click here for a discussion of Marilyn's virtues as a singer
Walt Whitman: “I salute you on a modest career now done. Allons!”
Marianne Moore: “Your hat is splendid. Put it on top of all your words.”
Allen Ginsberg: “Mountains of Treyf! Happy Pork to fuel Jeremiah! Blessed Blasphemy! Holy Unholy!”
Langston Hughes: “He knows rivers – Hudson, Klamath, Jordan, Pearl. He can speak their language. Even how they curse.”
Edna St Vincent Millay: “We shared the same ferry, although he arrived at a very different port. At least he stays drunk.”
Emily Dickinson: “To hear Bird song – Long gone – Now flung – Alone – So You and I can return – Outside Time”
Herman Melville: “He battled with Clarel and won. That pleases me and is praise enough.”
Maimonides: "This gentleman is clearly perplexed. He should stay perplexed."
Emma Lazarus: “Reader, breathe free – it’s your turn to hold the lantern.”
Woody Guthrie: “You went to a Passover meal, but you still kept running, singing and running, and I sure know what that’s like.”
Leonie Adams: “I was your teacher, and I accept your apology.”
Francesca Rosa: “Your poem was read to me on my deathbed. I ascended into words. Thank you.”
Kenneth Koch: “These poems are so good that I want to pour them into a bathtub and rub them all over my body.”
William Carlos Williams: “Whose birth have you delivered if not America’s?”
Bertolt Brecht: “You must have courage to be sly in such times. Be careful.”
Ezra Pound: “Take that damned hat off.”
Amiri Baraka: “Dialectical Magic does its job like a dog lifting his leg. Up against the wall, Motherfucker! I’m just kidding. This time.”
Bill Berkson: “You still get high with joy and dread. Like that time we ate mushrooms on the Mesa in Bolinas and then went to talk with Bob Creeley about Vietnam.”
Walter Lowenfels: “I encouraged you many years ago. Now I’m sharing a jail cell with Nazim Hikmet, but we can always make a bit more room for you.”
Chidiock Tichborne: “Honor Passover and watch the story run. And now you write, and now the poem is done.”
Ed note: This post is in honor of Marvin Broder, who died on May 24. From my dear friend and his daughter Betsy: A fervent fan of Cole Porter, family gatherings and salty jokes, my father graduated Yale when it still used a quota for Jewish students, entered the Navy before Pearl Harbor, worked with the Israeli navy at its inception and skied Tuckerman's Ravine and Mt Mansfield before they installed lifts. . . [He] often talked about his service in the Navy and his regard for the skipper of his ship. Not a skilled seamen, but a man of the arts, the captain would gather the officers in the evening and they would read poetry together. Thank you for your service Lt. Commander Broder. May your memory be a blessing. sdl
We mark this Memorial Day with an excerpt from David Lehman's essay "Peace and War in American Poetry."
War and Peace: the title of Tolstoy’s massive novel of Napoleonic Europe trips off the tongue. Not so “peace and war”: the inversion of the customary word order represents a victory of hope over experience — or of the poetry of aspiration over the prose of sad actuality. As a subject for poetry, war has an immediate advantage over peace, because war entails action, whereas the experience of peace is an absence, not noticed until not there, like the absence of pain.
War was the first subject to quicken the pen of an epic poet. But the author of The Iliad knew that the scenes of the Trojan hero Hector in battle with Patroclus and later with Achilles would not be so remarkable if there were not also a tender scene of Hector bidding farewell to Andromache, his wife, and their baby boy, who is scared of daddy’s helmet. Epic poets have followed Homer’s lead, widening the scope of war inevitably to include peace – whether peace be construed as the absence of hostilities or as something positive in its own right.
In book XVIII of The Iliad, Homer describes the shield of Achilles that the lame god Hephaistos has fashioned for him. The shield depicts two cities – one embattled, besieged; the other functional, with a wedding and a court of civil law where disputants can settle their differences without violence. In layers of concentric circles the shield also shows some of the things conspicuously lacking in fields of battle: a vineyard, a herd of cattle, a circle of young men and women dancing, the bounty of the harvest – the fruits of peace.
Larry Fagin died this morning. I asked Charles North to pick one of Larry's poems that we could post in his honor today. -- DL
He buttonholed you and told you. Stay awake. Don't take the gaspipe. Thanks for the tip, but it's not 'all in the mind.' Imagine getting it in the neck every step of the way. You can't. Unlike some people I want to live, never report or explain the experience. Not shuffle underlying elements. Reside quietly in a pink rhombus.
-- Larry Fagin
I don’t believe in fate, but I don’t tempt it
by lending umbrellas. It could rain, or worse,
you could fall in love with me for all
the wrong reasons. Don’t expect me to keep you
dry. When I fall in love it will be with someone
who has her own umbrella & unending generosity,
& come to think of it, maybe she’ll lend you hers.
She’s better than me that way & I’m worse
because I’ll only share with her. Speaking of which,
what happened to your umbrella? Can I offer
to share mine? It was, after all, so generous of you
to give yours away. Take mine, I insist. & if it rains,
at least you’ll have an umbrella. & if I’m wet
& alone it will be a beautiful catastrophe.
I read Diane Cameron's story about her stepfather last summer and have been thinking about it ever since. Donald Watkins, a former Marine, returned in 1939 from military service in China and in 1953 murdered his first wife and his mother-in-law. He was sentenced to Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he remained for twenty-two years. From the foreword by William P. Nash, MD, Director of Psychological Health, United States Marine Corps:
Whether engaged in warfare, peacekeeping, or humanitarian assistance, the greatest challenges warriors face are moral rather than physical. For deployed warriors, physical dangers come and go, but moral dangers are everywhere, all the time. In the high-stakes world of the warrior, there is usually one, or perhaps just a few, right things to do in each situation. And both the cost and consequences of those right actions can be enormous. For a Marine on guard duty, the right thing is to find every threat to those being guarded and to let none pass. For a Navy corpsman tending the wounds of Marines on a battlefield, the right thing is to save every life and limb. For a China Marine in Shanghai in 1937, the right thing was to do nothing--to merely watch as thousands were raped and killed. That's not a tough job; it's an impossible job. We now know that one of the consequences of failing to live up to one's own moral expectation can be moral injury, a deep and lasting wound to one's personal identity.
At a deeper level, perhaps the warrior's challenge is more than just choosing right actions over wrong. Perhaps the most fundamental role warriors play in our society is to venture into the unclaimed territory between good and evil, to construct goodness right there on evil's doorstep, and then to defend it with their lives. To serve selflessly while others exploit, to show compassion while others are cruel, to forgive the unforgiveable--these are all ways to create goodness in the face of evil. So also is making sense of a brutal double murder that happened to decades ago in order to find and celebrate the humanity of a veteran China Marine.
