Jane Springer on “Paper”
Inspiration: This poem is one of a trilogy: rock, paper, scissors. So began the inquiry, what is the nature of paper? What does it mean for it to win. All from there’s imagination, but the stuff of which it’s woven, a thread of K’Naan. Two origami sculptures: dragon, tower. Twin towers. Coins we used to place over the eyes of the dead. While writing from the porch, a hornet bothered me, so the decision–to let live? And all that conjures, burgeoning it takes to let paper fall back to leaf.
Aleksey Porvin and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler, translator, on “Inside the guts of fresh fish…”, “Shall we praise the girls…”, and ”It’s about water…”
These poems are from my new book “The Poem of Addressing, the Poem of Defining,” in which I demonstrate what might be called lyric poetry without a subject. Creating a poetic statement without defining or even intending an associated subject has the tremendously liberating potential to transcend the fixed framework of the “self.” The personal experience that underlies these poems is connected with the possibility of release from any form of identity. In a world torn apart by conflicts provoked by the opposition of various “selves” and groupings of them, abstracting oneself from the static “self” is essential. This experience with “subjectless lyric” led me to an object-oriented approach and criticism of anthropocentrism, while simultaneously making it possible to draw conclusions in the realm of speculative realism. One of them is the idea that a person has no special privileges compared to other “things” in the world.-Aleksey Porvin, poet
I welcomed the challenge I faced here because it’s an honest one; it’s all of one piece. Aleksey Porvin’s poems and the language he writes them in are difficult for the same reason—a higher tolerance for abstraction than anglophones are commonly accustomed to. The unabashed spirituality and lyricism of these poems is a note English poetry hesitates to hit unironically, and I regard making it available as the best way I can be of service to my language. Likewise, the Russian language is profuse with abstract nouns and the noun forms of verbs. Crudely translated, it yields an unsightly wall of “ness” and “ation” that would seem to hood us from material reality and diffuse us into some platonic cloud. When Porvin handles Russian, the aim is just the opposite; he benevolently estranges us from the walls of self and tribe that prevent us from encountering the experiences his poems enact. Perhaps Russian abstractions translate so heavily because, unlike English with its Latinate oratory and Germanic small talk, Russian builds them from etymological pieces that are still accessible to a Russian person, who is less likely, by analogy, to need reminding that “per” means “through” and “son” means “sound.” Read Porvin: quit being the face screamingly clutching itself and start harmonizing with what you sound through. -Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler, translator
Chard DeNiord on “At the Sleep Clinic”
I started this poem while sitting in my car at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Sleep Clinic waiting for my appointment. I had arrived early in Hanover, New Hampshire from my home in Putney, Vermont and rather than wait inside the sleep clinic along with the other sleep apnea patients, I decided to stare at the view of White Mountains while listening to Lucinda Williams’ hypnotic voice singing on my I Phone’s music app. After ten or fifteen minutes of meditating in the front seat of my Prius while gazing at the mountains, I felt suddenly suspended in a state of catalepsy as though I were dreaming awake. I considered telling my specialist about this experience as a kind of sleep joke, but then wondered if she’d think I was just weird and contemplate referring me to another specialist. I wrote the first few lines of what turned out to be “At the Sleep Clinic” in the car and then continued working on it for the next several weeks. It was originally much longer than its final draft as I explored many different oneiric avenues before cutting at least a dozen or so liminal excurses that extended too far beyond the mountains. In reading the final draft back to myself out loud, I realized that it was a poem I had been waiting to write for several decades.
Leeya Mehta on “Nudes I and II”
As Nudes I and II appear in Plume this March, I’m grateful to Danny Lawless, whose vision and generosity are an inspiration to me.
Nudes belongs to a series I have been calling, Meditations on the American Body at Rest. In these poems I explore the grey area where appropriation and empathy both fall. I paint moments of rest, where the body and mind are uninhibited. These moments of uninhibited joy are placed in the context of history and culture, revealing power dynamics that need changing as well as spaces that are safe and could be replicated. Many of my poems are narrative, hearth poems, and as I write them I am conscious of the geography of race, class and gender in the many distinct societies I have lived in. If you are interested to read more after “Nudes I and II,” you can find two poems that continue the series, published by the amazing Phillip B. Williams in Vinyl at: http://vinylpoetryandprose.com/2016/09/leeya-mehta/
DeWitt Henry on “On Empathy”
As I dwell on abstract topics such as “empathy,” “handshakes,” or “silence,” I don’t want, ever, to be pedantic; nor do I want simply to catalog meanings. I hope to appear humanly baffled and curious, to model my reading and test what literate experience amounts to. My references or associations are drawn from teaching, but I’m also led to recent writers who have something new to teach me. Discovering controversial studies such as Against Empathy: the case for rational compassion or The Better Angels of Our Nature in my net research, I was obliged to digest them. I wanted to be as well informed as possible, not merely vatic and instinctive, although ideas flow for me as mysteriously as color, shape, and sound. There are also what I know on my pulses (and don’t know that I know); touches of memoir and personal examples, folk sayings and platitudes. Where I succeed, the reader will think along with her own associations, experiences and examples; perhaps enjoy the mind play. But then the challenge is concluding. Here it’s with the awareness of my “empathy deficit,” my lack—to some degree defensible, but mostly not—and with my concern for new generations lacking this capacity at all: the specter of a cold, narcissistic and survivalist culture, one that many of us see in the rule of Trump.
William Logan on “Morning, Redux” and “Drift Road”
During the late fifties, I lived in a small Massachusetts fishing village where in first and second grade I went to a two-room schoolhouse. A classmate of mine, who lived behind the school, traded some of his plastic World War II soldiers for the earlier World War I soldiers (less cool, more valuable) I’d been given. My parents reversed the trade. The poem is patchy with recollection, like most memories at five or six.
Annette Barnes on IT’S A CLASS THING
One can’t but notice how people are judged in the place where one lives.
Stuart Friebert on BORN ON
I knew for many a year that Neruda & I shared the same birthday, but not until by chance did I learn recently that Stefan George also did. Did a dam break behind which I’d laked a lot of difficult, early circumstances from a Life in German, which I had to divorce from to avoid being crazier than I normally am…
Mark Jarman on “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made”
The poem responds to Psalm 118: 24, which in the KJV reads “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” If the poem has an argument it may be that since the Lord has made the day, the Lord has made time itself, made numbers, and measurements. And yet isn’t there some mutuality with the human mind? Aren’t numbers and measurements human constructions? Meanwhile, to paraphrase Philip Larkin, the day is where we live. It is tricky to deconstruct or unmake that gift. My poem is one of a series I’m calling Cracked Hymns.