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Free Verse with Vera Ignatowitsch
Five Featured Poems
The Interview with Joan Retallack
by Anthony “Uplandpoet” Watkins
Editor's Choice - Formal Poetry
Hay ripens. I sharpen my tapering scythe blade
and chamfer its wafer of paper thin steel
with stone swoops; it’s hooked like a peregrine’s talon.
The snaking shaft sweeps and the first swathe is side-laid
beside me, clean slain. As I swing I can feel
the gravid field yielding. Sheaves kneel and then fall in
the breeze in formation. Their early seeds dance there
like next April’s rain showers shining in air.
The cocksfoot and rye grass and fescue are falling,
the rogue oats, the sedges—I harvest the field where
they shaded the clover and none do I spare.
The sun sets on stubble where hay stalks lie sprawling.
My father stood here in the old days like one
of the stalks that made hay as they fell in the sun.
John Beaton writes metrical poetry. His work has been widely published, won numerous awards, and he recites it in spoken word performance. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, he now lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
Joan Retallack is the poet-essayist who responds here to Anthony UP Watkins’ questions with pleasure. She is the author of The Poethical Wager and lives in the Hudson Valley, NY.
An American poet, critic, biographer, and multi-disciplinary scholar, Joan Retallack has authored a dozen books, including Circumstantial Evidence (1985), Icarus FFFFFalling (1994), A F T E R R I M A G E S (1995), Memnoir (2004), and The Supposium: Thought Experiments & Poethical Play in Difficult Times (2017). She is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor Emerita of Humanities at Bard College where she has taught courses in poetics, poethics, and experimental traditions in the arts. In addition to other awards and honors, she was awarded the Pushcart Prize in 1985 for High Adventures of Indeterminacy; Procedural Elegies / Western Civ Cont’d was an Artforum best book of 2010.
AUP: Reading your poem, “Not a Cage,” it occurs to me that you start about where I leave off, or maybe a little further down the road. Of course, you are both a master poet and a very good student of poetry, but I am still amazed to read your description, in the most “offhand” way, of things that may or may not exist.
How did you develop to be the poet you are?
JR: This is a bit difficult to answer. I don’t actually think of myself as “the poet I am” so much as a lucky lover of language who gets to make things out of what I discover in words, with serious, or playful, or seriously playful intent. An important part of that, for which I would not have to be called “poet,” is enjoying encounters with words in what I read; in what I see or hear as I move around in our very talkative, writing assertive world. That means languages (foreign or domestic) of everyday life as well as the literatures of a variety of disciplines. From philosophy to science to journalism, to instruction manuals, to poetries of very different kinds.
In composing “Not a Cage” I made a list of first and last lines from books of different genres I was culling from my overstuffed shelves, enjoying finding and writing them down on a yellow legal pad as I put the books in boxes. What I came upon by using that procedure was surprising. Sometimes humorous, sometimes strangely intense. All the lines on the yellow pad had lost their habitats — the culture of the book they had once been part of. In their disoriented state, emptied of former contexts, they could enter conversations with other displaced — or perhaps I should say, released — lines. That, in effect, created new forces, new implications for every word in every line. It’s a poem that, decades after I composed it, still startles and moves me.
Editor's Choice — International Poetry
What Buddha Advised
In the end
clouds matter to the feline
with the new kittens,
and rain matters
to the farmer. His hand
keeps the pesticide nearby,
and he leaves proper instructions
for his sons.
The one inside his wife, it seems,
eats its way out.
The wife floats, a husk.
In the end the slice of moon
harvests the sighs, and the farmer
almost sloshes pesticide but it doesn’t
Kushal Poddar is from Kolkata, India. He has authored seven volumes of poetry including A Place For Your Ghost Animals, Scratches Within, Eternity Restoration Project—Selected and New Poems, and Herding My Thoughts To The Slaughterhouse—A Prequel.
Publisher's Choice — African Poetry
A Woman’s Troubles
She is the girl you lost
To toothless waves of your selfishness’ sea
First drowning, struggling to find herself
But soon overwhelmed by duty
A duty to love and honor
A duty to ‘put family first’
Hiding her tears in cups behind the mirror
When you were blind to her blistered hands
Reaching out for help, grasping for support
Her lipless ghost is left to roam
Searching for her, searching for herself
But there is nothing to find
Only a breathing corpse, wandering on,
So that when you are finished with this mirage
There’s no wife to find
And there’s no home to stagger into.
First published in Fourth Wave.
Emmanuel Stephen Ogboh is a young Nigerian poet. He started writing poetry—his observations and experiences—four years ago and has been published in several literary magazines. He can be found at https://medium.com/@Stephenecdotes, and www.fb.com/semmanuelogboh.
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