Leslie McGrath
An Introduction to the Poetics folio

What do you do with poems that have whispered in your most private ear, gestured toward places you thought you’d forgotten, or yanked your sleeve so violently your shirt’s torn, now destined for the rag bin? You keep them safe. You arrange them for accessibility. You put them all in one place, to use as prompts for your own writing, to mine for gems as examples of fine contemporary poetry, to riffle through in the middle of the night to read for comfort and provocation—to remind yourself that nothing speaks to the solemn half-hidden core of you like the right poem. We’re fortunate that Drunken Boat’s online format allows for both capaciousness and a sleek design that frames each poem and permits the poet’s voice to be heard speaking her words.

The Poetics folio for our tenth issue contains the work of over a hundred poets. The variation in style, tone, and subject might have been surprising were this a selection of poems from another era. But ours is a time of great diversity, “a moment when idiosyncrasy rules to such a degree and differences are so numerous that distinct factions are hard, even impossible, to pin down” writes Cole Swensen in her introduction of the recently-published A Norton Anthology of New Poetry: American Hybrid. Swensen continues, “Instead, we find a thriving center of alterity, of writings and writers that have inherited and adapted traits developed by everyone from the Romantics through the Modernists to the various avant-gardes, the Confessionalists, Allen’s margins, and finally to Language poetry and the New Formalists.” Readers will find all kinds of hybridization here, as well as poems that fit more clearly in each of the schools mentioned. Notable are Kenneth Harrison’s “Three Scenes the Voice Can See” for its use of dramatic monologue and lineation, and excerpts from Jonathan Monroe’s “Demosthenes’ Legacy” in which an abecedary form is superimposed upon a series of fictional texts inspired by the likes of Borges and Drunken Boat’s own poster poet, Rimbaud.

There are poems of great restraint and deft control, like Nancy Kuhl’s “Rosary” and Astrid van Baalen’s short erotic poem “Tongue and Groove,” as well as poems driven by antic energy, like “Southern Gothic with Doric Columns” in which Matthew Terhune spins deft depictions of some very colorful characters.

We include Jane Hirshfield’s “Three-Legged Blues” an unusually humorous poem by a poet known for her contemplative work. Listen to the poem’s adaptation by singer-songwriter David Fredrick Lochelt into lively harmonica-laden blues.

At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum you’ll find Reetika Vazirani’s “Born”, one of her final poems before her suicide in 2003 (from her posthumous collection, Radha Says, Drunken Boat Media’s inaugural publication later this year.)

In Drunken Boat’s ninth issue, Stephen Burt wrote: “to build a poem is at once to make a structure an imagined consciousness can inhabit, out of which that consciousness speaks, and to engage in a kind of competition, to do something difficult according to rules.” The poets whose work we feature in this, our tenth issue, have used rules in a myriad of ways, from the formal constraints of the villanelle in Steven Kistulentz’ “Sinatra Villanelle” and the litany (see Kim Addonizio’s “You”) to various “fractured” versions of received form. Be sure to read Marilyn Nelson’s poems from her forthcoming collection about life in the 18th century African American settlement in Seneca Falls, NY.

Other poets have used elegy as a means to explore ambivalence (see Hayden Saunier’s “Your Suicide Script” in memory of beloved teacher and provocateur Liam Rector) and larger issues of race and war through the death of a childhood friend (see “Peter Wu’s Poem” by David Mura.)

There is new work by acclaimed poets Brenda Hillman, Elizabeth Willis, and Amy Gerstler, each of whom continues to expand, even punch through, the boundaries of her previous work. There are poems, too, by students, bankers, librarians, poems by Americans of all races as well as from around the world. It is a great joy to find among the hundreds of poetry submissions we receive each month a number of gems well worth publishing. We’re very grateful to our nine poetry readers, each of whom holds an MFA, who devote hours each month to careful reading of our submissions.

I recently read a piece by Adam Kirsch, who wrote of the elemental human urge for recognition this way: “Because there is not enough money in the world, people steal; because there is not enough power, people do violence; because there is not enough recognition, they make art.” We at Drunken Boat are privileged to give recognition to the hundred-plus poets whose art has captivated us. Join us in celebrating what these poets have done; what poetry can do.

Leslie McGrath