Monday Aug 02

Peschiera-Poetry Pablo Peschiera’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Forklift Ohio, Copper Nickel, and Shenandoah, among others. His interviews and reviews have appeared in Gulf Coast, Third Coast, American Poetry Review and elsewhere. He lives on a dirt road in Southwest Michigan with his family.
Pablo Peschiera Interview, with Monica Mankin
I tend think of poems written “after” other people­, such as your poems, which are written after Mahmoud Darwish and Alexander von Humboldt­ as vehicles that drive us down roads already traveled by the other writers in another space and time; whether these “roads” are built from borrowed rhetorical patterns or formal appearances, whether these roads meander through the familiar territory of another writer’s subject matter, whether these roads lead to homage, you, the poet, must choose the road you take. How do you choose? At what point do you exit the vehicle and depart the road to cut your own path?
When I’m stuck in my writing, searching for what to do next, I force myself to map-out someone else’s poem on a sheet of paper (line length, punctuation, parts of speech, etc.) and I write into the spaces left. It’s not my favorite mode of composition, but it helps me learn about another poet’s movement in a particular poem. “The Forest” and “The Pond” took shape using this “writing into” method I discovered about ten years ago, and they’re both based on a Darwish poem I found in collaborative book of photography/poetry of Palestine. I’m sure other poets use it, (or have used it—or will use it), but at the time it felt like a newly invented technique. What thrilled me about Darwish’s poem—which I do not have at hand—was his sudden movement from wonder, to joy, to statement at the end of the poem. I tried to mimic that movement, adjusting the constraints along the way.

“Searching for the Oilbirds at Icononzco” formed in a completely different way. Von Humboldt was an 18th-19th century Berlin-born naturalist and geographic explorer who traveled in Latin America for five years, establishing the first credible geographic and meteorological data of Latin America. Many international scholars think he’s more important than our Lewis and Clark.

I’d read a very small book of selected writings by von Humboldt called Jaguars and Electric Eels, and found a great passage about a hot spring in which he briefly referred to the oilbird, which is a kind of mid-sized nightjar in the Colombian and Ecuadorian high jungle that uses echo-location for nocturnal flight, can hover in mid-air, feeds on oil palms, and nests during the day on tiny ledges in crevasses and caves. Local people used the fat from the bird for oil lamps. I wondered if von Humboldt had written more about the bird, and searched through his volumes of work. The passage about the Oilbird was really brief, and I filled-in the gaps by imagining what it must have been like to be there at that moment. Then I wrote the poem.

Each poem appearing with us this month notices the birds: In “The Forest,” “The vultures cruising above share / a vision of the future” and “A crow crosses another crow, / and the two peck at [the speaker’s] feet, which disappear.” In “The Pond,” “The heron over there is sharing / the secrets of the hunt” and, in fact, “the air moves for the heron’s purpose.” And you write in the poem “In Search of The Oilbird at Icononzo,” “The birds rustle, slap the air / with great wings and voices / to find, in the echoes, / the new dusk’s brilliant secrets.” These sky borne creatures are associated with visions and secrets; they seem to be the harbingers of a certain kind of knowledge dwelling within the natural world. Can you talk about the significance of the birds in these poems? Why are you drawn to them as figures? Does it have anything to do with what you write in “The Forest,” which is “I would like to become another, brighter in this forest, / transfigured”?
Birds are important to these poems, but to me they are like brief flashes of human consciousness. I don’t think I can explain what the vulture, crows, heron, and oilbird mean in the poems out of context—they don’t have a totemic personal meaning. I like birds plenty, but I’m not exactly an Audubon-type birder. I know I impose meaning on their appearance when I see them or write about them, but I just can’t pin down that meaning. I suppose in the “The Forest” and “The Pond” there’s a bit of transference and identification going on, but in “Oilbirds” it’s more of a fascination with the act of discovery—which I guess relates to writing a poem. For me, the line “I would like to become another, brighter in this forest, / transfigured”, implies ascension, though I can’t say what form that ascension would take.

I read somewhere that you were once Poetry Editor of Third Coast. How has being a poetry editor shaped your approach to writing your own poetry?

The short answer is that it hasn’t. I was a poetry co-editor at Third Coast many years ago, and I spent three years as the managing editor of Gulf Coast in Houston—the titles are mere coincidence. I don’t think at all about editorial preference while writing, but I do think about it based on what they’ve already published. I’ve noticed that many editors prefer a poem that noticeably turns or uses epiphany as a culminating tool, and these three poems certainly do that consciously, although a lot of my poems don’t. My editing work helped me realize that you can find wonderfully written poems come in over the transom if you are patient and read everything with care, but that many editors don’t care to do that work or feel too overwhelmed to do it well. So, I try to be patient as I send out a poem ten, fifteen, or twenty times before it’s published.

