I’m obsessed with abandoned places: houses, factories, apartment buildings, churches, and movie houses. I own books of photographs of these places. I bookmark websites and follow a Facebook page of abandoned buildings. It has always been a fascination of mine, even in childhood. On my grandparents’ land was an abandoned tenant house where I found a scattered game of Monopoly, and when my grandparents’ chicken house was long out of use, I found old bottles in the dirt and played in my uncle’s camper, left to rest on oil barrels and filled with dust.
So it’s no wonder that I find deserted landscapes both haunting and nostalgic. I think we hold a deep love for the places we leave behind. This isn’t setting—this is a terrain that changes. When we return to the places where we’ve grown up or lived, they’ve been altered. Buildings have been remodeled or left to crumble. A store or playground we once frequented no longer exists. The textile mill near an elementary school is shuttered, the mill houses torn down.
Not only are we reminded through photographs what once was, but also through poetry which details these landscapes and allows us to revisit places we once loved. It can take us there instantly through images that reimagine structures or landscapes. While we stand in the places we once lived, or places so like them we can’t tell the difference, the poem is honest: we can’t stay. This is the past. But it is a past we can return to.
The poems in this month’s column take us back to places we once knew. Our lead poets this month are Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher who bring us poems haunted by nostalgia of place. These poems are as unsettling as they are beautiful, with natural bridges contrasting with doomsday machines, and the speaker reminding us that “the landscape is like a dusty armoire, and it extends indefinitely.” I spoke with Kristina and John about their poems and the nature of their collaboration, which will be published as a collection this spring.
In Jeffrey Alfier’s poem, “Motel, Six Miles Out of Palominas,” the speaker is far from home, and maids and clerks want to know “what brought [him] this far.” Later, a young man’s window that he “had kept open all night,” is shut by his mother. We’re not sure whether we have to stay put or if the road is still open. We’re left with a shadow over the landscape, larger than burnt coffee or a curving road.
We have two poems from Lindsay Tigue this month that combine imagery and history to create forceful narratives. In subjects such as the weight of snow or an abandoned house, facts and images build toward a climax of emotion that leaves me reeling. These poems are both crafted and instinctual. “This place / of silt and clay knows how / to disappear,” Tigue writes in “Abandoned Places,” and in her lines we watch a house crumble as a man tries to save it. This poet reminds us that our world crumbles around and sometimes on top of us, and she leads us through landscapes that we don’t easily forget.
Rita Sims Quillen’s poems are filled with wonder. The sighting of a grey fox becomes “an honor to be sought / By what’s broken.” A litany of apples reminds us what we’ve overlooked in supermarkets: “obscure treasures” we cannot name. Quillen’s poems share moments that take place outside commercialization, outside cities, in a world we need to visit more often, where a grey fox approaches “The artificial boundary between / The world and the wild.”
We welcome a new Associate Poetry Editor to our column: Jillena Rose. She brings us three wonderful poets this month. About their work, she writes:
Martina Newberry's poem begins with a simple declarative sentence: "Our West-of-England Tumblers had caramel bars / on their feathers and smooth bald heads." From there she describes the habits of the birds, how they became more than landscape, how they took on names, became pets. It's a simple story I'm instantly drawn into, the reason made clear in the eleventh stanza: "This is not just a story about birds of a feather; / it is about a quiet place..." And that's the draw. Newberry uses every part of her craft-- line, sentence, subtle rhyme, chime and echo, simple words and rhythms-- to make the quiet place, the quiet birds, the peaceful people, live and breathe. To make a place I hate to leave.
We hope you enjoy the places these poets take you. Thank you so much for visiting our column!