Editors Ruminate: On the Poetry of Issue 46, A Way Through

Editors Ruminate: On the Poetry of Issue 46, A Way Through

by Kristin George Bagdanov April 17, 2018 3 Comments

The theme for this issue is strategically reserved. It does not reveal the way through or even promise that one exists. Nor does it advise how one should get through a day, a life, or even a poem. It merely offers the possibility of a path, leaving its limits, boundaries, and shape up to the poem’s form and the poet’s imagination. Throughness, however it is constructed, implies the passage of time and space. To go through is to move among and between, with and against. It is to blaze a trail and to lose one. It is the desert leading to the promised land and the valley of the shadow of death. It is being exiled from your origins and being told to return to them. Taken together, these poems challenge notions of progress and reconsider narratives of completion by meditating on the many ways through. 

Jeff Whitney’s two epistolary poems, each titled “Dear Phil,” are envoys of throughness. These “letters” are addressed to an intimate other, which inhibits the reader’s ability to have full access to the significance of the letters’ content, purposefully blocking our way at certain points. Formally, direct statements follow one after the other, as if the speaker fears that without these constant assertions the very laws on which the universe rests might collapse:

There are canyons where buffalo were marched
and fell. Their hearts were eaten and their spirits
became the clouds holding the next season’s rains. Not a thousand
moments in one continuum but one moment stretched
across stars until it isn’t even a question what the rope is
tied to or who is doing the crossing.

The personal becomes historical as language turns in on itself, trying and failing to find a clear way through from sender to receiver, self to other, past to future.

After Whitney’s expansive declarations and accumulating logic, John Fry’s two poems, “antiphons from a prodigal prayerbook” and “debris field” appear as near inverses, dwelling in absence and fragmentation as they sift through possible constructions of self and are transfigured by the divine. These poems work by the logic of negation—“not writ but voice…not dirt not rain”—and the refusal of presence: “absence inside / an absence arisen, little Lazarus / walk in your shoes of fire.” They are about dwelling in and with one’s sorrow and stillness, not finding a way through it: “your / sorrow sewn into // a shirt / as penitents / wear sackcloth and ashes.” 

Logan February’s two poems “When the Fire Came” and “Still Life with Falling Ash” are framed by and formed through trauma. “When the Fire Came” edges around the event that it cannot narrate yet must remember. The speaker corrects, revises, and second guesses himself as traumatic events, while registered by the body at the time of their occurrence, are often not fully experienced until they find a narrative later on: “Let me rephrase: // I have told you all I remember—wicked white fire, / tree reduced to soot—a whole history blacked out.” In “Still Life,” this distrust of memory transforms into distance from the traumatic event—the speaker is not able to go through the fire, only touch its perimeter: “I circle, I explanation, I exorcism.” 

Jessica Yuan and Chera Hammon’s poems explore labor and want—both in terms of desire and lack. Yuan’s “Fluorescent” explores what it takes to get through the day—the work, the drudgery, the everyday violence inflicted by an economic system that forces us to sell our labor for a wage. Each day is unremarkable, filled with repetitive tasks and faceless workers:

        Ten tiles by ten tiles you scrub again

        with a woman who is not your sister
        (this is how you tell time is passing)

        you are hungry then you are full.

The thing to get through in this poem is the day, but a day in the era of fluorescence—which is both the affect and hue of late capitalism—never ends. Chera Hammon’s poems express a conflicted relationship with the land and animals that require work. “Land Management” problematizes the romantic trope of living off the land, acknowledging the economic and anthropocentric calculations embedded in managing property. The couple in the poem prepare their land for grazing by digging up yucca plants, the spines littering the property. At first, the speaker tries to use the discarded roots for soap; however, after some time, she admits: “we dig up yuccas and toss them over the fence to rot.” This poem portrays a level of realism that people often want to excise from poems—they want the speaker to be better than people are in real life. But here, there is a frank acknowledgement that our lives are constructed and manicured through the mostly unseen labor and unacknowledged sacrifices made by others. “Black Horse I Am Breaking” also reveals what is often unseen—the long, hard, and difficult work of “breaking” a horse. Even the violence inherent in this term acknowledges the intensity of this process and the tension between love and labor when it comes to our relationship with animals. The human and horse come to know each other—mind and body—through this slow and arduous work that is tinged with both fear and awe:

        Lovely lovely lovely beast, and terrible with strength.

        How I am afraid of him, but still I can't get enough. 
        This is the only way I know how

        to make each day leave its own bruise. 

