Spring 2020, Volume 28

From the Poetry Editor

Spring 2020

How are you? How have you been surviving fears and solitude? How has this affected your relationships? Your understanding of purpose? Of joy? Where does the written word fit in? The spring 2020 issue of Verdad, like all other things in the world at this quarantined moment, has a different feel to it. For one thing, we’re featuring three poet interviews: Dora Malech, Steven Schroeder, and Frank Gaspar. Another new-ity is we’re publishing a short! In addition to our usual selection of marvelous poems, fiction, and art, we also have a review that pairs new books by Dora Malech and Rick Barot, a review I finished before the pandemic really settled in, though it’s aptly centered on the question, “what can words do?” Our limitations in physical proximity and our vulnerabilities as physical bodies have illuminated how important this question is. I know that for me (ever more the older I get) words represent, enact, and forge relationships: they are our tool for knowing each other, finding each other, supporting each other. I’ve been reading poems by other poet friends on Twitter ( @wjneumire ) for Tara Skurtu’s International Poetry Circle project, and I recently wrapped up making a short poetry film with London animator Avi Chetri for the Visible Poetry Project; thus words have brought me into these wild, ephemeral relationships with living artists, often for just a few moments of mandala-like connection, and my life is fuller for it. 

Teachers of poetry often talk of readers “finding a way into” a poem; I’m hoping that this editorial serves as such an entry into some of the poems in this issue, such as Jo Ann Baldinger’s poetry that considers an aunt who no longer communicates with words but whose “ eyes move, / something there that will not quit.” Or Marsha de la O’s long poem ‘Omens’ that explores the aftermath of a wildfire and a stranger identified as “the source”: “Maybe he never existed. The stranger. The mistake. / The campfire. After what happened, it’s only human / to ascribe blame. To let it fall on a stranger.” It’s shuddering how many lines written pre-Covid-19 seem prescient of our current moment.  Steven Schroeder’s series of apocalyptic poems seem to reply to ‘Omen’ by asking, “what came after the aftermath?” and “ whether the end meant begin again”? though perhaps my favorite takeaway is his cat’s advice, “I am my good deed for the day.”  Meanwhile, Peter Grandbois’ poem ‘Drowning’ takes aim at our foolish assurance: 

As if death was a place you could clean 

As if we weren’t all, always, waiting
for our next face  

To come true.

Later, in Grandbois’ poem, ‘Through the Keyhole’, he asks

But how will I know you 
when I see you? 

Things change so
in this room
of wounded air 

where we wait all day
for news
from a greater world. 

In like spirit, Frank Gaspar’s speaker talks of the greater world of books: 

they were not put in the world 
to be fucked or weep in the mornings for no reason
even though they keep all that inside themselves
I open to dry their damp pages on the windowsill
and then they are meadows in the sunlight.

Stories of the greater world also inform Amy Soricelli’s poem ‘Christmas Morning’ which ends with a “news story about a lost dog that traveled seventy-two miles in the snow to get home.” This image plays off the tense home atmosphere in the poem and feels like the desire many of us have to return to a past sense of “home.” Similarly, Gary Leising’s poem ‘Turkeys’ corrects any confusion between the world out there and art’s impression of that world:

These birds spotted 
on my morning run 
stand nothing like the ones

made by my son’s traced hands
they lack the bright attack
of crayon-fire hues—

burnt sienna, sunset red,
flamingo flame—
and they announce as much

their noises rising in pitch
and they flap across the road
surrounding me.

Don’t draw us, they say.
Go back to your home.
Stay indoors. 

And here we are, back at home, all indoors! I’ve been teaching online, homeschooling my kindergartener and third grader, writing napo poems with friends, and realizing how much, for all its detractors, social media has become one of our most powerful ways to be social now. It all feels like one big George Castanza ‘worlds are colliding!’ event in which any construction of ourselves via language is overlapping more and more with any ‘outdoor’ distinction. I’m trying, in fact, to remind myself of Gaspar’s declaration that “it is correct to escape into any form / you can manage sometimes / just breathing is resistance.” Most importantly, we can use poetry and art in this moment to discover each other, to “dance with strangers,” as Malech says, to support each other in ways that will long outlast this virus. In his oracular vision, Gaspar reminds us, “you and I / were immortal and now we are not.” And though researchers have found that the average person will form about 400 friendships during a lifetime, but only 33 will last, I challenge you to find each other in as real a way as you can, for as real a moment as we can have. So, here’s to you, stranger: here are words, and strangers, and treatments to get you through and beyond.


                                                                       — Bill Neumire