Christopher Buckley on “Heisenberg’s Principle”:
Again the argument of science vs. faith/fate . . . the two main tenents of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle fitting in quite well, to my mind, and helping to illustrate the facts as they stack up against our beliefs.
Since the late ‘80s I’ve looked to science and cosmology for corroboration to my doubts and dialectic, for the facts staring us in the face, as my father used to say. The data, the details of science, illuminate our situation and keep the thinking interesting, if not always positive or hopeful, and extend back to the Presocratics in their thinking, though that is not a wholly original idea on my part.
And a shout out to John Woods, who was a fine poet and who knew well the edges of irony and humor.
Alexis Levitin on translating Salgado Maranhão’s “Mythic Ground”:
This poem weaves itself between what merely is and what may become. Between the real and the imagined. As Salgado said in a recent email: “The imagination is what redeems us. When everything ends, we turn to myth, in the best of all hypotheses.” For me the agon and the reward in translating this poem comes from trying to squeeze its difficult dialectic into the stricture of rhymed couplets. Portuguese, like its fellow Romance Languages, is rhyme-rich, English is notoriously rhyme-poor. Portuguese has literally thousands of full-rhymes for amor, for example, while we have a grand total of four rhymes for love. Hence the challenge, hence the delight. For me, I am tickled pink by “the jasmine’s pride that sends/ its perfume to our lungs, triumphant over dung.” What a hoot!
Ron Smith on “Football & the English Language”:
After playing ten years of football, I coached it for thirteen, twelve as a line coach and as a high school defensive coordinator. When I was a player, I found the specialized language of American football to be not only insider-cryptic, but of necessity elliptical and efficient, tools worn smooth by much urgent handling. However, when I became a coach at a fine private prep school, I was delighted to discover that many of our players had a rich sense of humor and considerable wit, elements that made their language less utilitarian and a lot more fun. “Football & the English Language” began decades ago as a prose anecdote, eventually whipped itself into shape as a sonnet, lost its physique in the languor of freer form, then recently toned up a bit. It’s lightly fictionalized (name changes), but the dialogue is accurately recorded in my notebooks, as is the incident of the flying student. One thing didn’t make it into the final draft: I was called to examine a robust, obscene Whitman parody on a bathroom stall—and instantly recognized the style of the writer (though not the disguised handwriting). Later, I let the wag know his poetic voice was quite distinct and that he might want to turn his literary talents to extra credit, rather than to vandalism.
By the way, I continue to believe that, taken as a whole, Leaves of Grass is the great American poem. When I’m working out on Whitman’s natural turf, Big Walt moves and convinces me every time—though I understand why his joyful exertions and exhortations have failed to inspire at least some. His stadium is vast but, stretching out beyond it, our grim megalopolis of disappointment and cruelty seethes and booms and always seems to be tightening its noose.
Oh, and, yes: I thought then and still think that HEEneeyus does indeed sound meaner.
Deborah Allbritain on “Blue Rim”:
My writing originates from an image, not an idea. I write to discover the idea and the challenge is: How much idea? How much image? I have been recently writing in response to the dissolution of a long relationship, a marriage. And images in my environment call up poems. In this poem, “Blue Rim;” the pillow beside me that is no longer dented; if I could create a painting that reflected what I feel— often and deeply— what would it look like?
Chard DeNiord on “The Book of Guests”:
I wrote “‘The Book of Guests” as an antiphonal poem in the style of Song of Songs in which one beloved calls out to the other in a pastoral setting that becomes increasingly mystical and oneiric. I was also inspired by the Sumerian myth of Inanna and Dumuzi in which this archetypal couple conducts a similar call and response conversation to the one Solomon and the Queen of Sheba engage in in The Song of Songs. In the course of writing the poem, I realized that the lovers in my poem were more timeless and archetypal than merely mortal, speaking as they do with equal intimacy about the lambs they commune with affectionately on the stage of their pastoral plane, along with the various scientific and philosophical ideas that establish the human calculus for their love. Homeless in their eternal courtship, they exist on a plane that’s not dissimilar from the bardo, content to wander the world and leave their “comments” in “books of guests.”
