Volume 104, Number 1/2
|[Journalism is an] inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history….
—Philip L. Graham
Poetry is news that stays news.
The children pictured on our cover may not have read the papers they carried, but they had some sense of the news. Then, as now, citizens were being forced to reconsider their expectations. There was nothing new about their fears, and there is nothing new about ours—though each generation experiences its challenges with visceral surprise.
This truth was brought home forcefully six years ago when we participated in a poetry reading here in Washington on the first anniversary of 9/11. The climax of the event was the presentation of lines from “The Wanderer”—an anonymous medieval poem about the aftermath of a city’s destruction. We listened to the words, written more than a thousand years ago, and recognized in them our own grief and terror. Embedded in one time, one place, the language of poetry can seem timeless, placeless-speaking to us, especially in times of crisis, of what we share as human beings.
If journalism provides a first rough draft of history, poetry’s relationship to world events is stranger and more intimate. Former poet laureate of the United States Charles Simic has this to say on the subject: “Beginning with Sappho’s insomnia, there’s a tradition of the poem which says ‘I exist’ in the face of all abstractions of cosmos and history, a poem of a passionate desire for accuracy for the here and now in its miraculous presence…. One must, in spite of everything, give faithful testimony of our predicament so that a true history of our age might be written.”
In this issue of Poet Lore, we hope you’ll find such testimony in poems like Michael Salcman’s “[From] 1944” (“vVhen you knock on the door of strangers, / there are three possibilities: they will send you away, / they will take you in, they will report you”), Matthew Ira Swaye’s “At Gunpoint” (“It is not quite 1973 and the / brute force of misunderstanding is everywhere, every- / where but the reservoir”), and Jeneva Stone’s “Country of Origin” (“one dark behind us, and beyond the edge / of headlights the same dark land ahead”).
We’d also like to direct your attention to the book reviews and Marcela Sulak’s thought—provoking essay on translation—a subject of particular interest to us at Poet Lore, which early in its history published ground-breaking translations of world writers (Tagore, Gorky, Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg among them). In these pages, Sulak confronts the fact that each word in a poem has its own untranslatable halo of associations while arguing for our need to share these texts across the borders of language and culture.
Why? What can we learn? Perhaps poets have left a record of what it felt like to be alive then and there—a history of humanness—even though (as Patrick Carrington writes in our opening poem), there was “…no way to tell / what would hold // from what would fall away.” At its best, poetry may offer more than comfort; it may offer clarity, showing us ourselves in its lasting light.
Poems by Philip Fried, Hari Bhajan Khalsa, Michael Salcman, Jon Woodson, Joseph Millar and others.
Poets Introducing Poets
Cornelius Eady introduces a portfolio of poems by Gregory Pardlo.
“Translation and Transgression” by Marcela Malek Sulak.
Pubic Dream by Frances Leviston, Another Country by Jane Griffiths, Crocodiles & Obelisks by Jamie McKendrick, Things on Which I’ve Stumbled by Peter Cole, All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman, Figure Studies: Poems by Claudia Emerson, Flight: New and Selected Poems by Linda Bierds.