Editor's Note Section
Winter Issue 2022 Volume 2 Issue 1
I think a lot about the synergy between various arts—music, painting, dancing, sculpture, as well as poetry. I believe they all spring from the same source: an intersection of within-us and not-within-us. It's simply a question of which media we choose to explore that junction.
Music was always what I did, as both teacher and performer. It wasn't until mid-life that I had a revelation: poetry is the music of words. The feeling of it is like how music feels. This understanding happened in an instant—I was sitting in my kitchen doodling on a piece of paper and the next moment I had written three lines of what became a rather lilting little poem.
Examples abound of the duet between music and poetry: in the second stanza of Emily Dickinson's "After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes" —
The Feet, mechanical, go round – / A Wooden way / Of Ground, or Air, or Ought / Regardless grown, / A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
Reading the first line I feel my consciousness start to modulate, "go round," until I reach those end-rhymes, grown/stone, which decisively close the poem—and with contentment!
Another example: from Maggie Smith's poem "The Mother" (Good Bones):
The mother is sky. / See how she wears a shawl of starlings, / how she pulls it, thrumming, around her shoulders.
I can hear the thrumming in that last line. I feel it in my own shoulders, like strings of a cello.
In B. H. Fairchild's "The Machinist Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano" (The Art of the Lathe), the daughter lifts her hand and tries again. // Drill collars rumble, hammering the nubbin-posts.
And then …these gestures of voice and hands / suspended over the keyboard / that move like the lathe in its turning // toward music, the wind dragging the hoist chain, the ring / of iron on iron in the holding rack.
These striking and melodious lines, like that ring of iron on iron, raise questions for us to ponder:
Should we emulate the ancient Greeks and read our poems to the accompaniment of lyres? How might that change the listener's reception of our words?
Should we turn on the radio while forging that first draft, open up an entire orchestra inside our heads and hearts?
And what would we each choose to play while we are writing: Mozart, R&B, Hip-hop? Or all three?
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
What I'm reading:
Towline, Holly Karapetkova; Mouth Like a Sailor, Maria Masington
Living in the Shade
A mile from here, the peonies
have already exploded,
but here, their tiny, tight grenades
only hint at pink, have yet to
blow themselves inside out
though they reach and reach,
bejeweled by shiny black ants,
during the few blazing hours.
A mile down this road,
when it emerges from the lush throat
of maples and poplars and pines,
and onto the painted asphalt lanes,
the vagrant roadside irises
have already bent and faded,
giving way to succulent spears
of wayward lupine
thrusting up from the ditch.
Here, ferns are just finishing
their unfurling at the feet
of the trees, and the wild raspberries
send their tardy brambles and blooms
into the stingy slice of high noon.
It's a moody dimness, but survivable—
we who live here must forgive
this slowness, this ever-flagging pace.
We learn a tenderness towards
the moss and fungus, and a special
reverence for the ephemeral lady slipper,
that eerie orchid, emerging
from the leaf mulch into
the deep pools of cool shade,
far from sunlight's unmediated
and murderous extravagance.
After many years of reading and writing poems, and perhaps especially after eighteen months of not much sustained writing at all, I feel less and less confident asserting understandings about poetry, perhaps least of all my own practices and poems. However, I do enjoy reading what other folks write when they describe and/or reflect on their own work, so I’ll try.
“Living in the Shade” is an example of my common tendency to make metaphors of the landscapes in which I find myself, seeking meaning in some dynamic between my “self” and the physical properties of flora and fauna. I notice how my metaphorizing gaze turns those physical properties of the "natural" world towards a human-centered metaphysics. William Carlos Williams' notion that there are "no ideas but in things" definitely occupies some of my aesthetic headspace, even as I want to
resist its all-or-nothing certainty (NO ideas, Bill? None at ALL?).
Reflecting on the “we” in this poem I wonder whether I ought to have stuck with "I" instead of generalizing for myself an invented cohort of similarly situated shade-dwellers. I suppose I wanted some company – even imaginary – in this notion of coming to be more appreciably present in what
I thought I was meant to disdain or attempt to escape: the “shade.” A “we” who could join me in
seeing the old sunlight/shade trope differently -- that the sunlight could be "murderous," that the slowness-to-bloom might feel cool and comforting in contrast.