Diane Cameron took a deep dive into her stepfather's life. She spent many months--years, really--digging for any bit of material that she could use to understand the particulars of his experience and to grasp how the trauma of war shaped his life. She put the pieces together with the attention and skill of an archaeologist assembling the bones of a dinosaur. Her book is a page-turner, as gripping as a suspenseful mystery novel. She moves back and forth through time as she charts her own development alongside Watkins'. As the child of someone fought with the US Army during WWII and who died before I had a chance to ask him about his service, Diane's book brings me closer to my father.
One of the more memorable passages is the following, in which Diane writes about her work as a community educator:
When I worked in community education programs, one of my jobs was to help family and community members better understand the experience of mental illness. We'd begin each session with an opening exercise that was intended to simulate the experience of schizophrenia. It begins by asking participants to work on a simple task like a jigsaw puzzle or easy crossword. While they are doing the task, the leader turns on several different radios placed around the room--each one tuned to a different station. There is a confusion of sounds and music. One of the leaders also changes the lighting, randomly turning lights on and off so that the room is alternately dimmed and brightened.
While all of this is going on, the participants have to continue their task. And as they begin to struggle to pay attention, the leader moves through the group and whispers to participants one at a time,"You look like shit," "No one cares what you think," or "These people hate you." This experience is, after a few minutes, unnerving at best, and yet it is only a fair approximation of what persistent, unscreened stimuli are like for a person with schizophrenia.
In case you missed the recent reading at the NYU Bookstore, you can watch below as David reads from Poems in the Manner Of
Thank you Yael Yisraeli of the NYU Bookstore for hosting such a spectacular evening.
Susan Lewis’s new collection of prose poems engages the complex routines and the constantly shifting contours of daily life in the twenty-first century with great humor, terror, anger, and insight. Like Kafka, like Borges, Lewis explores the uncertainties that underwrite a life, and that linger in the margins of the page; from such uncertainties, and from the chaos embroidered into the antimacassars of the quotidian, Lewis’s prose poems present themselves as an endless gallery of rooms wherein one might dwell on the raging absurdities and the gentle profundities of existence. In these poems, Lewis introduces a man overwhelmed by the complexity of most things, refugees from the native urban clatter, a god of guilt trying to sharpen the curvatures of space-time, a girl who knows her waking life is an illusion, figures sidling into their lives like shy crabs, motivations stunted, discourses un-tongued, the logic of the stutter-step and the sucker punch, the language of bureaucracy colliding with medusa-headed vernaculars and scientific lexicons. Lewis’s ultimate subject, however, is the protean, indeterminate, baffling conundrum of the self, the mystery and multiplicity of our own individual discrete interior worlds.
For Susan Lewis, the prose poem provides a frame within which passionate inwardness and exteriority might overlap, exchange places, negate each other, and continue their distinct pinprick shinings. These poems take form in the interstices of desire, “caught between reciprocity & the cutting edge,” providing glimpses of a “braided interior, veiled though it remained by a haze of evasion.” At their best, the poems startle and skitter, nimbly shifting stances between sentences, darting between parable and parabola—acidic, exquisite, and surreal in the way that only the waking world can be surreal. The poem, “A Variable Equation,” is characteristic in its method; the poem reads, in full:
"This one had a weeping cat. In fact, he was a cat himself, when the notion struck him. He could leap from pool to pool like raindrops. When the pair of them cried, the earth beneath them shuddered, from pleasure or impatience. One day the cat’s tears dried up. It lay still becoming something else. Its man never found out who had ordered the new body, but he knew then & there he must get one like it. You could say he lorded it over his pet, but it was the cat become moonbeam which nurtured him before he had a self to speak of."
Like a cat become moonbeam it is impermanence that nurtures these poems and moves them rapidly outward. Heisenberg’s Salon offers poems that are by turns cosmopolitan and sage, wry and idiosyncratic, eccentric and expertly executed. Each poem here creates a home for another—newer, stranger, older, atomized—way of life. Susan Lewis exposes the flux within the habitual, the unruliness of the very molecules within the customary; these outlandish internal geometries vanish and reappear as the ever-shifting furniture of the self.
Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for DIALOGIST and the poetry book review editor for Arcadia.
There’s a delicious scene in the third season of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle in which Nico Muhly ’03, Juilliard’04, playing himself, introduces an aria he has composed expressly for La Fiamma, a Maria Callas-style prima donna portrayed by Italian actress Monica Bellucci. He demonstrates her singing part on a grand piano in her Venetian parlor, explaining that the piece will also feature pre-recorded sounds and fragments of text that she will sing into a microphone and then repeat using a foot pedal. Before the proud La Fiamma will agree to this departure from her standard repertoire, however, she needs some convincing. “What is the story about?” she asks.
“The character is a young American woman named Amy Fisher,” Muhly tells her. “She’s having an affair with an older man, and she goes over to his house and shoots his wife in the head. His name is Joey Buttafuoco.”
He pronounces it the American way, the way newscasters did when the “Long Island Lolita” made sensational headlines in the early ’90s: Buttah-fewco. La Fiamma corrects him. “Boota-fwocko,” she says.
If this were an old-school sitcom, the laugh track would kick in right about here. But while Mozart in the Jungle is fun, it takes music seriously enough not to waste a cameo by the world-renowned Muhly, who in his 20s became the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. So we’re treated to a glimpse of the real Nico: artistically adventurous, charming and sensitive to the hopes and agonies of Fisher or anyone else whose private passions lead to public tragedy.
“Fisher’s world is really intense,” Muhly reflects in his West 37th Street music studio in Manhattan. “Like Romeo and Juliet, she’s in this highly charged erotic and emotional situation — only it isn’t in a glamorous place. It isn’t Verona; it’s Massapequa. But I don’t like this idea of high versus low [culture], because it’s really just people.”
It was a
first rate audience
in every sense.
Jerome read first.
His corporate sonnets
reflect years of
labor that Marx
would characterize as
alienated in the
tall tower of
Time and Life
on Sixth Avenue.
There is beauty
in a cliche
just as there
is humor and
then just to
clinch the deal
comes the rhyme..
Well played, Jerome.
The host beckoned.
I read second:
I read poems
in the manner
Goethe, Keats, Mayakovsky,
Millay, Stevens, Dorothy
Parker, Charles Bukowski,
and Kenneth Koch.
I also told
an old joke.
