Martha Zweig’s poem “Carolina” could be an ars poetica of sorts, or a Poetry manifesto, or the platform of a new (and possibly more satisfactory) political party, or a prayer: “Won’t somebody please start / something other & oddball soon // narrow her down out of folly /& trivia to destiny?” Or perhaps she is (without knowing it) responding to Robert Haas, who begins “September Notebook: Stories”: “Everyone comes here from a long way off / (is a line from a poem I read last night).” Maybe they are both responding (without knowing it) to J. Allyn Rosser’s “Impromptu”: “as if something I could say were true, and every / moment from now on would be my cue.” And all of them would have to ponder, with Joshua Mehigan what it means to be at the “Crossroads”: “This is the place it happened. It was here. / You might not know unless you knew.” Clive James seems to want to help them sort it out in the concluding lines to “A Perfect Market”:
The language falls apart before our eyes,
But what it once was echoes in our ears
As poetry, whose gathered force defies
Even the drift of our declining years.
A single lilting line, a single turn
Of phrase: these always proved, at last we learn,
Life cries for joy though it must end in tears.
As it has for the poet’s family in Sam Willet’s“Tourist”: “I’d brought two questions here – / holding them as if they might slip: who were // my mother’s people? Where did they die?” And for victims of violence in Bob Hicok’s “In the loop”:
I heard from the people after the shootings. People
I knew well or barely not at all. Largely
the same message: how horrible it was, how little
there was to say about horrible it was.
And for the small subjects of Spencer Reese’s “ICU”: “On rounds, the newborns eyed me, each one / like Orpheus in his dark hallway, saying: / I knew I would find you, I knew I would lose you.” And for the rest of us, too, as we are included in Susan Kelly-Dewitt’s “Reading Saint John of the Cross”:
One more night of spiritual
ice and we might all become
birds, green birds frozen
on a black winter branch.
I loved this issue’s Comment section with Durs Grunbein’s essay “Why Live Without Writing,” which might seem, at first, more in line with Rosser’s tears than a new ars poetica, but he concludes with poetry’s raison d’être – it changes the lives of readers. As this issue has changed mine.