My line at the time felt less limber than it does now. I considered the lines to be long planks thrown down, whereas now each line has at least three bites, black holes, or echo chambers.
I mean to say that several individual textures are contained within each line. Stranger in Town , cover by Will Yackulic.
T. S. Eliot | Poetry Foundation
It was toward the end of putting together Stranger in Town that I began to recognize the sonnet as hiding within other more predominate forms. My poem " Untitled Nijinsky," the last in that book, began and ended as an email to the poet Micah Ballard. It was really just friendly riffing in a veiled manner regarding scandalous recent parties and behaviors. I think it was the line length and slab-like appearance of the email that tipped me off to the fact that this tone was now available upon demand and could have a long-lasting presence within my work.
I stole the title of the poem from a Jess catalog issued by Tibor De Nagy around that time; all the works inside were untitled but had a single identifying image from the collages in parenthesis. The writing felt like dancing on air, as I was not recognizing its flow as poetry, per se. It only began to harden, to take the light and shine in retrospect.
My last book Language Arts contains a sequence of 18 sonnets more than I actually remember writing and I chose to place them at the very center of the book. I wanted to disguise the fact of writing them. Eventually I softened and began to liken their composition to pulling on my favorite worn out, see-through t-shirts from the laundry, and the guilt began to dissipate.
Soon I began to use the form to invite process and experimentation. In retrospect it seems I was actually trying to out-run my own voice.
I was employing the sonnet as a vessel to bang my head against. Collage was often a mainstay within this mode and felt married to outright thievery. The sequence became a place to demonstrate the manner in which I was hearing language on that particular day.
I actually tried to mix it up as much as possible. Now I wonder if I engaged so fully in this form with a secret wish to destroy it. The first half also remembers fondly the solitude gained by traveling alone for weeks and not speaking the language. The last six lines where born of an assignment that was hanging over my head at the time. It almost seemed the concept would be best served if it was realized as an installation in a gallery or as a short animated film. The trick was imagining each of the objects trapped under glass as in a museum.
I was surprised that this abbreviated, clipped measure seemed to serve the material best. In the end it took several months and two weeks in Europe to access the material and to include it as the last phase of a sonnet. As for other sonnets in Language Arts , I used various prompts and veils to access new tones within the writing. The poems contained such gilded, steaming, over-the-top imagery that it was fun to attempt the same pitch of tone as the translator. The result of this particular sonnet was a feeling of calling up the color and physical contours of a bygone landscape.
I remember thinking at that kitchen table, What are you hoping to find? My grandfather had given my mother a military album that I would later discover included a photo of the Nagasaki cloud.
Never one to talk directly about his role as a pilot in the Second World War, my grandfather instead told my siblings and I scraps of his story that I would eventually stitch together into an incomplete whole. My grandfather was a mysterious person. He never liked to talk about what he did as a pilot in the Pacific; certainly, he never told me why he trained in Alamogordo, so close to where the Trinity bomb detonated just a month before the United States dropped 20, tons of force on two highly populated cities in Japan.
He claimed to be in some way part of the Nagasaki mission. Was this that test? Possessed by the fragmented stories I do have, the blacked out words in Atomic Energy Commission reports, the lists of birds that migrated through the test sites in Nevada in the s all over America, declassified nuclear test videos I watched on repeat, and news of a radioactive leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico—a year before I moved to the northern part of the state—I began to hoard information about nuclear material.
My poems became repositories of their own: of family lore, information fraught with the mystery surrounding the Manhattan Project, and reproductions of various atomic test clouds. Poems can be eternal voices, always speaking through the void.
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What would it mean if the subject of these voices was ultimate destruction? H awk Parable may have originated with a family mystery I have not yet been able to solve.
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But the poems move beyond that story and into a larger exploration of how to grapple with an infinite substance that itself seems to eradicate any boundaries we might create for it. When I began writing Hawk Parable during the Obama administration, the idea of nuclear annihilation seemed like a Cold War threat lodged safely—at least to us civilians—in the past.
As if to resolve the irresolvable, I created formal challenges for many of the poems that originated in my research. Or white veils? Or mare tails?