David Shapiro read
poems from his
new book including
"Why Rimabud?" and
conversed with the
darkness wondering whether
you could see
the darkness or
whether total darkness
was a poem.
"As Kafka wrote,
there is hope,
but not for
us," he concluded.
The mermaids sang
to him and
the crowd cheered.
All were glad.
Drinks were had.
-- David Lehman
Sunday, May 7th, 5-7PM
82 W. 3rd Street
Three poets read to celebrate their new books:
David Lehman: Poems in the Manner of... (Scribner)
David Lehman is the series editor of The Best American Poetry, and is also the editor of the Oxford Book of American Poetry. His other books of poetry include New and Selected Poems, Yeshiva Boys, When a Woman Loves a Man, and The Daily Mirror. His most recent nonfiction book is Sinatra’s Century. He teaches at The New School and lives in New York City and Ithaca, New York.
Jerome Sala: Corporations Are People, Too! (NYQ Books)
Jerome Sala’s other books of poems include The Cheapskates, Prom Night (a collaboration with artist Tamara Gonzales), Look Slimmer Instantly, Raw Deal: New and Selected Poems, The Trip, I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent and Spaz Attack. His poems and essays have appeared in The Nation, Pleiades, Evergreen Review and Rolling Stone.
David Shapiro: In Memory of an Angel (City Lights Books)
David Shapiro is a poet, literary and art critic. He teaches art history at Patterson College and literature at Cooper Union. He published his first poem at age 13 and his first collection, January (1965), at age 18. Subsequent volumes include Poems from Deal (1969), A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel (1971), The Page-Turner (1972), Lateness (1977), To an Idea (1983), House (Blown Apart) (1988), After a Lost Original (1994), A Burning Interior (2002), and New and Selected Poems (1965–2006) (2007).
DD: How did Lithic Press come into being?
DR: Before Lithic I was a geologist, an astronomer, and a teacher of earth and space science. Lithic means, pertaining to stone. Long before I became a geologist, my Dad was the poet of the family, so the possibility of poetry has always been about. I wrote a poem in second grade that gave me a good feeling. I wrote a poem in 1992, another in 1994, then they started coming more frequently. About 12 or 15 years ago, I became close with Jack Mueller, a lifelong constant poet-maker with deep knowledge and strong presence. He is a prolific trickster. As Hank Stamper might say, he'll “never give a inch.” Jack was a fixture in San Francisco in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, with Ginsberg, Corso, Doyle, Hirschman, Cherkovski, and the ongoing gang. He is a mountain (in the house at the top of the hill at the end of the road.) Thousands of 3X5 cards and bar napkins with rapidly sketched cartoons, sharpened by fast comment, piled on the dining room table. They captivated me. “Let's make a book of these napkins!” That became, Whacking the Punch Line, and that was the beginning of the Lith.
Lithic Press started taking off about two years ago when I hired Kyle Harvey to do design and layout work. Kyle is a beautiful human: multi-talented, motivated, poet-musician-artist, and a brilliant designer! It is amazing to work with him! Lithic would not be what it is without him.
DD: Tell us about your catalog. What do Lithic poets share in common?
DR: Our catalog has about 30 titles from 20 writers. A little more than half are chappies, the others, perfect-bound longer collections. With the idea of creating rare books, we've done a couple of cloth-bound, numbered, Limited Editions (Jack Mueller's, The Gate, and Kierstin Bridger's, Demimonde.) There is one anthology, Going Down Grand, Poems from the Canyon, that includes poems from more than 50 writers, and a couple of cartoon books, collections of Jack’s, compression sketches, along with, Whacking..., there is, Who Said Hawaii? I can imagine publishing books on Natural History or really anything that becomes obvious to make.
As far as I know, all Lithic writers put their pants on one leg at a time. I’m attracted to writers who pay attention to language in addition to any feelings, destinations, or particular sympathies. In all our books, I find some essence of existence, some insight, some play that makes the journey more stimulating.
An overriding thought that Mueller has ground into me and his many minions is, Obey Emerging Form, which comes to him directly from his acquaintance with Robert Duncan, and the importance he gave Olson’s thoughts on projective verse. The idea has grown in me, transcends my writing, leads me to drill, bolt and hang rocks from ceilings and trees... led me to open a bookstore. I look for manuscripts that obey emerging form.
DD: Can you talk about the importance of your bookstore?
DR: Books take my breath away, always have. I still see myself in the library as a kid, looking up at all the shelves. As I struggled to write a report, the night before it was due, I couldn’t fathom how all those books could have been written: so many words, sentences, paragraphs, page after page. It was magic. Still is. I’ve always loved to be among books, each one a little universe. Or a multiverse. Or just one good verse. I have Montaigne pinned on the wall,
“...I never travel without books in peace or in war. Yet many days or months go by without my using them. Meanwhile, time runs by and is gone ... you cannot imagine how much ease and comfort I draw from the thought that they are beside me...”
The bookstore has exposed rafters from which I hang rocks, pine poles, beaver-chewed willow sticks, globes of planets, asteroids, books, and who knows what’s next! Trilobites crawl across the counter. There are spinning chunks of basalt and rocks that hang up from the floor. The bookstore is a classroom, a field trip destination for school groups, a community center, a meeting place, an art gallery. We have frequent poetry readings, scientific talks, and music shows. It’s a thinker’s hangout. I ran a planetarium for many years, the bookstore is an extension of that.
Located in a small town on the western side of a western state, on the 2nd floor of The Old Bank Building, a block off the main drag, in a country whose president doesn’t read too much, business is best during our events. I’m optimistic, our name is spreading, drop-in traffic is increasing.
DD: Could you tell us about some of the titles forthcoming in 2017 from Lithic Press?
DR: We had an open reading last year for chapbook submissions, and three chappies are soon to come out from Karl Plank, Trish Hopkinson, and Kevin Carey. Four or five other chappies will come out this year. In addition to Adam's Stray, we’ll have four additional longer length poetry collections, including, Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater, by Eugene, Oregon poet, Sam Roxas-Chua. In a break from tradition we’ll be publishing a chapbook of non-fiction by John Fayhee called, Driving Around the West with Drugs. We are also going to re-issue Jack Mueller's, Whacking the Punch Line, as a coloring book for grown-ups. All the titles are in the catalog on our website, here.
DD: What is the most encouraging experience you have had as an editor?
DR: The first full-length collection I did with Lithic was Jack Mueller's, Amor Fati, which started with paper-clipped and stapled, crumpled piles of papers and manuscripts stacked on the milieu of Jack’s dining room table. Molding that into a book, in the thunder and wonder of Jack’s arguments with himself, was hugely invigorating. It took four years. I sent it to The Boss. Three years later it looks well worn on his desk. A major theme in Springsteen’s recent autobiography is indeed, amor fati.