As I write this, November creeps towards solstice. Even though the trees that kept things slow and dark and cool in spring and summer are bare now, the stingy supply of sunlight sifting through isn’t doing much. It’s shade city up here.
feral pigeons over the empty ballfields, fall 2020
can i say they were of water
& light gathered
up & let go
gathered & let go
can i say they had water's patina
eddies in the sky
instead of rain they opened
i heard wheels
steam-vents & winnowing
clapping & a crowd i heard
running i heard horses
can i say they were horses
can i say they were the manes of horses
unmaking & remaking
restless variations on a theme allegro ma
non troppo an unfinished
a face rearranging itself as light
shadow & light a note
left by someone
who never comes back
the same house
that can’t be the same house
can i say they entered me as if i were that
Poetry comes close to spiritual practice. In and through making poems, I learn to listen—or do I
mean hear? For it seems to me that what I do when I work on poetry is a kind of uncovering, not unlike archaeology, sifting through the chatter, layers of memory, circumstance, observation,
sensory experience to uncover the poem as it wants to be expressed. The sifting can take many
drafts, or just a few. Typically I begin with handwritten free writes. Sometimes my hearing is acute; other times I’m practically deaf to what the poem is trying to say and have to write through dozens
of iterations. Maybe some poems are just fickle and like to play hard-to-get. Maybe sometimes—or often!—my mind is distracted, making the poem difficult to hear through the noise. Or maybe I’m meant to learn how to commit to poetry as to a beloved. I leave it, and it finds me. I run towards it, and it vanishes. Or we sleep together and dream the same dreams. I think a lot about form, and
about the relationship of words to things, and how the poem seeks to hold in fruitful tension the abstract and the concrete.
My reading is eclectic, but I return again and again to certain voices—Rilke, Blake, Dickinson, Tranströmer, and Laura Jensen, among others. I’m drawn to the surrealists, especially Paul Éluard
and Joyce Mansour, who trusted the logic of the unconscious. Through each of these poets, as well as the later work of Barbara Guest, and the work of Peter Gizzi, I’m further inspired to leave behind
the narrative impulse that was once so strong in me.
You Can’t Put the Red Sea in a Poem
a famous poet warned. If you let it in, your poem is crammed
with two million Israelites clutching babies in arms,
with satchels of clothes and unleavened bread,
and you’ve invited in the enormous weight of a God
who punishes evil by slaying slave owners’ children,
so here come the Egyptians as God splits open
that unmentionable sea just in time
for the migrants to cross and closes it right up
on the pursuers, and your poem is choking on all those
drowning men, flailing horses and wrecked chariots,
and next thing you know you have races and nations and power
and poverty all spilled in the red ink of misery
and your poem is overwhelmed --
it’s baffled that He (because it’s always he) never sat them all down
and explained this wasn’t what He had in mind
those intense seven days he created a world so magnificent
poets can’t stop trying to describe it, which is what happened
to me when it snowed at the beach at high tide, not just a dusting
but a full-on onslaught of snow we hadn’t seen in these parts in years,
downing telephone wires and snapping tree branches and power out.
When the snow finally stopped and the tide receded,
it left a wide strip of sand along the shore, snow mounds piled
like crystal dunes on one side and the ocean’s perpetual roar
on the other, and in between the tiny miracle of a parting
I passed through, kicking scattered seashells like nothing strange
and beautiful had happened, nothing that needs to mention the Red Sea.
One of my mentors, poet Dannye Romine Powell, read a draft of a poem I was writing in which I compared the snow on the beach to the parting of the Red Sea. She remarked that she had once
been told, “You can’t put the Red Sea in a poem – it’s just too big.” As soon as she said it, I knew
that was going to be the inspiration for the revised poem.
I have written poetry since I was a kid, and constantly wove poetry into my classroom as a teacher, but I never seriously studied it or shared it beyond friends and family. When I retired, I decided poetry was going to finally get its due in my life. The pandemic, as tragic as it has been, opened up
so many doors to online workshops and poetry communities. Although I’m one of hundreds in her webinars, Ellen Bass has taught me so much with her specific examples of craft, especially her generous deconstruction of her own writing process. I discovered Naomi Shihab Nye years ago when
I was teaching, and I continue to go to her poetry when I need to recenter in what I find important
in a poem. I think the reason I love poetry is best summed up by the poet Erik Campbell who said, “I read and write poetry to remind myself that I have a soul that needs a periodic tune-up.”
E. Laura Golberg
Feathers fluffed in the cold, two cardinals, a male, and his fair mate,
fly from the yet unpruned branches of my fig tree into the nearby
hedge and back again. One after another, over and over, one
following the other, a game. Are you and I doing that,
these days, circling each other in the quotidian
life we lead, “What’s for supper?’’ “When is
our next vaccination?” Should we start
packing up the house, giving away
the china, planning for a future
in which you are no longer
you, when the dun mate
flies by herself?
I was fortunate to retire from my career in local government in my fifties and have had time to take poetry classes and hone my craft. I’m reading Linda Gregerson and Catherine Barnett and am discovering Ted Kooser through his volume Kindest Regards.
