Neil Silberblatt on ‘Hagstrom’:
As a result of several surgeries in 2016 – to remove cancerous tumors from my colon, then to remove much of that tubing, and then to reconnect what remained of that tubing – my abdomen now resembles a scarred landscape. For the longest time post-surgery, I could not bear to survey that landscape. This poem – which refers to the folded Hagstom maps shoved into our glove compartments – marks my attempt to navigate same, in the earnest hope of arriving in safer terrain.
Jeffrey Harrison on “Scene from a Photograph in a Dream”:
It’s been seventeen years since my brother killed himself, but he still appears in dreams from time to time. I’m always grateful when that happens, since these dreams are the only chances I have to see him. In the dream recounted in this poem, his appearance was indirect, through a photograph that only existed within the dream. I was mainly trying to get the dream down on paper, and to get at the accompanying emotions, but now, having been asked to write something about it, I see that the Russian doll effect at the end of the poem is doing a couple of things at once: emphasizing the insurmountable levels of separation between me and my brother—death, the dream, the photograph, and the second layer of sleep within the dreamed photo—but also, paradoxically, enabling the moment of intimacy I long to have directly (or wish I’d had in waking life). So for me (and hopefully for the reader too) there is a sense of something being both given and irretrievably taken away.
Rae Armantrout on “Transfer”:
This poem is dedicated to Mark Kruse, a particle physicist I met at the Entanglements conference at Wake Forest. He was saying that the metaphors physicists use to describe atomic and subatomic phenomena are deceptive. He was hoping poets might come up with better ones. That seemed like a tall order, but I set myself to the task. The result is not something that is ever likely to appear in a physics text book, but it kind of works. And it amuses me.
Nin Andrews on ‘The Definition of Post-Modernism’ & ‘If’:
As a writer, I could never list the names of all the poets and artists I would like to thank for their inspiration, their gifts, and in some cases their friendship and teaching. My forthcoming book, The Last Orgasm, is an effort to thank at least some of those who have inspired me over the years. Many of the poems are written “after” others, or in memory of a moment spent with them. The poem, “If,” was inspired by the poem, “If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda. And “The Definition of Postmodernism, “ began in a class with David Lehman, a class I took many years ago in which I don’t think I paid any attention to the definition of postmodernism.
Sally Bliumus-Dunn on ‘Elegy’:
This poem was written the summer after my mother died when everything I saw seemed elegiac.
When the deep sadness of losing her made everything inside me feel particularly still, the tidal waters
out my window offered a precious vitality and constancy. I wrote many poems that summer that began
with looking at the water, trying to articulate what it evoked. That morning the fine texture of the waves
reminded me of pocked notes on a music box cylinder. Once I had that image, the music box and ballerina
grew around it. I had this type of music box on my dresser as a child. There was always sadness when the last
clicks of the tune slowed and finally stopped. “No familiar tune to let go…”.
The tune is unfamiliar because mourning has led the speaker onto unfamiliar ground.
Ron Houchin on ‘Winter Landscape with Bird Trap’:
Winter Landscape with Bird Trap was a tricky poem to begin. I love Brueghel paintings, they always seem to have something almost hidden, something for the viewer to discover, and I love ekfrastic poems, whether about photographs or paintings. I was very eager to get this poem about this painting underway. How to approach it, how to begin it, so as not to scare-off the mystery, making it heavy handed and clumsy in my eagerness. Most often, I have no conscious idea where a poem will go when I start out, but this one had to go from the general landscape, the ice and snow, to that dark window with the string and the unseen hand that held it. It seems rather obvious now that I had to begin on the ice, a skater, and go to the birds on the snow. I felt I could not allow the voice to somehow be outside the scene, haughty, or too descriptive. Once begun, it seemed to want to write itself, which can be a whole different sort of problem all its own.
Jay Parini on ‘Into the Flame’:
I wrote “Into the Flame” in a strange moment of recollection, thinking of my young life – over a half a century ago – in Scranton, where I lived in a small house on a street that was very much working class – lunch pail life, as it were. My family were not “educated” in the sense of what is usually meant by this term, although my father certainly had a sense of the profound and was deeply religious and read the Bible daily.
This poem is about wanting, as a child, or really as a late adolescent, to dip myself in the fire of meaning. I would soon stumble on Paul Tilllich, and come to understand God as unbedingt, as the precondition of existence, not something “in the world,” not an object among objects. There is this fire that surrounds us: reality, which is deep and hot and beyond calculation. You can use whatever word you want, and “God” is just one word for this. But what the word aspires to do is name something that can’t be named, which is there before and after, which is beyond us, within us. It’s the ground of our being, and it’s where we live without often admitting to it, or being unable to get close to it. I felt this fire sometimes, and I long for it. And this poem is about that longing.
John A. Nieves on ‘A Five-Years-Late Note to Jake Adam York’:
In Late December 2017, I was talking to two very successful former students about foundational moments in their career journeys. One of the m asked me about mine and thought of a few, but the moment in this poem, the last time I saw Jake Adam York, before I had had the opportunity to expose hundreds of students to his important work, stuck with me. I then realized he had been gone for five years. I took the next few months to draft this poem (which has gone through more iterations than I care to admit) as homage to the man and his human kindness. I worked hard to keep the poem emotionally and factually as honest as my memory served, while calling in the music as its own thread/commentary as a tiny tribute to York’s stunning craft. I hope the poem acts as a gesture of thanks and appreciation others can connect to.
David Lehman on ‘Tchaikovsky’s Fifth [March 15]’, ‘On Freud’s Birthday [May 5]’ & ‘In Vienna [August 24]’:
For roughly five years I wrote a poem every day, and even when this experiment expired, I continued to write “daily poems” — that is, poems aware of the circumstances of their genesis. Both “Tchaikovsky’s Fifth [March 15]” and “On Freud’s Birthday [May 5]” are daily poems in this respect. They respect the ides of March and Freud’s birthday, respectively. “In Vienna” was written in the same manner as the other two, though the date in this case was incidental. I am convinced that the best way to keep a journal is in poetry.
William Logan on ‘The Orders of the Ordinary’:
I’ve been to very few funerals, perhaps just one, for a favored student who died of a heroin overdose. I still can’t speak of her death without having tears well up for all that promise forsaken. None of that is in the poem, and it does not need to be. Poetry is itself an act of the forsaken.