Tatiana Retivov on translating Ekaterina Derisheva:
These poems are literally about the first week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began shortly before dawn on 24 February 2022, with multiple missile attacks, air raids, and a three-pronged invasion from the north, east and south mainly targeting the capital, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson. Ekaterina lived in Kharkiv, which is the second largest city in Ukraine and is just 25 kilometers from the border with Russia. It continued being shelled constantly, every day, until May 15, when it was declared to be liberated from the Russian occupation. Almost 2000 buildings had been destroyed by then, including much of the city’s infrastructure. With a previous population of close to one and a half million, 30% had left the city during the occupation, albeit some are beginning to trickle back. On March 1, Ekaterina left Kharkiv and evacuated to Germany, as the regional administration building in Kharkiv was being bombed, and the Russian invasion stealthily moved toward the city center.
But during that first week, Ekaterina was living in an apartment on the 5th floor of a 12-floor apartment building, not far from the ring road around Kharkiv. On the third day, tanks entered the city from the ring road. Russian soldiers could be heard walking through the residential buildings and courtyards, smashing doors in, and robbing people. Ekaterina recalls that Kharkiv residents were more afraid of the marauding Russians than of the missiles.
In these poems, Ekaterina describes her life during martial law, when all lights had to be kept off from 6:00 p.m. until morning. She spent most of the time hiding in the bathroom and sleeping in the bathtub at night. It was frustrating to have to cook in total darkness in the evening; meanwhile there was a flashing neon sign with a creeping line on the building across the street, an advertisement for a notary public office. At some point it was permitted to smash these flashing neon signs because they were in violation of blackout rules. Some of the signs were smashed this way; in other cases, the owners managed to turn off the lighting.
Other than referring to the war in these poems, Ekaterina also indirectly addresses the current literary scene in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Although Ukrainian, Ekaterina writes mostly in Russian, and as many poets in Ukraine, writing in both Russian and Ukrainian, she has participated in many literary festivals in Ukraine and Belarus. She was also long-listed for the prestigious Arkady Dragomoshchenko Prize (2019) in Petersburg, Russia. She has overseen joint literary publication projects with Russian publishers and poets, such as KNTXT. However now everything has changed. She writes: “while it is being decided which language / will be the leading one in literature,” “what literary awards to compete for,” the war continues to rage. Until mid-May, Kharkiv was being heavily bombed daily by projectiles, missiles, and the illegal cluster bombs. At the same time, Russian culture was in the process of getting cancelled, both within its own territory as well as abroad. So much of the previous Ukrainian poetry scene had been intertwined with poets from Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, but now everyone was off in different directions, with many Ukrainian refugee poets actively participating in European and American poetry residencies, online festivals, and joint translation projects.
Martha Serpas on “Fragments of the Sacrificial World”:
Before Hurricane Ida hit Grand Isle, Louisiana, on August 29, 2021, I had a very small, very old camp (humble house) on the beach. It had been moved from another spot and placed at an angle in order to fit on a too-narrow lot. The resulting twist created, for my later discovery, a spiritual chasm—a corner of wide aluminum windows—for my euthymic contemplation. The two poems’ composition began during dog walks, a rescued Northwest border collie and me getting acquainted.
Whether projection can be an initial avenue to empathy was on my mind. So were the seven-hundred-some-odd species dependent on the marshes of the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary, which is being torn up by industry and storms. I was thinking especially of the migratory birds.
During Ida my camp was blown back five-hundred feet by tornado-force winds—think Auntie Em’s black-and-white farmhouse—and landed, dry towels still in the bathroom, with the same cater-cornered orientation to the Gulf, windows replaced by bare floors, bare walls, and open salt air.