 
Cameron Alexander Lawrence’s “Yesterday, As If Swimming” and Kasia Clarke’sMangrove Boardwalk” both resist a way through, choosing instead to dwell in the present for as long as possible. Lawrence “make[s] room for what can’t stay” and tries to practice a “hospitality toward impermanence.” To be hospitable is not simply to welcome in the strange or unknown, but to remain radically open to new ways of thinking and being, even if they run counter to our expectations. Clarke’s “Mangrove Boardwalk” describes a moment seemingly outside of time, such that the lovers in the poem feel like they are on “another planet entirely”—one not subject to linear time, beginnings and endings. In this uninterrupted cocoon of desire, the lovers are entangled with each other and their surroundings as humans, trees, and mud breathe together. The desire here is not for what’s next or what else could be, but for staying within the secluded path of the ever-unfolding present as “two bodies of flesh among the skeleton trees.”

 

Hannah Kroonblawd’s “Maundy Thursday” juxtaposes the last supper, during which Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in an act of service and love, with ongoing violence and war. It is hard to believe in any promise of resurrection and renewal in a world where “the children       learning to read… / they cannot breathe” because some anonymous “they” are “dropping bombs.” The speaker’s body is disarticulated by the poem, spread across the globe as she tries to hold together these disparate realities: “my heart // on one side of the world      my lungs      looking out on a field of flowers.” There is no guarantee, here, of making it through whole or alive.

Jesse Bertron’s “Outside the Rothko Chapel, Where Big John’s Eyes Appeared upon the Canvas on the Eastern Wall” reflects upon the loneliness of faith. The Rothko Chapel in Houston is famous for its unrelenting darkness. The fourteen black paintings (which some argue represent the stations of the cross) both demand and reject interpretation. To be human is to seek meaning in even the smallest of actions as well as in the broader path of our lives. But the possibility that there isn’t any meaning always hovers at the frame’s edge. The speaker longs for a sign or force that might confirm what he’s suspected all along. He sees the seeds of this desire in the children, though they are seemingly unmoved by the chapel’s darkness:

       

        They long to one day learn
        they have been living on the inside of a frame. 

        …………………….

        I know now what they know, to know you’re being watched
        will never satisfy.

        Once you know somebody’s watching, how you long
        for them to speak to you. 

Todd Davis’s “Returning to Earth” presents throughness as a process of becoming. Invoking the promise of a material communion with the more-than-human world, the poem reconfigures the cycle described in Genesis: that we will return to the ground from which we were made. This poem materializes language and makes the body a space for the intervening cycles of creation and death:

        In dark’s shelter I place the words
        of a prayer upon your tongue.
        You are gracious, saying
        the prayer back
        into my waiting mouth.

Here the way through is always circular, as the poem reaches back to “a source / older than our names / for God.”

Thank you for reading Issue 46 along with me. I invite you to share how you found your own way through these poems in the comments below.

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Like what you read? All of these poems and more work are available here.


Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

 

 




Kristin George Bagdanov
Kristin George Bagdanov

Author

Kristin George Bagdanov earned her MFA in poetry from Colorado State University and is currently a PhD student in English Literature at U.C. Davis, where she studies 20th century and contemporary ecopoetics. Her first full-length poetry collection, Fossils in the Making, is forthcoming from Black Ocean in 2019. Her poems have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from Boston Review, Puerto Del Sol, Ninth Letter, Denver Quarterly, Cincinnati Review, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of Ruminate Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @KristinGeorgeB.



3 Responses

Yajaira
Yajaira

April 19, 2018

Kristin, yes, yes, yes.
Listen, my human and no human relations are the most important to me, even before the class. Does that make this one of my favorite poems? Yes, probably, very likely so.

Kristin
Kristin

April 18, 2018

Yajaira you’re definitely right—the figure of black beauty haunts that poem too, making those human / nonhuman relations even more complex.

Yajaira
Yajaira

April 18, 2018

Lovely lovely lovely beast, and terrible with strength. How I am afraid of him, but still I can’t get enough. This is the only way I know how to make each day leave its own bruise.

It kind of reminds me of that saying “no pain, no gain.” Leave a bruise, a mark that hurts but it isn’t debilitating pain. It’s almost a badge of honor, like an “I got through it, and here’s the proof.” It it isn’t quite a scar, it doesn’t stay longer than a few days, so that the activity is and can be repeated. We get through it only to do it again. A scar will remind you of the past, but a bruise is a reminder of a part and a future, one where it will be gone and/or replaced by another bruise.

Also, can I just say that this poem might have stood out to me because of the work in the University class with 18th century lit and the human and non human relations. Heh heh.

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