DD: How has your work as an editor and book publisher influenced your life as a writer? In what ways has your writing life, in turn, influenced your editorial and publishing work?
DR: Before Lithic Press began to grow, there was about ten years during which I had a lot of very quiet time. I ran an observatory in southern Africa. I worked at night. The days were free, there were giraffes out the window, I tracked zebra and rhino, spent days on the hillside with the baboons, hyenas were about at night. The sky, the land, my friends... were all new. Time moved slow. My home in Colorado is a sanctuary. There is an observatory, beaver ponds, birds of prey, coyotes at night. I live with dogs. I’ve been blessed with enough nothing to get something done. Since I opened the bookstore, poems come less frequently than before (but I did get published! My, Primate Poems, came out late last year.)
I love facilitating the making of books. But as a publisher, I’ve had a glimpse of something of a mania among writers, and anyone who has ever written anything, to ‘have a book.’ Maybe it’s related to celebrity culture and the urge toward ‘fame.’ It can be ugly. I want to work with writers who write because they can’t help but to write. Books, for them, obviously need to be made. While writing remains important to me, I take my poems as they come and don’t worry too much at the time that passes in between. I don’t force it. As so many have said, I am a poet - when I am writing a poem. Otherwise, I am just another chump looking at the stars, paying taxes, dusting the shelves... I am attracted to writers who have vibrant connections with the world - beyond writing.
DD: Could you introduce Adam’s work and discuss the strengths of Stray?
DR: “Solitude's Best Apprentice” is the title of first poem in this collection. It details the mastery Adam’s father displayed with woodworking tools, making something from ‘nothing.’ Adam’s work is like his father’s hand on the chisel. Every poem is finely wrought with attention to detail, knowledge built from long apprenticeship, and a helpless desire for the work.
These poems are written from the inside out, like a Kesey novel, and like in a Kesey novel, I am drawn to what I do not know. I might get the names over time, stumble on dark paths, take sure steps with sharpened knives, severed ties, lies, and all kinds of unsaid. His longer poems are explorations from some honed place to wherever. He wanders. He remains open to ‘begging home a stray’ - up in Ralls - where I’ve never been but it feels familiar. Adam’s book looks to the north and walks off. He is a husband. His short poems are a fist. He has a glacial scar carved on his whorl.
In the Lith, above my head, The Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead hangs from the ceiling on 24 gauge silver wire. The 1954 cloth-bound edition had been gnawed off the shelf and partially buried next to the compost pit by my book-loving bitch, Luckie. It hangs just above the bar table. I have to sit up straight to read from it (who sits up straight these days?) Randomly I find,
“...It often seems to me that European man was at his best between 1400 and 1600. Since then our appreciation of beauty has become too overlaid with intellectualization. We educated people have our aesthetic sense too highly cultivated and do not come to beauty simply enough...”
Whitehead goes on. Adam’s poems come to beauty (and brutality, and a wide variety of intense mundanities) with an educated simplicity.
DD: The sonnet, the near sonnet, and a kind of nonce sonnet punctuate Stray. In a way, this is the phantom form underwriting the collection. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with this form?
AH: I really like the verb “punctuate” here. I think of received forms as a way to address tradition, to offer a small aside to the arc of where we’ve been and where we might be going. For me, the sonnet makes sense. It’s elastic, it’s flexible, and it can stretch gracefully and with resonance. It’s a way for me to organize my thoughts. Thematically, there’s a lot of, well, straying, physically, spiritually, emotionally—we stray from obligations, from duties, from love, from home, but I like that there are formal returns in the collection, which I hope echo in sound and sense from one poem to another. That underwriting you mention serves as a ghost refrain of sorts. Each poem is a crafted thing, but, once I started really considering how all the poems were in discussion with one another, I realized how a collection, too, is a crafted thing; it’s curated, tweaked, and shaped. I found a lot of comfort and joy and frustration and doubt in that process, and the sonnet and its looser relatives—the “Staring Down” couplets, too—offered touchstones for the shape the collection ultimately took.
I think of poems in general and received forms in particular as balancing authenticity and artifice. They’re crafted and structured to highlight the appearance of spontaneity, to feel necessary, and that they could not be otherwise. There’s a tautness in working toward authenticity and artifice, a fundamental tension, that I enjoy, and I find real satisfaction in reading poems that navigate and explore those concerns. So I tried to write the sort of poems I like reading.
AH: Being a cradle Catholic gives life a shape whether you want it or not, and, like the sonnet or poems in general, offers places to dwell, rooms for us to knock around in for a while before bustling back into the world. For me, being raised Catholic provided way stations for my days, big and small rituals that marked time passing and gave that time meaning and shape: the rosary, for one, but also the larger rituals, the events that celebrated transitions from one phase of life to another, Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation. Those are stylized moves, rich in circumstance and filled with gesture and longing. The ritual expresses and evokes, enacts and points toward the hope for structures that transcend. Catholicism was the vehicle for these concerns, but that’s a circumstance of geography and history, a chance happening. It certainly could have been otherwise, but it wasn’t otherwise. I can’t undo that. Somewhere along the line, I realized that my Catholicism, no matter how lapsed still fires off in my synapses, it’s baked in and feels nearly genetic. In all my thoughts and feelings and approaches, the Church, in both positive and negative ways, has its say. And, for me, I find that poems have something of that structure that brought comfort and meaning and expression when I was growing up. I’m not glib about those tensions. Poems are rituals unto themselves. When poems are working well, they’re living chambers with intricacies and shapes—sonic, formal, rhetorical, metaphorical—, but they’re also expanses with possible selves and ambiguities shaped consciously and unconsciously, but shaped with intelligent hearts and empathetic minds. Those are the ones I want to write, and they’re the ones I want to read and reread and tape to people’s doors when they’re not looking.
I’m not a good Catholic in the way my grandmother would define it. I’ve not gone to Mass in a couple years, I’m ragged with doubts, and there is much that I find challenging. That said, the sense of wonder and awe in my gut, the realization that the world can be one place of majesty and terror, profound humaneness and abject cruelty, strikes me as a particularly spiritual issue. On the other hand, the Winter Daphne’s in bloom, and the Camellias are too. And there are swing sets and a broken down garbage truck and a fundamental collapse of political obligation to serve from below and to do so with sincerity and decency and intelligence. Those tilt-a-whirl scales have been slamming around for a long time, and we’re all of it. Poems, for me at least, can offer a shape to that. Poems, like religious belief, like ritual, can offer distillation and elevation and attention. They’re also “the things of this world” and I like to think of us all as Wilbur’s heaviest nuns working on our difficult balance.
