Introduction to Poetics
A few issues back, we put together a folio we called Life in a Time of Contraction, where writers and artists explored what it meant to cope in a time of contraction after so much consumption.
I’m thinking of the poems in this issue as an interesting counterpoint to the work that we featured then. Often, we turn to poetry for its condensed use of language, for what poetry does as it contracts and distills language to its essence, for poetry’s wisdom in brevity. But this time, we headed in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s the intense summer heat that is making us want to sprawl across the cool floors. Maybe it’s a reaction against all the belt-tightening that has been happening in the economic realm. Or maybe we simply found ourselves enamored by some really great long poems and intriguing poetic sequences that came our way.
Whatever the case, we’re proud to feature this collection of long poems and sequences that investigate the possibilities of form, portraiture, and narrative. Together, these works touch a great range of topics, almost as if “we’re kind of trying / to write the complete works of humankind, all of us, together, deep down,” in the words of Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti (translated by Will Schutt), whose books were themselves extended poetic sequences.
Indeed, the very form of the long poem seems to ask the poet to dig deep into big ideas of humankind. We have some fine examples of the way the long poem allows an expansive exploration of weighty ideas, such as in Subhashini Kaligotla’s exquisite meditation on faith and by Jackson Wills in “The mountain.”
If we write poetry because we find ourselves returning to a set of ideas, images, or words, then the poetic sequence provides an apt structure in which to grapple with our obsessions. We get to see this process at work in Kimiko Hahn’s excerpts from Third Sequence: Time, Derek Henderson’s “Song,” and Shira Dentz’s (who we welcome this issue as our reviews editor) “Units and Increments.”
Of course poetry has its roots in the long poem: the epic poem that tells heroic stories of warriors, royalty, monsters, and gods. I’m pleased to be able to include several selections that are something like epic poems for today’s world. Becca Jensen’s delightful poems not only tell the story of a remarkable family, but are also in interesting conversation with canonical works of Western literature. Kathleen Rooney’s Robinson poems and Gillian Conoley’s “A Healing for Little Walter” both bring cultural figures to life (the poet Weldon Kees and Little Walter, the great blues harmonica player, respectively). We’re pleased to be able to pair Conoley’s poem with its inspiration: visual artist Hawley Hussey’s woodcut portraits of Little Walter.
If, in this season of summer reading, you’ve read your fill of light novels and are looking for something to dig your teeth into, I suggest spending some time with these poems in all their rich fullness.