me—and, at the same time, so spooked me.
And what unfurled itself in the space of the poem was a series of (fictionalized) case studies on the primal human instinct to preserve, which somehow manages—I realized as I wrote—to take such seemingly incompatible forms: how can this singular instinct lie at the core of our weird species’ most tender acts and most terrible acts at one and the same time? how can it lie at the core of both the most tender and the most terrible urges nestled deep within one and the same individual person?