DD: Who are the poets that have influenced you the most?
AH: I take something from almost everything I read. I love reading Frost’s North of Boston, flipping through Pound’s Pisan Cantos and seeing what sticks. I find Cummings’s Tulips & Chimneys, especially the five parts of “Chansons Innocentes,” influencing my thoughts quite a bit. I read a lot of Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop. I return to Harmonium, too. Plath’s bee poems, Lowell’s Lord Weary’s Castle, those are important to me, too. CK Williams, the early stuff especially, and Philip Levine, the gritty gentleness I found there stuck with me. I read Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires and Refusing Heaven probably more times than I should have.
DD: What contemporary poets do you most admire?
AH: First, I’d be faithless and unkind if I didn’t say how much I admire the poet-mentors at NMU and TTU who worked with me. You hear stories about negligent faculty, and maybe you see some of it, too, but that was not my experience when it came to talking poems, getting feedback on my work, getting suggestions for places to submit, and the like. And the fellow students I worked with at both places were supportive, motivating, and talented. In those ways, I’ve been very fortunate.
I also admire, in no particular order, Frannie Lindsay, David Bottoms, Robert Morgan, Sarah Lindsay, Connie Wanek, Martha Serpas, Peter Everwine, Lance Larsen, and Christian Wiman. I heard Ross Gay read “Nursery” a while back, and it’s never left my ear. I like Steve Scafidi’s work, too. Yusef Komunyakaa’s Talking Dirty to the Gods was a revelation as was Heather McHugh’s Upgraded to Serious. Karen Skolfield’s Frost in the Low Areas, the title poem especially, is excellent. I also enjoy Alberto Ríos’s work. Edward Hirsch’s Special Orders comes to mind, as does Thomas Lynch’s Walking Papers. I also admire Terrence Hayes. He was in a small town one over last year, and his talk meant a lot to me.
DD: What is the most encouraging development you’ve witnessed in contemporary poetry?
AH: There’s a ton of room to write in terms of form and content. I find good poems all over the place, and I don’t know if they’ll be historically good, but that’s not the point. They’re good right now, and I like reading them. Maybe in five years I’ll cringe at those same poems I liked so much. But that’s taste and maturity and whatever else goes into our critical faculties. The poetry landscape seems to be okay with itself, and the mountains, deserts, swamps, cities, burgs, and towns are livable. Auden talked about reading work he knows isn’t very good but that he liked—it was his time, though, so what’s the problem? I read Verse Daily and Poetry Daily most mornings and subscribe to some lit mags, and I’m dazzled and moved and energized by the variety. I have critical assessment, of course, and I rank and sort and stop reading if I don’t like something, but I don’t get too severe about it. The stakes are high, they’re very high, but the importance of poems in my life won’t be made more meaningful by severity or exclusionary reactions. If I don’t like something, I stop reading. I might come back to it. I might not. I like wondering which poems being written now will last and be loved years and years from now. Cases can be made, I guess, but I can spend my time better by supporting the work I love. I think the variety we see is a sign of health, a realization of the importance of poetry in our lives.
DD: What is one thing that American poetry needs more of, in your opinion?
AH: Meaningful engagement with and support from our communities. I’d like to see more opportunities for poets in public schools or running workshops in rural communities and to have those events recognized as essential to the well-being of the community, not anomalous or cute. That’s close to me. I live in rural South Carolina and got to work with students on a Saturday workshop where we studied haiku, traditional and contemporary, discussing how image can work, how it expresses and evokes, how it suggests. That was a meaningful day; we had a lot of fun, but it was more than that. We slowed down. We read. We talked. We wrote. We wrangled with our responses, and, in doing so, we tried to make a shape for those responses. There are instrumental values there, skills that transfer to other aspects of our lives. But that’s a lucky by-product. It is inherently worthwhile to read carefully, to consider a poem on its own merits, and to respond in a community to your thoughts on the matter. It’s a way of thinking and feeling. And poetry adds real value to our lives. I have this little story in my mind of two state troopers sidled up to each other in their Interceptors in the median of a state road, driver’s side window to driver’s side window the way they do, exchanging well-read poetry collections.
DD: If you could only read and say and remember one poem (written by someone else) for the rest of your life, what poem would it be?
AH: Milton’s Paradise Lost. For a few reasons: I could win friends and gain influence by having marathon recitations. I could run for office, win, and recite it as a filibuster, providing explication as needed, sort of like Patton Oswalt’s Star Wars filibuster but way more serious. Lame joke aside: Paradise Lost is audacious and ambitious and so satisfying to read. Almost every line is worth our attention.
DD: I’d like to end with the poem “To the Bed Bug.” This poem surprised and delighted me. For me, it gently evokes John Donne’s flea. Could you introduce this poem?
DR: I asked my old climbing buddy, Smeds, if he felt bad squashing the skeeters. He said he didn't like the killing but when they marched on his territory it was war.
Reading Donne’s, “The Flea,” is to listen in on some impassioned reasoning from 400 years ago. Reading it gave me a headache (behind my right eye.) Oh, darling, just smoosh the damned thing already and take my heart. But what a glimpse into the ways of the days of way back when: those manners, the intricate speech patterns, all the fluffy frilleries, same goddamned insects.
Adam’s “little buddy” could be seen as playful pondering. What will they say 400 years hence when this Bed Bug is encountered? Perhaps it will sooth a headache and cause a yearning for this high time: it displays an openness to fun, such easy speech, such an indication of freedom to wander where thought will roam - with such nuanced insight, same hot blood.
TO THE BED BUG
Little buddy chugging
beneath my cotton sock,
and an endless gut,
welcome to me,
a humble type-O host.
My blood is your blood,
eh, ami? Or is it amie?
Classy, aren’t I?
Urbane and friendly,
worrying French gender
that way. You’re worth it,
best lesson in commensalism.
I get you. I’ve taken
the orphan’s clingy ride
with style, rendered myself
immune to all but need.
I, like you, work to keep
a bleeder gently bleeding.
Danny Rosen founded Lithic Press in 2008, and the Lithic Bookstore & Gallery in 2015. His book, Primate Poems, came out in 2016. The chappie, Ghosts of Giant Kudu, came out in 2013 from Kattywompus Press. Danny’s genetically based optimism is arises from his familiarity with deep time and big space. He worked in geology, astronomy, and for many years ran the Western Sky Planetarium, providing astronomy education for schools and communities throughout western Colorado.