I recently had reason to consult, yet again, my fat volume Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence. I read
his work extensively during my adolescence in England, but his New Mexico poetry never made
sense until I emigrated to the U.S. I made a pilgrimage to Taos where I looked around me at the mountains, reread and finally understood these poems.
—E. Laura Golberg
Líjiāng Reflections (Li River Reflections)
平静的漓江里 [Píngjìng de Líjiāng lǐ]
有两座山： [yǒu liǎng zuò shān:]
In the calm Li River
On the bank
beams photographs home
A lone swimmer makes one broad ripple
The foreigner writes a line
then has to go
5 February 2019, Yángshuò, China
This poem represents a real place and time. The line about the ripple was written in the moment: I sent it on Messenger, along with some photographs of the scene, to a friend, the inimitable
Australian poet Coral Carter. The rest of the poem was written later when I looked at the photographs.
My knowledge of Chinese is elementary at best. I learnt it recently when I taught English in China
for a year, and bits of it sometimes arise when I write. It has an entirely different beauty to that of English.
I have written poetry since childhood, seeking poems that work whether declaimed loudly or whispered in the mind. I write poetry because I enjoy it, but I bother to refine and publish it only because other people seem to get something from it. The Internet, wonderfully, lets us publish internationally, and I have done so since 2003. More of my work is available at thepoetjackson.com.
In my dream about Kafka
I know others are dreaming Kafka, too.
My Kafka, all deep-set eyes,
walks through the room
noticing things. I have an excess of things.
Oats. Buckets. Sponges. Cloths.
I want to tell him I need all this
because I have a little horse.
I need the little horse to be comfortable.
The skeletons under our skins
are present in the room also,
and I want the horse on my side
when the show-down between
flesh and bone
becomes severe. There was
a time I thought the horse and I
forgave each other.
If forgiveness were irreversible,
I tell Kafka, I wouldn’t have to keep at it.
When I was young, it seemed magic to me, that those small black marks on the pages of books could tell me stories and keep me company and introduce me to complicated feelings. Of course I wanted
to have that power myself. I wanted to become a writer.
As an adult, I kept on writing, but in different ways. I spent most of my working life in an academic library with an extraordinary collection, and I did editorial work for scholarly journals, curated exhibitions about the library’s research resources, and became a research librarian. I started writing for myself again in 2007, when I sat with my mother at the end of her life and realized I was writing
a villanelle in my head about those moments, and I needed to get it down on paper. That villanelle is not a wonderful piece of work, but it reminds me that writing and reading poems can lead to discoveries that are not accessible in other ways.
The poems I hold closest are ones I found at times I needed them: Adrienne Rich’s "Diving into the Wreck," Lucie Brock-Broido’s "Moving On in the Dark Like Loaded Boats at Night, Though There is No Course, There is Boundlessness" (a title that comes from a letter of Dickinson’s), and Henri Cole’s "Hens." A few of the other poets whose works are touchstones for me are Ellen Bass, Lucille Clifton, Marie Howe, Carl Phillips, Wisława Szymborska, and C. D. Wright, and there are many younger
poets whose works feel full of new light, such as Ocean Vuong and Franny Choi.
Thank you, Quartet, for inviting this statement.
At the Center of Something
She thinks about striking a match, touching it to the tool shed
still crammed with his things—spools of string, cigar boxes,
circles drawn on balsa wood around corpses of mice. Inside,
of what remains, she decides to make art—the potted house
plants, decaying gourds, rusting water pipes—his paintbrushes,
as he left them, still soaking in old rusted cans. His body, too,
her memory of it skewed, by betrayal first then disease—
how, for her, it takes the form of furniture, harsh lines
of pencil, heavy thrusts of the palette knife, each rendering
more a shape than a part. She looks around, the house
riddled with him—a pink rose in the eye socket of a horse’s skull,
O’Keeffe skies on windowsills. Sometimes it’s that simple—
how blue finds its way into the hollow, pitch-black into the spaces
between her bones, and the words without pictures, scattered
everywhere, fonts with their heavy feet, half-finished villanelles
and sonnets, and the Valentines he made for her each year,
his last, a shadowbox resting on the mantle: duct tape balled
like a fist, sticky and hard, cadmium-red pooling in place of a heart.
I search for inspiration in the work of both poets and visual artists. Beside me on my desk or in my travel bag, I keep a small selection of books. I open them each day and let myself disappear into the beauty and rhythm of someone else’s words before I begin writing my own. One book that stays
with me, always, is Myra Shapiro’s I’ll See You Thursday. Her work was my first path into poetry.
