Page Hill Starzinger on “Black Apples” and “Landing”:
These two poems are from a poetry collection called Vortex Street coming in spring 2020 from Barrow Street Press. The book speaks to loss—childlessness and parental death—and to finding a new world and home. In “Black Apples” the first nine lines suggests the connection between infertility, cities, pollution, and environmental damage. The next section speaks to the loss of my parents: first to alcohol, second to dementia, and third to death. The question for me was how to move beyond this place of grief and mourning. “Landing” was one answer. The end of the book pushes out into new territory without losing sight of where I came from.
Peter Campion on “Government Center”:
“Government Center” began as a section of a much longer poem, a poetic mural containing scenes drawn from my teen age years in Boston. After a year of revising, I abandoned this longer poem—it felt at once unruly and schematic, as if I had strong-armed the material into a thesis. My happy surprise was to find that some of the discrete scenes or sections formed their own poems. “Government Center” was the first of these. I’m still working on a couple more.
John Brehm on “I Decided to Weigh My Head”:
One of the great things about being a poet is that if you do something ridiculous you can write a poem about it. I have a rather large head and also a lot of neck pain, and at a certain point it occurred to me that these two facts might be related. So I decided to weigh my head and find out. When I saw the number, 8.8 lbs., that seemed significant in various ways. I have since learned that the average human head weighs 10-11 lbs, which would put me under the average. That seems unlikely, given the size of my head and weightiness of my thought. I assume the discrepancy comes from weighing heads in a detached state. I was not willing to go that far to find my answer.
Mihaela Moscaliuc on “The House”:
William Lessard on “mother of stains”:
I began this poem in a Vancouver hotel a few hours after hearing that my mother had died. While it is difficult to recall my mental state, I remember setting out to let the details of each line hold emotions I had no other way to express. Clark Coolidge’s Poet, published by Pressed Wafer, was perched on my lap throughout.
The sonnet is a form I have never written in, but under the circumstances, I was willing to try anything. If the work at all succeeds, it’s not because of the words themselves, but the eternal silence into which each line dissolves. The music to which the piece aspires is Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” and Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece.”
Stephanie Burt on “AFTER CALLIMACHUS”:
These poems come from a collection (out in 2020) that adapts, translated, and takes off from poems and fragments of Callimachus, the Greek Alexandrian poet of late antiquity famous for his craft, his learning, his devotion to small-scale forms, and his snarkiness about literary rivals. (He was also a librarian, and may have been a teacher.) The Aetia, which survive only in fragments– some that comprise whole narratives, some a few words– relay the origins of customs, places, and legends; the Epigrams survive as an intact set of short poems, some annoyed, some thankful, some sad. Some of my versions stay close to the originals; others add to what we have, or transform it– Epigram 54, for example, in Callimachus’s Greek, prays to the goddess of childbirth, but the reminder that many kids are trans is mine.
Daniele Pantano on “Fallow Ground” and “Geometries of Exile (Or)”:
“Fallow Ground” and “Geometries of Exile (Or),” which were first drafted in Sicily during the summer of 2018, address issues of migration, trauma, exile, and writing one’s way home. As the great Lee Harwood once said, “The poem is always unfinished and open ended and only complete (and then only in one way) when read by someone else . . . The important telegram torn in half and only one half given to the reader to fill in the missing half,” so rather than adding any unnecessary explanatory details about the poems, I will gladly wait for the readers to complete my telegrams. I can, however, add a few words about why poetry matters, why poetry is immeasurably valuable to me: In the best of all possible worlds, poetry is supremely important and utterly superfluous; poetry changes everything and nothing at all.
Linda Pastan on “My Obituary”:
I wish I could mention some interesting, intellectual trigger that started this poem. But I always read the obituary section of the Times, and lately I’ve noticed that most of the people who died were younger than I am. Which started me thinking…
David Wojahn on “Borges at Dolphin Books: New Orleans, 1982”:
The encounter with Borges actually happened, in much the way it’s described in the poem–I even got him to sign a copy of one of his books for me. Borges’ “bookishness,” if that’s the right term, always seemed to me more mystical than pedantic, and in homage to that I sampled a good many lines from other writers which you’ll recognize–Milton, Transtromer, Rilke.
Patricia S. Jones on “Milk Ice”:
A couple of years ago, David Rivard posted a status about driving through fog. Fog fascinates me–I know fog is really cloud. Clouds look like milk. So, this poem is associative–a way of marrying earth and sky where clouds usually are. I hope it makes readers consider that even on earth, we may be in the clouds and they are dangerous.