Ann Kjellberg, founding editor of Little Star, an annual journal of poetry and prose, and Little Star Weekly, its mobile app version, will be offering a poem every Sunday this spring. This is her inaugural post.
The sixteen poems by James Stotts that we published in our very first issue of Little Star were, I believe the first poems he ever published, or nearly. I received them from my colleague the poet Melissa Green, who wrote to me, “Oh, my dear, but we've found one of the Tribe, the James Stotts I wrote to you about. I just haven't had time to send you his poems—he's coming to my new digs with my old roommates […] and we're going to give him succor and kindness and welcome him in. This young man is quietly chewing the bark off trees, alone and without a community—[…] He was born in the Rockies, studied Russian, went to Russia, married a Russian, reads Russian—well I can't tell how well, but his house is full of all our beloved poets—and he seems to have them all in a cellular level...” He certainly did.
Most of Stotts’s poems seemed to share the same horizon, where a dull half-lit sky meets a blighted earth, and a lonely man, hung-over or a little drunk, navigates his way among the world’s last things. He is saved not by answers but by song: the rhymes come closer, the rhythm approaches the heartbeat, and at the end the language itself seems to offer some simple orientation, a firm bed on which to plant a foot. His unwavering commitment to the lower case requires a moment of adjustment but suits him fine. The reader feels they are eavesdropping on his thoughts, in which he sets so little stock he does not even bother to clothe them in type. And yet these thoughts are born up from beneath by a stately rhetoric as old as Herbert—and indeed the pivot at his final couplets often calls the metaphysicals to mind.
In “sonnet where i sober up” the speaker looks up to find a sky where the old furniture has fallen into disrepair. The celestial corridors of Tiepolo have been replaced by a parkway with its littered median; the halos surround cop cars’ flashers. Instead of angelic choirs, scuffed bones and hair hoarded by rats. The image shifts to an inadvertent reliquary: our fragments are stashed behind a blind wall by scavengers. The speaker, hung over, feels the shadow of death in his own body; like Odysseus and Aeneas he’s had a brush with Lethe, but in his Lethe had the upper hand. And then, the turn. “I piss” (naturally) and “brush off the skin and earth into a little death nest.” Then for the second time he addresses an unknown “you.” We first met “you” in the first stanza: “this is the hidden meaning of morning by your own admission.” Now, “this is, in your own words, not such a bad place to begin.”
The poem does not invite us to say who is “you.” But we might hear it as both an internal and, in the spirit of the day, external one. It is characteristic of our diminished expectations that as the poem ends, “begin again” is rhymed with “oblivion.”
sonnet where i try to sober up
old parkway in the sky, blown
in and out like blinking shoppers through the cloud and ozone
treacly distant nightlights, dying in dust and ruin
this is the hidden meaning of morning by your own admission
the products of our lunatic inventory
measured out in the powderblue halos that haunt the cop cars
and the skyblack bones of what’s been redacted:
reenacted bits of bread and clothes the rats stuffed in their holes
hair and glass arrested between the walls and furnace
the long invisible threads that led back home
these blueblooded shoeblot eyes, dry and starving after some
brush with lethe—a brittle rubberband oblivion
i piss, brush off the skin and earth into a little death nest
this is, in your own words, not such a bad place to begin again