Right now, I have added Fleda Brown’s Flying through a Hole in the Storm and two collections by
Darla Himeles: Flesh Enough and Cleave. Darla is a poet whose work completely engages me, but I
am also inspired by her dedication to the process, to showing up at the page as well as encouraging other writers through her Instagram account. If I’m ever feeling like the muse has abandoned me,
that is one place I know I can go. I also make a point to follow, almost exclusively, writers and visual artists, Instagram becoming for me a virtual museum of individually composed and crafted things. These pieces, paired with what I observe closely in the world around me, become ways into and through my own work. Also, practically speaking, I begin each of my writing notebooks by copying this onto the first page: “I know a poem is done when it stops bothering me.” I have turned these words from Mary Ruefle into a kind of philosophy for everything I am in the process of creating.
A hunter’s moon lifts above treeless
bluffs east of the Missouri. A ribbon
of silver shimmers its way across
the water to the western bank, where
we’re tucked in the river valley.
The wind is finally dying down.
Tent flaps settle like great primordial
wings. I call on ancestral genes, cell
memory, akashik records, wood sprites—
whatever will help me start this fire
against the October cold. Crumpled
pages of the Plain Talk ignite, kindling
sparks, flames jump and lick split wood
I’ve balanced in a pyramid over the
kindling. Smoke tendrils shift, reach,
wrap me in their wild perfume.
Where shadows dip and glide in the
western bluffs behind us, coyotes begin
their chorus, call the pack to a kill.
Here by the dancing flames, we open
our throats and answer.
I’m a recently retired teacher of college English, and for as long as I can remember, I have been madly in love with language—word signs, word order, the shapes of words, their music, their meanings sometimes plain, direct, and sometimes amorphous and changeable.
The poets who’ve influenced me the most as a writer include poets I know personally and whose voices and rhythms I can hear in person, as they read their own work. I’ve also been greatly influenced by the poet Ai, who taught me with her brilliant persona poems that brutality and beauty often can, and sometimes must, coexist. And I always come back to Yeats, to the transcendental nature of some of his work, such as my favorite lines from “Vacillation”: “While on the shop and street I gazed / My body of a sudden blazed; / And twenty minutes more or less / It seemed, so great my happiness, / That I was blessed and could bless.”
Passing by the Giants
Everyone's in orange
but me and the unhomed.
In sunshine, a strident shade.
I trail a couple lumbering ahead
in bright Giants sweatshirts.
We skirt a pool of mustard,
and ignore the outstretched cups,
stained by coffee and dirt.
I don't believe one word you say,
the woman shouts like a second-
rate actress spitting out her exit.
Her partner sneaks a glance
behind. But I'm sporting Ray-Bans,
he can't see how words hit me.
A parking ticket, a casual slight--
we all lose count of what we've hidden.
On my return I catch
the stadium's muted roar.
It's like everyone inside were winning.
Poetry's a late-life gift. After my husband died in late 2018, a course of serious meditation led me to writing poetry. I was about to start another short story, and I may yet. But fiction is the natural
home for character, and poetry's the home for experience; and it was the latter I needed to write about. Somehow a short story about grief became a poem, and so it goes. Even ghost stories seem to become poems these days.
On my nightstand, there's Horace, Dickinson, Larkin and recently, I've added Simon Armitage and Philip Levine. I think great lines lead to other lines...just as great stories lead to other stories. I carry many poems in my head. Philip Larkin's "Whitsun Weddings" is one of those. I am in awe of how its meaning emerges from mundane incident. Its final lines stun me: "A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower / Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain." In my poem, "Passing by the Giants," I built upon a loud argument I heard before a baseball game. Like Larkin, I was alone, eavesdropping and not quite part of the culture; but I understood something about that fight.
A small girl, hair newly cut like Buster Brown,
feet barely touching the floor, I sat at one of the
little round tables with other children. We slurped
our milk and spooned potatoes into our mouths.
The matrons, Holocaust survivors, hovered,
Think of the starving children in Europe. One by one,
the children left the room. I sat alone
at the table, staring at my plate night after night.
The food made me gag.
I will sit here forever. I saw the radiator
across the room. Tiptoed with a clump of meat, stuffed
it behind the iron coils. The next night, a cupcake,
half a banana. Every night I fed the radiator
until my stash gave off a putrid smell. The matrons rail against
vermin, but understand despair. I promise not to hide
food behind the radiator again. I save myself
and will save myself over and over, even now.
For this poem in particular, I tried to think about a personal experience as a child and how it had a lasting effect on me. It is essentially about learning how to be resilient. Although, I am happy for
the reader to take away what he or she will.
