When I first began a life of reading and writing poetry, I thought about how fun it would be. I thought for a few minutes about how tough it would be, but the poets I loved reminded me through their own poems that any frustration would be worth it. However, I never really thought about how poetry gives and teaches continuously. When I started studying the different forms of sonnets, I started seeing them everywhere; when I studied the villanelle, the same happened. When I became obsessed with the prose poem, this form appeared before me in different poets’ voices, with different intentions each time. I started to think that poetry was magic, both in the way it presented itself when I wanted to study, learn, and imitate, and when I wanted to write. Poems would show up, inviting me in, and it was up to me to accept the invitation. I always did, even the middle of the night, notepad open to a clean page, and ready. Most recently I’ve studied the epistolary form and duende, and they’ve appeared in various collections or literary journals I read. No one could have told me to be prepared for the ways in which poetry gives to and teaches us throughout our lives.
Poetry shows up not only to teach us in ways of form, but to guide or to help us through difficult times. I don’t believe poets actually think about this when they sit down to write—they simply want to share an experience to feel less alone and connect with someone else, and when they connect with us as readers, that’s when we feel that someone else understands us. Writing is about communicating and connecting, and since so much writing is done alone, and since so much of what we struggle through we experience alone, this connection between writer and reader is important and intensely felt. Writing and reading become communal experiences, and poetry is one of those ways that we can feel we have a community, no matter how alone we might feel at times.
This is not to say that when I’m struggling I immediately go to poetry in search of solace. Sometimes I do. But I’ve noticed that if I put myself in the path of poetry consistently, the poems I need when I need them will appear, and most of the time they will be written by a poet I least expect. If I want to educate myself about a form or find out what other poets have written about a certain subject, I’ll ask for recommendations or go in search on my own, but many of the poetry collections I’ve needed have appeared when I’m interested, or not looking at all. Being open has rewarded me because there’s a relationship here: I have to be willing to listen, as both a reader and a writer.
On to our March poetry column! We have some very powerful poems to share with you this month. We start with a poem by Martha Silano that begins: “Because my fingers were nimble, / because I had a penchant for the tiniest // plastic stiletto boots.” In “I Work at the Barbie Factory,” we’re taken not only through the individual parts of the doll, like hips, wrists, and lips, but to the proportions of height and weight, where the speaker says about Barbie’s measurements, “Don’t think I’m not / tempted to tamper with the molds.” Silano’s wit and precise imagery are given with a straightforward dose of reality that lead to a powerful ending.
What might Percy Bysshe Shelley think about the United States of America in 2019? That’s the question that runs repeatedly through my mind when I read Dan Albergotti’s poem “America in 2019.” I think Shelley may say something akin to what Albergotti states about a leader who “watches headlines flow / across screens like sludge from a swampy spring / all day.” Shelley’s words in “England in 1819” aren’t far removed: “ Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know.” 200 years later, we recognize a similar state of political affairs in our own country. If poetry helps us pay attention, it also helps us see what we might ignore day to day, especially when we’re deeply mired within it.
Associate Poetry Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brings us work from two poets this month. About their poems, she writes:
I think of the narrators in Anthony Sutton’s poetry as genuine altruists, but altruists who are also comfortable getting caught in an alley pissing on a dumpster. They wonder, in the poem “It was All Fucked to Hell Before it Even Started” that while “he was feeling my body,” “how many people in the world / were shot.” It’s a curious kind of inverted empathy that asks a question like this, and an edgeless intelligence that states, “a moment can grow / in density.” Sutton’s voice also seeks to find a center in a nebulous world organized by something as flimsy as time which “redrafts itself,” and where social media creates “a fog” that “seeps” through the narrator’s mind. These poems retrace steps looking to gain purchase on anything, or anyone, that feels solid.
Leah M. Gómez’s poetry circles around incidences of trauma that only a woman’s body can understand. “Because there is no other place to flee to,” her body says; “living beneath the tongue, a pearl, waiting in its shell,” her body says. It is through the body and its parts, its “eyes closing into a splash,” its “blood chain,” that we understand the plea that accompanies every woman’s body and her journey through it, the grasping to turn trauma into coherence and coherence into art. Gomez asks, “does your body remember my body, / the way mine remembers yours?” and we want to remember.
We also have new work from Judy Kronenfeld this month. I love the way Kronenfeld’s poems notice the world, from the speaker who is “happy to live in the ken of canines” and “would have dogs teach me how / to lie on the lawn with no purpose more / than the grass has,” to the speaker whose “own heart races outrageously / when any of my grandkids can’t be gathered / into the seine net of my glance.” These poems consider life in an aching body and what might be learned from the joy of a dear animal companion, and what also might be waiting to catch life in the “world’s great snare.”
We close our column this month with poetry by Christian Bancroft, brought to us by Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb. About this work, Davon writes:
Christian Bancroft’s poems explore a perspective that has been voided, erased, silenced, and made almost non-human. These poems tell the unknown, like some half-burnt love letters—confessions, desires, lusts, and everything that makes us people—what our hearts are made of. And yet, living in the horrors of the Holocaust, Christian’s narrators are gentle, empathic, and nuanced; they constantly juxtapose the tender with the monstrous. Christian writes, “When the bombs were falling, /we made love on the train.” The awe is immediate, but the emotion is an after-effect. And regardless of my Jewish ancestry, Christian Bancroft’s poems are unlike anything I’ve ever read or experienced.
Thank you for joining us to celebrate the wonderful work of these poets. See you in May!