Carolyn Guinzio On “PIER”:
PIER is from a long poem sequence called V. The piece enters the interior universe of a widow who sings for funeral masses. It follows her through the first months and years after her husband’s death as she continues to live in the same house situated near a great lake. V keeps herself tethered to life, while acknowledging the afterlife, through her voice. Losing it would feel like plunging into an abyss, and in this poem, she is experiencing just that. Her hope is to measure out what she has left in order to get to the end. V is in a constant battle against silence and all that silence implies.
Susan Fuchtman on “Valediction in Guatemala”:
After finishing college, our daughter went to Guatemala to teach English in a small mountain village. She stayed with a family there and a few months after her arrival we visited. This poem tries to capture my experience of visiting a daughter who was growing into a woman, meeting the people who had cared for her, and seeing the beauty and difficulty of the place. I drafted it at a Poetry Foundation workshop given by Maggie Queeney in late 2019/early 2020 in response to her prompt, “Write about a greeting or a goodbye.” I started working Tara Skurtu, poetry editor and coach, in February of 2020 and Valediction in Guatemala was the first poem we workshopped. It was in revision from February to April of 2020. This poem represents a lot of learning: how hard it is to really finish a poem; how nice it is to have it finally “leave-alonable” (Tara’s term); and that the parts I feel a little awkward about, like “slipping place,” might be the best parts.
Charles O. Hartman on “Enthralled” and “Four Square”:
Starting from the computer file’s Created date, I trace the initial draft of “Enthralled” to a notebook entry for May 17, 2014. It follows by a few pages the first version of an entirely different poem about “Assembly Square,” a place n Nafplio, where I was staying for a month. But “Enthralled” is set in Athens, in a shopping street under the Acropolis; its material is remembered, rather than observed with the page open on my knee. The memory was probably from a week or two earlier, when I was in transit.
I noticed at the time that it was quite a day. “Assembly Square” runs to 35 largely finished lines, and “Enthralled” (in cruder shape and under a different title) adds another 25. It’s probably of interest only to me to wonder whether, if “Assembly Square” had felt less complete, I would have had the internal space to go on to a whole new poem.
I added more drafts in mid-2015 and mid-2018. Why the gaps? The file languished on a hard disk I didn’t comb through until I began collecting poems for a new book.
“Four Square” had a simpler birth—though surely I had been noticing its story for years. On March 8, 2018 I got the first 7 drafts, and by draft 2 I’d already settled on the four four-line stanzas of five-syllable lines. The rest (drafts 8-13) is phrasing.
Brian Swann on “Across the Wide Missouri”:
Ever since I came to America I’ve been trying to discover it. First I had to rid myself of what I thought I knew, then I had to find what I didn’t know, then what I thought I knew, accept what I didn’t want to know, and so on. I was always grateful for what was given, but confused. America is for me now a kind of movie, a jumpy loop of reality, fantasy and nightmare. It hasn’t helped that as I’ve grown older time has more or less collapsed, which, luckily, is how it finds its own level, even if I have to make it up.
I put this piece together first as prose, then as poetry, then as prose, or whatever it is now. It is part of a 100 page manuscript written during Covid from March to September, “Covid Contusions or Ya-honk Goes the Wild Gander.”
Nesreen Akhtarkhavari and Anthony A. Lee on Translating the Arabic Poems of Rumi:
While the Persian poetry of Jalal-I Din Rumi is well known in the English-speaking world through numerous translations, the poems that he wrote in Arabic were never translated before two volumes by these translators were published by Michigan State University Press, Love Is My Savior (2016) and Wine of Reunion (2017). The third volume of the trilogy is being prepared for press.
The Arabic poems of Rumi display an aesthetic that is quite different from most of his Persian poems. Although the formal structures are similar and Rumi pursues similar themes in both Persian and Arabic, the spirit of the Arabic poems is quite distinct. Partially this is a function of language. Arabic is more precise and specific than Persian. Ideas are expressed more clearly, and with less of the decorative flourishes and cultural pleasantries that one expects in Persian poetry. Arabic also allows Rumi more opportunity to express erotic themes of desire and union, as metaphors for spiritual longing and ecstasy.
Akhtarkhavari and Lee collaborated to reject translations that amounted to an explanation of Rumi’s poems. They determined to translate the poems into English products that would meet the standards and expectations of a contemporary literary audience. Rather than render Rumi in medieval language, the translators have chosen to bring Rumi’s poems into modern English. The goal of this translation of the Arabic verses was to craft translations in English that are successful as poems on their own terms, while as close and true to the form and meaning of the originals as possible. In these six examples, the poems are translated line for line.
Rhyme and meter are such vital and integral aspects of Rumi’s poetry—of all classical poetry—that the translators felt that both had to be acknowledged. Too much of the original is lost in free-verse translations. However, Arabic scanning has been exchanged for iambic pentameter, a familiar English convention. While it is foreign to Arabic poetry, this scheme gives the poems a rhythm in English that is familiar and comfortable. English has very few opportunities for rhyme as compared with Arabic. Yet, every effort was made to include rhyme prominently in the English translations. Rumi’s poems are always untitled, and so the titles used fhere have been added by the translators, another English convention.
Finally, the primary goal of the translators was to capture the tragic intensity of human emotion that raises Rumi’s poems above all others and has kept them alive for so many centuries. While every reference and allusion cannot be captured by the English, we hope that the poems as they are recast in a new language, will retain the emotion of the Arabic and convey something of its free and ecstatic quality.
Alexandria Peary on “Title covered in flies” and “Five Per Page”:
Although these two poems feel stylistically distinct—like two people who don’t know one another standing at the opposite ends of a dim gymnasium—I was amused upon reflection to realize that their autobiographical material lies within a half mile. So the poems are more related than any other pair in my current manuscript. The setting for “Title covered in flies” is the farmhouse where my parents rented a second floor when we moved to Maine, before they built our raised ranch. “Five Per Page” takes place in my parents’ store. I spent thirteen years of my childhood in a store in rural Maine that changed from country store in the late 1970s to more convenience store and gas station by the 1980s and 1990s. I’m still processing the impact of a childhood in the store on my imagination—inventory, delivery day, helping to stock shelves and stamp prices, kill flies for a penny, complex interactions with community, the armed robbery—the merchandise is like detail on the shelves of a poem, image games to decipher. Playing with my siblings among these items we wouldn’t experience firsthand (junk food, sugary cereal, jars of pickled eggs and cow’s tongue) stocked the shelves of my mind with an equanimity of longing and with a certain kind of patience.
Brandi George on “After Our Parents Get Divorced, Our Mother Buys an Ivy Stencil”:
This piece is part of a book-length poem, “The Nameless,” which is set in Ovid, Michigan and focuses on issues of unrequited love, visions, and an exorcism that I had as a child. One of the figures that haunted me the most as a child was Death, and this poem explores the metaphorical potentialities of that relationship. Death is simultaneously destructive and creative, and in this section, the speaker’s mother represents that paradox. She is finally free to explore who she is, but it comes at a cost. Her personal life flourishes, while her relationship with her daughter withers. At the end of this poem, there is a list of things that she grew in the yard. Naming these things summons the power of the physical world, which is able to embody a paradox, to simply exist without judgement. That is why the manuscript as a whole focuses on the mysterious and sacred aspects of naming.