All that fall we argued over stone,
what color, shape, and size would fit the space
we planned, a garden path to take the place
of wasted ground gone to weeds and prone
to wash away with summer storms. But not one
suited us, not Tennessee field or red-faced
rock trucked in from Arizona, a brace
of stone the color of dried blood, the tone
too strong for you, too loud, you said, as though
the rock could shout. And so we settled for stone
that’s aged and settled down like us, through
a thousand years of footprints and rain gone
back to earth, to hardest dust: sandstone, limestone,
and shale: wind, air, and water’s work well done.
I grew up in the household with my maternal grandfather, who was an invalid all my young life. He died when I was ten, but I can still see him: propped up in bed, smoking his Lucky Strikes, listening to a baseball game on his radio. Such memories are the heart of story for me, and my poems often tell stories.
For many years, I taught high school English and creative writing and wrote poetry, memoir, and fiction along with my students. I was first drawn to writing poems; writing stories came later. Poetry remains a vital part of my writing life, but I am primarily a fiction writer now. When I’m deep into a fiction project, I read poetry, hoping that the grace of it—sound and image and language condensed to their essential forms—will find its way into my writing. My fiction is at its best when that happens.
I’m currently involved in a project at my church where a few of us take turns emailing poems to other church members. Sharing these poems has been important to all of us during the pandemic, a connection through the love of words we might not otherwise have. I’ve shared some old favorites—everything from Shakespeare to E. E. Cummings—as well as the work of other poets I’ve come to love more recently, like Natasha Trethewey, Danusha Laméris, Barbara Crooker, and Ada Limón, whose Bright Dead Things I’m reading now. When I’m in need of comfort, I return to Mary Oliver, whose ability to convey deep feeling through simple words continues to inspire and move me.
All Editor's Choice poems from Winter Issue 2021 through Spring Issue 2022 will automatically be entered in our single-poem contest. Winner to be announced in Summer Issue 2022.
• What struck me about Susan Barry-Schulz’s poem was the seeking. And the vulnerability that goes hand-in- hand with that search. This poem reminds us that the rivers of our beginning hold the answers to who we are.
To Tonawanda from New York on the I-90
—after Linda Gregg’s Highway 90
A woman, who is me, is driving west. I’m
going back to the river again, trying
to remember how it is that I came from it. To
reconcile the disconnect, decide
how I’m related to the flowing chunks of ice, to discover if
there is anything left in this
flat landscape for me to excavate. Is
there dirt to be brushed from these sharp fragments? What
pulls me back is not the tide. I
was fresh-water birthed. This swift current feeds a fathomless want.
I don’t have a formal literary background. I came to poetry late and with very little training, which
is frustrating in some ways because I often feel like I am “behind.” I was a practicing physical
therapist for 30 years until chronic illness stopped me in my tracks in 2020. That year I enrolled in a free online class taught by a brilliant group of professors and graduate students through the
University of Pennsylvania called ModPo. This class runs every year starting in September and provides a collaborative community, weekly live events, and a thoughtful and nuanced introduction
to U.S. poetry. Once I entered that world, I gratefully never recovered! I have since developed a
practice which includes reading one full poetry collection a week (many thanks to the public library system) and engaging with the poetry world in as many ways as I can; attending readings and conferences, participating in a writing group (invaluable) and interacting with poets and other
poetry lovers on Twitter. I am inspired and awed by the work of poets Diane Seuss, Chen Chen, Terrance Hayes and of course Linda Gregg, whose poem "Highway 90" was the source text for this golden shovel.
• In Zeeva Bukai’s poem, memory of a loved one becomes a mirror we hold to ourselves. Where “memory shapes and smothers,” Bukai maps with searing and vivid language, what must not be lost.
—Jane C. Miller
Think about how you left home, then think about your mother in that Siberian gulag where she was born at the start of the war. Think about the gulag weaving a fibroid quilt in her lungs, about the disease that encased her, a leather sheath housing muscle and bone, the labored breath that called
your name, the pores contracted, seized in fright.
Think about the way memory shapes and smothers. About insomnia, how she haunted your room
her voice a distant bell, her cough a storm that woke you, her limbs thin as stalks, her belly a moon. Think how you knew it was a bad sign because you read in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the part
about Okonkwo’s father sent alone into the evil forest.
Imagine the moon sloshing in her belly. Imagine her belly is a sea you can swim in. Imagine it is a message, a psalm, a requiem, a scroll she has manufactured just for you.
Think about Solzhenitsyn and Osip Mandelstam, think of them as prophets whose frozen hearts mapped the archipelago. Think about the day she told you Siberia was an incubator for the dead.
You were eating grilled cheese on rye, watching Top Hat on the black and white TV. Think about
how you wished she’d waited for the dancing to end.