Adam Houle is the author of Stray (Lithic Press, 2017). His poems have appeared in AGNI, Shenandoah, Poet Lore, Blackbird, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. Claudia Emerson selected his work for Best New Poets 2010. Nominated for both a Pushcart and for Best of the Net, he was also a semi-finalist for the Boston Review/“Discovery” Prize and a finalist for the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry. He earned a PhD from Texas Tech and currently lives in Darlington, South Carolina with writer and editor Landon Houle.
Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for DIALOGIST and the poetry book review editor for Arcadia.
Here’s an interesting French word: inconséquent. It means something like “frivolous” but implies that the person so-named either doesn’t care about or doesn’t know about the consequences of his actions.
It appears to me that there is far too much inconsequence. Only this can explain why I am so cruelly treated, on a daily basis.
Of unsettled mind and in almost summer-like sunshine, I busted out of my office chair around three in the afternoon and made my way into the streets, toward home and, possibly, a little nap.
Who missed me? Who could have missed me? Can you tell me that?
Today the evidence of cruel treatment is the Métro, which, at five minutes walking from my place is quite far, proof of the incompetence of the public transportation system, the RATP, backed up by barely-democratic, wildly corrupt governments.
Disdaining the enforced six-minute wait for a two-minute bus ride, I was obliged to pass Mufassa, proprietor of Au Village, who, fedora pulled low on his brow, was leaning against a plate glass window of his establishment, enjoying a spray of yellow sunshine over his body. Though I doubt he knows my name, Mufassa is always so pleasant to me that I can see no reason, not even the prospect of a nap, not stop for a pint and an earful of whatever live music is happening – there seems always to be some sort of live music there.
So as not to waste any time – I fret about using my remaining years consequentially – I sat down and almost immediately began thinking about inconsequence and about popularizing a brand-new Theory of Sentiments, based on human moral complexity.
I like to think that erecting a Theory of Sentiments for the modern age is a complementary corollary to Karine’s Penis Envy Project, which, despite her misunderstandings in other matters concerning me myself, us and herself, continues to pump along. Some skinny refugee-looking guy – funny how you can spot them – strumed and slapped out some dam’fine geetar while I was brooding it all out and drinking up.
By the time I left, the sun was beginning the final leg of its long, long lone descent, which is one of the glories of this part of the world. My figurations, as well as the beer, tipped me toward a less somber view of affairs though trudging up the street, I couldn’t be bothered to curse the inefficiency of the RATP.
The entry code to the residence where I live, a diabolical digital security improvement of ten difficult-to-remember digits, has been designed to scare me. I am always afraid I will forget the code and be forced to hang all my groceries by my teeth while I slap all my pockets for the little electronic disk, thus raising, quite unjustly, I think, my general level of anxiety.
And for what? Can you tell me?
The numerical sesame swung the grill fro and I stepped inside our residential garden.
In the foreground, I saw Childeric and Jorinde, Joringel and Alice stretched out on the lawn, taking a lazy apéro-dînatoire – hors d’ouevres with enough little snacks to obviate a more formal supper – and, as people from France say, en train de refaire le monde, “remaking the world” – chatting about this and that. They invited me to sit, eat and, in my turn, pontificate. Childeric makes me think of a sharpish Rhett Butler. Jorinde is who Elizabeth Taylor would have been were she Emily Dickinson, of an inexpressibly lovely deepness of thought and intellgence. Joringel, a picture of earnest rectitude, loyal, slim, trim, tall and able to handle both circular saw and ball peen hammer. Joringel is actually married – rare these days – to Alice.
Alice is my favorite. Why? Surely, it’s simple.
With a pug nose and easy smile perched above a willowy frame all arms and legs, Alice seems always to just be discovering the world and its plethora of through-the-looking-glass amusements. It is a delight to meet Alice in the stairwell, even when pressed to get on. She loves to chat, but, by some miracle of creation, is always pleasant to listen to; her bits and remarks are as slyly entertaining as the tinkling bubbles clinging to a champagne glass.
Here’s something. Wagging her head in airy disapproval, Alice once told me that her mother is inconséquente, “unserious”.
She then showed me a picture of a fine-looking woman of, as they say, a woman of a certain age. Taking care to turn my face into the shadow, I opened my eyes wide when I heard this, said nothing. The woman, of about my own certain age is, according to her cheerful, pleasant daughter, parentally-challenged, as I am, by all accounts, myself. Lookin’ gooood, I think, feeling sure that, arms about our thickening waists, we could have much in common by the end of an evening…
Joringel and Childeric, both green-and-better-world dreamers, supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of elections, and are now discussing what to do about the second round vote on 7 May. It’s a clear contest between Marine Le Pen – economically incoherent enough to attract voters on the far right and left, promising an exit from “un-national” Europe, jobs, jobs, jobs, a crackdown on unspecified “security threats” exemplified by “burkinis” on the beaches and of course “no-nonsense leadership”: risky, unreasonable but exciting – and Emmanuel Macron, a center-right centrist leftist with a practical, establishment-approved, to-do list to get the economy back on track and the promise of a more just, reformed, liberal and humane France-in-Europe. Reasonable, achievable, but not exciting.
Macron represents the modernizing social democrat that the deplorable Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been slated to represent in 2008. That was before he had to buy off rape charges from a very credible hotel housekeeper in New York and beat off charges of pimping here in France. Not only did the accusations have too much weight, consistency and coherence to ever be ignored, Strauss-Kahn’s private tastes, once on display, dismayed a public inured to sexual peccadillo. François Hollande, a decent man, but not much else, took Strauss-Kahn’s place.
Le Pen’s National Front “movement” has long grouped together those who feel they have nothing to apologize for, whether that might be enthusiastic collaboration with the Nazi murder machine, the Algerian colonial war, casual racism and contempt for democracy or just general meanness. And ‘though the woman’s marketing folks play down the general fascistic crumminess and Action française-style authoritarianism of its oldest and firmest supporters so as to ease the path for voters who might be skittish about unapologietically voting this blameless crowd into actual power, it remains that, the Front’s updated program notwithstanding, these are her firmest, earliest and most enthusiastic supporters.
Childeric, taking a long swig of very aromatic beer from a large, non-metric-looking milky-white bottle graced with a ceramic flip-off stopper, enumerates the strong Green-Red program of Mélenchon, which, while it emphasized a reorientation of the economy on ecological principles, California-style recalls and referendums, boldly included quitting today’s “undemocratic” European Union and broad “communalization” of basic resources, including air, water, lands and money.
