|Nine Toes Press, an imprint of Lummox Press|
Monday, April 28, 2014
About the anthology - Robbi Nester, editor
Art is made from the substance of our everyday lives. Anything that occupies us is fair game, from our relationships to the places we inhabit, the ideas we entertain.
For those of us who live with radios and televisions pre-set to our favorite public media programs, these stories become an integral part of our lives, the stories we share with our friends at dinner parties, the tidbits of information we stash away for safekeeping.
On any given day, news programs alone provide a wealth of tantalizing angles on events. Then there are documentaries, scientific, and cultural programming, making for an almost endless array of subjects writers can draw on in their work.
I had been writing poems about the stories I was hearing on public radio for years when a conversation with poet and publisher R.D. Armstrong alerted me to the fact that I might not be the only person engaged in such an activity.
Sure enough, it turned out that many poets out there were writing work inspired by public radio and television, spanning national shows like All Things Considered, Nightly Business Report, RadioLab, and Prairie Home Companion as well as local and regional shows aired on individual public stations.
The work came in every variety—topical and political, humorous, narrative, and personal, having in common only that they were all based on these stories and were written by poets from nearly every corner of the United States.
This diversity delighted me, but I found that writers returned especially to a few chosen programs, like RadioLab, which merges science with story-telling in a particularly vivid way.
I had myself written a poem, “Fistulated Cow,” inspired by a RadioLab story, “Holey Cow,” in which science writer Mary Roach explored the innards of a cow with a fistula as a way of discussing digestion. So I was not surprised to see that other writers chose to focus on other RadioLab stories, like the one about Lucy, the chimp raised as a human child by a benighted psychologist in the 1950s, and the two poems inspired by the “Seeing in the Dark” episode of the program, about a man who, after he lost his sight entirely, stopped trying to envision the people and things he was now no longer able to see.
Kris Bigalk’s poem “Seeing” explores the story from the perspective of the blind man himself, examining his motivations for embracing the new limitations he experiences rather than denying them, and the consequences that arise from this change in perspective.
In contrast, Christina Lovin’s poem “The Forest of Her” approaches the subject in a very different way, from the third person rather than first. The poem creates a resonance by offering an epigraph within an epigraph.
Lovin reminds us of other blind men in the tradition, citing Marvin Bell quoting from The Gospel of Mark, a line that suggests that the sight Jesus restored to the blind man was perhaps not as complete as we might assume. Following this, she offers Bell’s own assertion embracing blindness: “ truly, one must close one’s eyes to see.”
Bigalk’s poem retells the story told on the radio, capturing its rhythms of speech and details. At 15 lines, the poem retains the compactness of a sonnet, though it lacks a sonnet’s formal elements, its turn or meter.
Lovin’s poem too dallies with form by repeating lines in each succeeding stanza, a pattern that fits nicely with its epigraph, echoing a theme.
As this formal element suggests, Lovin’s poem takes on a less personal tone than Bigalk’s, applying the blind man’s situation metaphorically to our own, while Bigalk’s poem hews closely to the radio story itself.
These are only two poems of several written about the same stories. Reading them together reminds us that our lives are made, after all, of the same elements, but that what we make of those, out of the stuff of our own characters and experience, makes all the difference.
I have probably not responded here to Marly’s question about my objective in compiling this anthology. What purpose, aside from the “purposeful purposelessness” of all art, does any volume of poetry have?
By way of excuse I can offer only the desire to meet others engaged in the same pursuit--to discover the work of writers I have not as yet discovered, and to introduce them and their work to the world.