Remember she loved music. Remember the recorder you brought home, how it fit between her lips,
the velvet notes strung like pearls. Remember her laughter. Remember her operatic voice that shattered you. Remember this is how you want to remember her, with music and laughter, movies
and song, embroidery and the yarns she worked into sweaters that warmed you.
Imagine the land mass of her heart. Imagine it bordered on all sides by water. Imagine it an island where a choir of frostbitten angels sing.
Remember how she searched for you, how she charged across the beach terrified you’d drowned. Picture her running in the taiga, slipping on the permafrost. Remember she taught you how to make angels in the snow. Ask yourself how she survived on turnips. Wonder if she ever ate horse meat. Marvel at how she devoured raw beef on toast.
Remember the chulent, the flicker of Shabbos candles, the Sunday bacon sizzling in the pan. Remember the first time her father left he was in uniform. Remember the name of the town she and Safta found him in, the words she spoke to the woman who answered his door. Remember what she said when your grandmother tossed the kourva out.
Imagine she adored her father. Imagine his Polish face, long and thin as a saint’s. Imagine how she forgave him for leaving, for falling in love without her, for dying before she knew him.
Think about how her love never faltered. Think about your faltering love. Think about your father
in the restless dark, his hands like dinner plates, his blunt fingers searching for grub. Measure the
miles between your life and hers. Think about how she faded into the edges while all you wanted
was for it to stop.
Forget the way she drew close to death. Forget how it hunkered under the bed, how it flanked her body, how at the end she was lost in a fortress of ice you couldn’t breach. Think only about how she loved you, how she stroked your sunlit hair the day you told her you were leaving, how she gave you her blessing, and how you survived because she let you go.
I am a fiction writer who sometimes wades into poetry. In both genres I aim for an emotional truth that I hope resonates with readers. I was born in Israel and grew up in New York City. My work
deals with the immigrant experience, exile, displacement, and home. Since I am both Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, I’m interested in the way these cultures meet and collide in intimate relationships and
daily life. Israel-Palestine is an important subject in my work, and so is war trauma and how it lives
on in the body and seeps into the family for generations. When I began writing poetry 25 years ago,
I gravitated towards Sharon Olds, Muriel Rukeyser, Anne Sexton, Louise Glück, e.e. cummings, and Joan Larkin, as well as Israeli poets Yehuda Amichai, Natan Alterman, Leah Goldberg, and Dahlia Ravikovitch. I return to these poets often for consolation, and for inspiration. Lately, I’ve been
reading Aviya Kushner’s powerful collection Wolf, Lamb, Bomb, and Marcela Sulak’s lovely Mouth
Full of Seeds. For me, poetry, whether in its purest form, or in fiction or creative non-fiction, serves
as a bridge between human experience and the ability to express it.
You can reach me at zeevabukai.com
• The repetition in Rachael Guy’s poem haunted me after I read her poem. I admire the way she deconstructed the opening couplet and used the broken phrases to act as a refrain, thereby adding grit and anguish to the narrative.
—Gail Braune Comorat
Birds taken broken up to the mountain.
Songs die in this nest. Names go unspoken.
Any small wind could blow this house down.
Once I found a vast raven’s nest blown from a tree. The sheer, centrifugal mass of it reminded me of something a doctor once said to me, “you have a bulky womb.” Bulky. I felt a sting of shame,
lumbered from his office, heavy in my own flesh, cumbersome womb full of gravity and spite.
Songs die in this nest. Names go unspoken.
I’m sorry my dear, dead fledges, wilfully turned out too soon, scarcely more than an idea, fleck, or thumbnail. I was waiting for a more succulent season. Waiting to become a mother with softer
wings, an instinct for nurture. Didn’t know that season would never come. Or that ambivalence
would be the crooked cloud hunting my sky for life.
Songs die. Names go unspoken.
Instead, I furnished my house with inanimate things; stones, porcelain shards, hair, twine – a dark haulage poised for some unnameable construction. All the pretty hours I wiled away building ephemera. Anything to avoid building you.
Names go. Any small wind. Blow this house.
Once I found a vast raven’s nest blown from a tree. The sheer, centrifugal mass of it… held it in my arms like something unborn. Breathed its forsaken intent. Felt this old quickening… I refuse.
This nest. Unspoken. House down. Small wind.
I write to make sense of my experiences. Tasmanian by birth, I have spent a restless life exploring ambivalence, grief and belonging through visual art, theatre and poetry. Currently I am navigating
my midlife transition and bereavement after the recent passing of my mother. I am most compelled
by poetry that goes to the unsayable, that holds both darkness and light without fear, yet is delicate and tender. Some of poets that I return to include Seamus Heaney, Paula Meehan, Anna Swir,
Sharon Olds and Mary Oliver. I live in a small regional town and have spent the pandemic in the company of wild birds who grace my world with clear-eyed brilliance and agile otherness –
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
• From its first line I was drawn into Debra Kaufman's poem of disquiet and ambiguity played out in low key. What resonates: the tension between intimacy and distance quivering within the poem might also have trembled within ourselves, after this past year of pandemic—as if we too are in hiding, or have cause to be.