Mélenchon’s supporters now blame the Socialists for refusing to join his campaign in the first round, thus ensuring a Macron-Le Pen, instead of a Mélenchon-Le Pen, faceoff.
Childreric sourly compares the shifty “liberal reformism” of Macron to Mélechon’s strong, limpid political purpose.
Alice says, “But if you don’t vote Macron, Chichi, Marine Le Pen will win.”
Childeric looks Alice straight in the eye. “How can it be worse than Macron? Macron will continue selling us out to the banks and the corporations.”
“But Childeric,” Alice exclaims, “We hate the ideas of the extreme right. We are for Europe, not against immigrants. How can you say this?”
“She’s no racist,” Chichi replies quickly, “At least, no more racist than the liberal policies of Macron are objectively racist.”
Smugly, I think, as I see he’s puffing up for Alice. Macho jerk.
“Marine’s dropped that anti-foreign crap and the anti-semite stuff, too, long ago, no matter what they say. Objectively speaking.”
“See? I didn’t say anything about racism or anti-semitism, Chichi, and you …”
Childeric turns away from Alice to look hard at Jorinde.
“– I’m speaking objectively. Jojo … Except for the nuclear stuff, she has a program that gets to grips with our impossible situation. At the same time, we real socialists can stay in opposition and take our opportunities for progress as we find them – think about reforming Europe…
“For a lot of things, she’ll have the capitalists against her, too. That’s an opportunity for us.”
I see Jojo stiffen, look sharply off to the side.
She wonders what this all means?
The air around our little group seems to mist up and thicken: will Jorinde stand up and denounce Childeric as a skirt chaser, a girlfriend-beater, an inconséquent who keeps her away from the things she loves on pretense of love?
Alice hisses into the silence, “What impossible situation, Chichi?”
She dangerously slips a carrot stick between her lips and chews.
“Can you tell me that?”
“Yes, what is impossible about your situation?” Jojo says.
With a tremor of emotion, Alice underlines, “Can you tell us that?”
I realize I am feeling very angry.
“You are getting angry,” Childeric says – to me? to Alice? to Jorinde? to silent Joringel? – somehow he manages to underline his own apparent calm reasonableness.
Smugly, I feel.
Is Childeric enjoying our distress? Is it a sort of sadistic steam-off for him? Or is he just stupid in a way I have so far never had occasion to care about?
Why do I feel ashamed of my anger?
What’s so good about calmly, as opposed to angrily, flushing 70 years of peace and progress down the toilet for some risky and mysterious notions, just for a change of political management?
Why not punch Chichi in the nose? Won’t it do any good? Sure about that?
Then again, maybe a good punching out will do some good. At least it will do me some good. Maybe rational argument has no role in any of this.
Then maybe I should just punch in Chichi’s face and, as I stand over him to deliver a final, contemptuous, kick to his inconséquent ribs, warn him that active practice of stupidity leads to more, and more vigorous, correction?
But then, don’t I wind up in a sort of spiritual Weimar Republic, with Communists and Nazis both hammering away at my political reason while I, a sort of half-hearted social democratic Reichsbanner, try to stay in the game by pretending to a frightful brutishness that I don’t want to cultivate in myself or in others?
“But politics is not about somebody’s feelings, guys” Childeric continues, daring now to wag a finger.
“Politics is about politics,” he asserts. “Politics is about power. Politicians want power, that’s all. Macron will do what it takes to stay in power. So will Marine. So, what’s the real difference? Can you tell me?”
Chichi pauses, takes a long tug of beer, smacks his lips with a bravado that is preparatory to saying something he thinks courageous, insoumis – rebellious against the current order of things – as the Mélenchonistes like to style the attitude, something he is not sure will be well-received, but which he believes is somehow triumphantly true and therefore worth saying or doing for the sheer thrill of it.
“The question we have to answer is,” Childeric says in a stage whisper,” Is: Why not Marine? We already know why not Macron.”
“I don’t know why not,” says Jorinde, tightly, leaning backwards, away from Childeric.
Joringel stutters as if to start speaking, maybe to protest, but, as if afraid of showing an emotion he shouldn’t reasonably feel, or maybe afraid of being thought to defend Jorinde, or maybe not feeling reasonable himself or… something…
Something, whatever words Joringel had wished speak spill into the heat of restrained and restraining emotion, boil off, dissipate in the vacuum of Childeric’s triumphant show of rebellionness.
“If Marine,” – Le Pen’s a woman, so, as with Hillary Clinton, supporters and opponents alike, male and female, we all feel we can call her by her first name (things can’t be expected to change so much so fast, can they?) –
“If Marine is elected,” Childeric rebelionizes, “She’ll drop everything that doesn’t help to keep her there... Like Trump in America.
“There’s more danger with Macron. What Macron wants is what the capitalists and the planet-rapists want, so he’ll do everything he says he will. He’ll drive us to the wall! What’s to stop him? Who’s to stop him? The Socialists? Don’t make me laugh!”
I instinctively lean forward to pluck Childeric’s sleeve, as if he were a kid dipping his hand too deeply into a bin full of candies; my wine spills into the grass.
“But that’s… “
As if to pull me back, Alice instinctively slides her hand up the ridge of my shoulder, grips me; she catches a broken nail on a loose thread, pulls back abruptly, exclaims, Shiiitt!.
Joringel hears Alice’s exasperated curse; consternation passes like a cloud over his placid face; instinctively he lowers the petit-four that he was a bringing to his mouth, looks away as if to walk away.
Instinctively, as if to reassure herself in the calm of his kind friendship, Jorinde turns her lovely face to find Joringel’s, finds his waxing back, drops her eyes, lingers on the little dishes spread in the grass between us. As if to stifle a sob, she raises her palm toward her face and as soon drops it, heaving a sigh.
“Things just changed,” deep-feeling Jorinde whispers, looking at me, beyond me, to Alice, speaking to Childeric, “And I don’t know how.”
Whoever wins, that’ll be true. I think I can tell you that.
feels like such a betrayal: the hurt not denied, not pushed away, but gone entirely for that moment you can't help feeling good in, a moment of sudden, irrational joy over nothing of consequence, really, which makes it all somehow seem even worse. Shouldn't happiness be the result of some grand event, something adequate to counter that aching, gaping chasm that opened when . . . But, no: it's merely this: there goes our little neighbor, running bare-foot, no pants, fox stole wrapped around her shoulders.
from Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems by Kim Addonizio
I’m so excited for poet DéLana R.A. Dameron’s sophomore collection of poems, Weary Kingdom. The universal longing for home pulses with each poem. The voice is magnetic, the images laser-sharp. You trust this voice. You fall in love with this voice, just as you marvel at the speaker’s journey into Harlem as she connects, in her own way, with the Harlem of old, where artists roam the streets, where knife fights abound under moonlight.
