As Harold Bloom contends, most poets, whether they admit it or not, struggle to surpass their influences. Wordsworth arm-wrestles Milton for The Prelude. Stevens posits a secular vision of the sublime to rival Dante’s devout cosmology. And part of Shakespeare, however deep and dark, envies Ingram Frizer for stabbing Kit Marlowe in the face.
Four poets published in issue 10.1 take a less violent, if equally revisionary, approach. Andre Bagoo uses a technique he borrowed from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to write an unauthorized biography in verse. Lynley Edmeades follows the lead of four giants of Irish and American poetry to access the origins of language itself. Janet Joyner credits Jacques Cousteau with helping her link the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis with the massive 2010 Transocean oil spill in the Gulf Coast. And Will Schutt negotiates the terms of his literary debts to Elizabeth Bishop and Du Fu in order to gain possession of his own poems.
Andre Bagoo (on five poems from All Streets Lead to the Sea): About two years ago I read Borges poem “Las Calles (The Streets)” with its closing line: “unfold the streets—and they too are my country.” At around the same time, I had begun a collaboration with the poet Vahni Capildeo called Disappearing Houses, which saw me spend time walking around the streets of Port-of-Spain, where I grew up and live, photographing things. Also at this time, my nephew Luke was obsessed with the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with its fantastic device of a living map that betrayed the whereabouts of all through magically changing footprints on its surface. I thought of writing, in a series of poems, an unauthorized biography of someone, but based solely on key experiences they had on key streets in their life: a kind of personal history; a biographical map. Thus, “White Street” recalls one such event for the protagonist: tenor Eddie Cumberbatch’s performance of Schubert’s Das Winterreise at the Little Carib Theatre in 2011. All Streets Lead to the Sea, the name of the entire sequence, remains ongoing, but many of the poems in it have already been published, scattered across diverse journals and publications, as they should be.
Lynley Edmeades (on “Deipnosophy,” “Expenditure,” and “Interior, Midday”): During 2011-2012, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was a year dedicated to the study and writing of poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queens University. I was fortunate, also, to attend the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh, where I saw Jorie Graham and Paul Muldoon perform. When I look back, I can see a clear line between what I was writing at that time and what I had been surrounding myself with. Seeing and reading Paul Muldoon during that year (his influence on Northern Irish poetry is indispensable) taught me a lot about form and encouraged my growing interest in etymology and lexicography (hence “Deipnosophy” and “Expenditure”). Seeing Jorie Graham opened up a space around silence and place, the metaphysical capabilities of the poem (hence “Interior, Midday”). My teacher and mentor during my time in Belfast was the poet Sinead Morrissey. Her influence on my own process has now become something quite elementary. These three poems are all, upon reflection, an attempt to get inside language, to embody the reality that language enables.
Janet Joyner (on “The Edge Has Moved to the Center”): It was not so much the Deepwater Horizon well explosion, which took life and dumped unparalleled quantities of oil into the Gulf, that was the initial spur for my poem “The Edge Has Moved To The Center,” but rather the “clean up” procedure of dispersing chemicals to break up the oil floating on the surface so that it would descend, in small bits, to the ocean floor. And there remain, out of sight, out of mind. Justified by the sea’s “diluting factor.” To enter, as Jacques Cousteau once said, “the planetary currents and upwellings and winds that keep atmosphere and ocean in constant motion—reacting one with another, maintaining Earth’s temperature and the sea’s alkalinity and oxygenation endlessly circulating as though they were a pulsing bloodstream and Earth itself a living organism. Finite and fragile, minuscule but majestic: air and water, the fluids of life.” This same principle of “dilution” underlay the schemes enabling the subprime mortgage scandal at the root of the financial crisis now known as our Great Recession. With “clean up” procedures that left untouched those most responsible for it. And, as it turns out, if business really is America’s only business, then pollution by assault weaponry will go largely unchecked.
Will Schutt (on “Ambitions” and “Biking Down Beach Lane I Spy a Group of Fox Kits Underneath an Empty Summer Rental”): Both “Ambitions” and “Biking Down Beach Lane I Spy A Group of Fox Kits Underneath an Empty Summer Rental” were written in the early spring out on pretty Eastern Long Island, a place packed during the summer and relatively dead in winter, where the inbetweeness of spring is acutely felt. I was working from home and spent the early mornings and late afternoons watching animals: wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and, yes, once, a brood of fox kits. For whatever reason, I wanted to record their presence before the summer crowds—I told myself—drove them into hiding again. Perhaps, aware of their failure to capture the animals, the poems have more to do with our natural yet inexplicable desire to preserve things (in art, in writing). I was reading David Young’s translations of Du Fu and re-reading Elizabeth Bishop, especially her poem “The End of March.” For the scoring and spare punctuation, I owe a debt to Young’s Du Fu; the looking closely bit I get from Bishop. As for the liesurely pace and flights of fancy—those cowbells at the end of “Biking” are all in my head—I hope I can claim them for my own. But maybe they’re theirs too.