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
Sheltering, Day 229
Before the pandemic forced our shops
to close, I often met Iryna for tea.
Even then she shrugged off any touch:
We don't do that way.
She would saunter in, unsmiling,
wearing a ragtag skirt and chiffon scarf,
hair loosening from a chignon,
trailing a scent of rose oil and musk.
As a child in Croatia, she was left alone
to read and dream. Nothing expected,
nothing to prove. She wore her father's ring
on a chain around her neck.
An odd friendship—bookish, cool—
we loved Bergman and Jane Austen, preferred
cats to dogs, drank our tea black.
I was always on the verge of knowing her,
I thought. When I accused her once
of being here but not, she shrugged:
All my life I am practicing
new ways to disappear.
Reading Anaïs Nin's diaries had a profound influence on me as a writer. Having kept a diary from
age 15, I'd never considered that act as anything other than a way, as Robert Frost wrote, "to find out what I didn't know I knew." Coming from the rural Midwest, I'd read Frost and Sandburg, whose humble everydayness I could relate to, and Poe's exoticness and driving rhythm were appealing. At university I began reading such poets as Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Sappho--
women's voices in heightened language expressing familiar and unfamiliar ideas from a woman's
point of view. Songwriters Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen have been lifelong loves. Add to the
mix Carl Jung and Joseph Conrad on archetypes and dreams and you get a heady mix from which to draw. Exploring memory and relationships, trying to figure out myself and others in this strange world--that's what calls me to write.
൪uartet Interview: Irene Fick
Irene Fick is not a stranger to words. Prior to her retirement Irene worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in Chicago, Illinois and Tampa, Florida. She also ran an editorial consulting business serving clients in healthcare, theology, and education.
She is the author of two books of poetry – The Wild Side of the Window (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2018), and The Stories We Tell (Broadkill Press, 2014). Both books, in their publication years, won first place in the Delaware Press Association’s Communications Contest, and in the National Federation of Press Women’s Communications Contest. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and in 2018 she was selected to participate in the annual Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
It was Irene’s transition, later in life, from the more journalistic style of writing to poetry that caught our attention. We, the editors at ൪uartet, suspect this is a similar, though little talked about, journey that many of our readers and contributors have taken.
൪: What, after a career in journalism and business writing, drew you to poetry?
IF: Poetry has always been there for me. I began writing as a child (holed up in my room, writing stuff like “creature of the claw, maggot, toad, phlegm”). I had no idea what to do with all this angst and drama, then life and practicality got in the way. I majored in journalism as it combined my love of writing with my overall curiosity. Journalism also taught me how to tell stories and the discipline of meeting deadlines. I can’t say I had a master plan – never did. So, I held many jobs and moved all over the country – not so much for the work, but because I was such a restless soul. Through different jobs, cities and marriages, I wrote poetry. Most of it was pretty awful. And I was never confident enough or knowledgeable enough about the submission or publishing process. It was only after I retired and moved to the Rehoboth (DE) area that I began to write poetry in earnest. I now had the time and the opportunity to be part of a vibrant writing community. In some ways, I have come full circle – recovered who I was as a child. I still gravitate toward poems around the “d” words: death, disease, dysfunction, depression, darkness, and so forth.
൪: As a woman who meets the demographics of ൪uartet, did you ever run into roadblocks, or discouraging situations when you started to take your poetry seriously?
IF: I’m not sure I have encountered roadblocks as much as internal issues. Starting to write seriously (and often) at a late age, I needed to play catch-up. Also, I had to learn to take myself seriously – accept that I was, indeed, a poet, rather than someone who dabbled in poetry. Finally, I did not come from an academic background. Because of this, I think I was a bit intimidated by some literary journals and the poetry they published.
൪: How did you persevere?
IF: I kept pushing away the self-doubt and stopped comparing myself with others. I kept writing. I joined two supportive writer’s organizations – the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild, and Coastal Writers. The latter’s weekly critique group has been meeting for over 20 years. In 2011, I was invited to join. For the first time, I became part of a community of people who also love poetry and the feedback and critiques have helped me to grow as a writer.
൪: Is there one book or one poem that you keep going back to, and why?
IF: Not just one, but a few books that I love and refer to or reread: Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King; The Book of Delights by Ross Gay; To Read a Poem by Donald Hall; and In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit. I am now reading Margaret Atwood’s stunning poetry collection, Dearly, her first in over a decade.