Recently, I had the privilege of catching up with DéLana to talk about her new collection and her creative process. Here’s a teaser from Weary Kingdom.
Let’s say a studio. A lone wide room where all living is done.
For example: the dining table by the fireplace
with four chairs; the zipped up body of the guitar case
by the radiator; three un-curtained windows
opening their mouths to a grey Harlem sky.
Let’s observe the boxes under the dining table—
how they spill across the floor their unshelved books.
Observe the unflowered vases; the bed unmade—one side
folded back, the other untouched. I know it.
Let’s say: everything is half-finished, half-started.
Let’s say a bathroom with a skylight—
clear tarp, tape covering the broken pane. The dishes
in the kitchen sink. Let’s say sunlight never reaches
the oven or dish rack & that makes you sad—
that your one cantaloupe will never ripen how you like it,
& you hate how you flip the switch & the cupboard
is flooded with 60 watts, & your apples must dream of orchards.
Pollen collected on the coffee table, let’s say it would be nice
if someone should join you: give reason to clear the air, to bend
your back over the broom. Let’s say in this room
of incomplete things, your journal isn’t open
to an empty, lined page. Let’s keep it written in,
brimming with verses or prayers.
This is home. Not magnolia & dogwood
& dandelion, but hardwood floors & butter-colored walls,
a pile of abandoned shoes by the door.
Abdul Ali: I'd like to begin with the idea of Weary Kingdom. What is the genesis of this project. What question were you trying to answer? And where did you get your title?
DéLana R.A. Dameron: The poems in Weary Kingdom point to a very specific point in my life, namely, the first four years or so living in NYC, specifically Harlem—the section called Sugar Hill—and what it meant to be trying to make a home in a region that was at once famous and foreign as well as famous for its ruthlessness towards one's attempt to transition successfully. Within that, I was an early-to-mid twenty-something with all of the trappings of one who was also trying to find love. &, I guess, my familiars (as they show up in How God Ends Us), the exploration of loss, faith, family with Harlem/NYC as the backdrop.
The title comes from an Emerson essay I read in grad school, at NYU, which (grad school) came significantly later than about 5/6 of the manuscript. In class with Yusef Komunyakaa, I wrote a poem, "Weary Kingdom" that Painted Bridge Quarterly later published, and slipped it into the manuscript. Later, as I was thinking about all of the poems together, I thought that “Weary Kingdom” was a stronger title, and created a whole world—a kingdom!—for the themes and poems to reside.
AA: Lovely. So much of the poems feels like a conversation the speaker is having with the City, a Person, or the idea of Home....did I get this right?
DD: I'd say many people populate the subjects the speaker is interacting with, or speaking about, through out. I think the occasions for the conversations, their underpinnings, are the hope for finding/creating a home.
AA: Speaking of home--there's a real tension between the Southern home where the speaker is from and the new home of New York City. Can you talk a bit about how this journey helped you reconcile these opposing geographic spaces when you write,
This is home--not magnolia & dogwood/
but hardwood floors & butter colored walls.
DD: That quote is coming from the first poem, "The Perch," which was—at the time of writing—a poetic mapping of my Harlem studio not long after I moved in. The journey to that apartment from my home in South/North Carolina (I moved to the NYC region immediately after undergraduate school at UNC Chapel Hill) was so fraught with uncertainties...Would I stay in the area...? Could I [afford to] stay?....Will the city eat me whole? Will I conquer it? Why am I even here? Do I like it? Is this where I am supposed to be? So many questions. Anyways. I don't think it has been reconciled. The book is Weary Kingdom after all. I don't think the speaker as she journeys through the book, through this time period in her life, in the city, in literally sending letters home (to the south) with the attempts to reconcile...but as I said, what I think Weary Kingdom is most successful—and I’m finding as I'm preparing readings and such—is that it is a time capsule of a very specific time in my life.
Which is also only the first 4.5 years of a 10-year life in NYC. And I would argue I'm still feeling many of those feelings, but now, from Brooklyn—which assuages a lot of the home anxieties (being married and having more housing security—if one can even imagine that?—
It certainly helps), but still does not reconcile my longing, desire, to return South.
AA: After reading the beautiful preface that Ross Gay wrote and your collection, I'm curious if you are clearer in your thinking about home? Is it merely about being South or not being South? Or is it more complicated than that?
DD: I think as I have some distance—years—from the writing of these poems, and now the idea of reading them, and others reading them, what I am seeing the idea of "home" that Weary Kingdom is attempting to hit at is a deep nostalgia about a place that one can never get back to. When I say place, I mean: place in time, place in family, place in a relationship. For the speaker, because she has not yet made too many memories in her new weary kingdom of NYC/Harlem, and all of her attempts to find her people are fraught with emotionally distant men while she herself is also emotionally distant, there is a search for an anchor. So, I looked South and back in time, while also trying to wrestle with the environment in which the speaker found herself.
AA: I am particularly struck by your poem "DeLana and I"? Can you talk a bit about the poem. I know you reference Borges. For those who may not be familiar with his work, what are you doing in this stand-out poem?
DD: In the book's time-capsule way, I hope it shows the wrestling I did with myself to both be a social/outgoing being— sharpened at the edges by NYC's grit—in NYC and a writer self, two selves I believed at times not able to exist at once. Elsewhere in the book, I talk about how NYC changes you. I still say it. My family will tell you. I became, externally, another person when I moved up here and I would argue you have to be to not be swallowed whole. I remember coming home (South Carolina is always Home...) and going grocery shopping with my mom, and I had cursed and leaned in to someone who was trying to get over on us. She was so mortified. Externally, I had/have become someone else. But inside, there is another weary kingdom, and that is the one that wants to document, that wants to remember, that yearns.
AA: May I ask what’s next for you? What are you currently working on?
DD: Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting and signing with a literary agent—a dream of mine I've had for some time! She will help me figure out my book life in a real way. I'm currently working on editing my novel, which I hope will be in people's hands soon, but I won't say more than that. I write in multiple genres, so here and there over the last 6 years, I have been writing essays while working towards a collection of those—but I've been feeling a churning in my body, a need to write about the last year of my life with my mother, who suffered a severe stroke and lost her speech and is paralyzed on her right side. I've been home (South) more times in the last year, than probably the last 5 years before that. And then, you know, poems as they come. Now that Weary Kingdom is out, I am preparing for a tour for the second half of 2017! I'll be all over. The current listings are on my website at www.delanaradameron.com
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.