Who are your favorite (classic and contemporary) poets? And, of course, why are they your favorites?
I’ve got some unconventional classic favorites: George Meredith for his tortured sonnet sequence Modern Love; Charles Swinburne for his ecstasy; John Donne for his precision; Elizabeth Bishop for the same reason; and Robert Browning for the dramatic lyric.

If forced at a loud party, I’ll automatically say that my favorite poets are W.S. Merwin and Derek Walcott. But my ultra-current favorites span a huge range: Dean Young, Mary Ruefle, John Gallaher, Adam Zagajewski, Wayne Miller, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Yusef Komumnyakaa, Major Jackson, Thalias Moss, G.C. Waldrep, Jorie Graham, Terrance Hayes, Anne Carson, Sean Hill, Elizabeth Bradfield, Rachel Zucker, Chris Dombrowski, Noelle Kocot, Oliver de La Paz, and many, many more. Although most of anything produced in a year is usually not good, I always find several books I’m attracted to.
The Forest
– after Mahmoud Darwish
In the forest—and I mean within the ark of twilight—
I walk from one copse to another without a path
to guide me. The vultures cruising above share
a vision of the future… we rise into revelation
and return with love and peace—which are holy—
as melancholy and reluctance and rot seep
down through the decaying leaves, sweet with mold.
I walk the cleft of a gully and think: How
do storytellers disagree about what wind says about water?
Is it from a ripple that heartbreak blooms
on the river’s bank? I dream in the twilight. I weave
in the twilight. I am no one’s companion in sleep.
All the twilight is mine. I walk while the dusk
grows within me. I am pierced with slivers
of the holy. Song sprouts like grass from Francis’ fingers.
It sings: “ If you don’t believe you won’t believe.”
The stands sway with each other. I walk in the shadows
of our wounds. A crow crosses another crow,
and the two peck at my feet, which disappear.
I would like to become another, brighter in this forest,
transfigured. But the forest pulls upon me,
pulls upon me. I am the I between revelation
and earth. In the garden, alone, Christ prayed
in Aramaic: “Father, what is next?
What is next?” The arresting soldier
overheard and said: “There is nothing
next—you die like we all die.” And I say:
“You, soldier, will never again deceive me.”
The Pond
– after Mahmoud Darwish
I walk in a field of black waters (and I mean
within the bowl of God’s right hand)
from one rock to the next without a dollar
to guide me. The heron over there is sharing
the secrets of the hunt, descending in a silent glide
to the shallows, and settling like a breeze,
because the air moves for the heron’s purpose,
with the deliberation of a devoted servant.
I move, wet, with a line extended and waiting,
thinking to myself: how do dancers trace the shape
of the world so that we can see it all at once?
Is it from the movement of the body that love
flares up? I wade as if sleeping. In the water
I see no one above me. I still the ripples—
I see no one below me. If I walk, I will become
heavy like the soaked elm. Heavy like a vial
of blood emptied into the water. The parasites
will transfigure me. I will become
the bubbles that lift the sunken elm
to float like a whispered curse
just below the surface. All the tension
in the world will hold me below
in the darkness. You will never know I am there,
waiting, when the heron lands on my slick back,
and opens his beak to say: “this is a sign.
Of what you may never know.”
In Search of The Oilbird at Icononzo
– after Alexander von Humboldt
At Icononzo the oilbirds
sleep. Here the valley
walls reach down
until they cup an invisible
river, and two bridges,
natural as blown seeds,
span the gorge
on tumbled knees
grown thick
with pangola grass
to shade the birds
on their ledges.
Their feathers brown
and gray in the depth.
At Icononzo—
before the birds
flow out at dusk
to feed on the palm
and hover, fat as hens,
among the fruit trees—
a man inclines
above a dark too profound,
and with companions
drops a burning rocket down
into the rushing murk.
To his blue eyes, it seems
to float in the dank air,
and patiently strobe
the crevices in a sweep
of tar-smoked, guttering light.
He sees the tender, fleshy
hatchlings in the nests,
and the black, reflective,
escudo-wide eyes beam
a startled, wakeful sight
in the moment of the lantern’s passing
as it falls down the twilit crevasse.
The man thinks of bats and nighthawks,
he thinks of Manólo, this moment’s true
beloved, left behind in Cumaná,
as fevers squeeze the sweat
out of that young body again.
The birds rustle, slap the air
with great wings and voices
to find, in the echoes,
the new dusk’s brilliant secrets.
Years later, perhaps, he writes:
in the middle of the second bridge

of Icononzo is a hollow
of more than eight metres square,

through which the bottom
of the abyss is perceived.