I can’t single out just one poem – but I can name a few that stay with me because they prompted a strong emotional response. They include “Newborn, Brovetto Farm” by John Brehm; “Sometimes” by Sheenagh Pugh; “Some Questions You Might Ask” by Mary Oliver, “Homage to My Hips” by Lucillle Clifton, “In My Good Death” by Dalia Shevin, and almost anything by Faith Shearin, Marie Howe, Ada Limón, Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, George Bilgere, Geffrey Davis and Philip Levine. I also love Grace Cavalieri’s poems and I have most of her books.
൪: What is your workspace like? Cluttered? Organized?
IF: Both. My small office reflects my psyche – organized on the surface but a hot mess inside! If you walked into this space, it looks like everything is in order (down to the paper clips and Post-it notes). Lists are posted all over the place: to be done this year, to do now, to do later, books to read, journals to check out, etc. I have to make order out of the chaos that bubbles up in my mind. Without this organization, nothing, and I mean nothing, would get done – I would be overwhelmed by a random assortment of small scraps of notepaper with ideas – triggers for poems, compelling words and phrases, and so forth. I rely on my lists to keep me going. My work habits are not the best, so the organization really does help.
൪: What is the most important message you would like to leave with the readers of ൪uartet?
IF: To find your voice and then honor it. For years, I used to read other poets’ work with some envy, wishing I could write the way they did. It has taken me years to understand that the one thing I have going for me is me (of course, this is true of all of us). So, I learned to appreciate who I was, including all the weird quirks and flaws, and my best writing reflects that. The other message that has worked for me: allow myself to write poorly. Anne Lamott had a phrase for it: “shitty first drafts.” My first drafts are rarely very good and just getting words on the page can be grueling. I used to get discouraged and quit. Now, I don’t. I think about this first draft, play with it, let it rest for a while, then do some serious editing. This process works for me and Michelangelo’s quote expresses it perfectly: “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”
What Poetry Is
after Philip Levine
We wait for those lines that breathe,
lines with a life of their own, to find our place
in a callous universe. We wait for poetry.
You know what poetry is, or maybe,
like me, you pretend to know. If you read
this, you already suspect it is a long,
tangled rope attached to nothing. You shift
in your chair, adjust your glasses, salute
yourself for taking risks. Truth is,
you are safe, cocooned and cushioned
at your desk. You are not on the wild side
of the window, where the feral cat prowls,
begs for morsels on savage streets.
He will soon die. You consider the dead.
What made you think you could salvage
your pages with their ordinary lives?
Who cares about your friend whose mind
collapsed years before she did, or
that long-ago husband who slept
with a loaded pistol under his pillow, or
your melancholy mother who will never find
her luminous voice. She must be pleading
from the grave to let her be. Wounds
leave scars, regrets endure. You won’t hear
music in my poetry. It will wear you down.
It wears me down. I know nothing
will usher the dead back to me, nothing
will help me make amends, no matter
how long I write, how long I wait.
originally published in Pudding Magazine
“What Poetry Is” is from Irene’s most recent book, Wild Side of the Window, and is reprinted with permission.
Wild Side of the Window (2018) is available from Main Street Rag Publishing, ISBN 978-1-59948-688-8, $12.00
൪uartet wishes to thank Irene for her time and generosity in granting this interview, conducted via email by ൪uartet editor
Dialogues with Rising Tides
Kelli Russell Agodon
Copper Canyon Press
We are all trying to change / what we fear into something beautiful, Kelli Russell Agodon says in her opening poem, “Hunger.” In Dialogues with Rising Tides, Agodon turns the traumas we live with into elegant conversations. She’s not afraid to admit her own fears: You know how I always seem to be struggling (“Hesitation Waltz”) or to discuss family
history: For a long time I never knew taking one’s life / was a major our family excelled at (“To Have and Have Not”).
Section titles are named for lightships, vessels with bright lights that are moored in places where navigation is dangerous. While Agodon uses the lightship names and titles like “SOS,” she is not asking for help or trying to save us with her poems, she’s showing us how to cope, saying, There are ways to get through this (“When my therapist tells me my father’s trauma has transferred to me, I think”).
Agodon celebrates survival and guides us toward finding ways to make connections with others. She balances serious subjects with humor (“To Help with Climate Change, We Buy Rechargeable Sex Toys,” “Getting an IUD on the Day of 45’s Inauguration”) as she writes about environmental and mental health issues.
These poems shine light on ordinary times, provide lifelines that encourage us to hold on.
the best advice sang hopeful from the lost
sparrow on the pine beam, struggling but able
to fly, wingbeats of Morse code: Follow me into the light
(“Thank You for Saving Me, Someday I’ll Save You Too”).