Doomed in Good Company

Thoughts for Dispossessed Poets

“There is another world, and it is in this one”

-Paul Éluard

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”

-John 1:10

Skull with Top Removed by Leonardo DaVinciBoo hoo. The modern world we live in does not appreciate poetry. Not like it ought to, not like you and I do. We get it. We eagerly await that new journal or book of poems, smuggle it like contraband into our grey morning commute. We find the one poem that, as Dickinson put it, takes the top of our head off. And it stays with us all day, as we go about our work counting beans or scrubbing out loos. It changes who we are and how we see the world. But nobody else really gets it, and the lack of money is there to prove it.

So maybe we’re doomed.

But poetry has already changed the world — yours, mine — irrevocably in altering how we see it. It is in the world, making and re-making it, and the world has not a clue. But we know. And so we go on reading and writing, having great conversations long past bedtime, walking through the gentle misery of everyday living with this secret knowledge, this little spark that could light the whole world on fire — but doesn’t. Perhaps never will.

Maybe we’re doomed. But we are doomed in good company — you and me — which is to say we are blessed indeed. Ask anyone. The poets always throw the best parties. They dance like they have nothing to lose, because it’s true. And you and me, we’ve made it this far somehow, getting by, doing our thing, making life just about work. John Keats died largely unrecognised. But ask his friends at the time, and he meant as much to them then as he does to many of us now. Do we really expect better for ourselves than the respect of a few respectable peers?

The audience is dwindling. Fine. If you need someone to write for, write for me. I mean it. I need your poems as much as I ever did — the ones I can carry around with me, the blue flame, the chip of ice in my heart. Continue reading…

Next to Nothing by Chris Agee

In his most recent collection, Next to Nothing, Chris Agee fuses voracious verbal intelligence with well-tuned musicality. But this is not why I am compelled to re-read this book. Written in the years following the death of his four-year-old daughter, Agee’s elegies ring with veracity, transcending reportage of paternal grief even as it details, in quiet and careful ways, sentiments and sensibilities I know from my own experience of loss to be true beyond true beyond achingly true.

One poem in particular, from the “Heartscapes” series, stopped me on the page:

Your Face

in the window
where I wave
at the childminder’s
new child

Continue reading…

Interview with Scottish Poet Andrew Philip

The Ambulance BoxI recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Andrew Philip, author of The Ambulance Box, as part of his virtual book tour. We conducted the interview via Skype, and it was remarkable to be able to both hear and see Andrew from such a great distance. Unfortunately, a few of those digital packets did seem to fall out of order somewhere over the Atlantic, so at times the lip sync is a little off. For me, it was still tremendously exciting to be able to speak with Andrew about his work, his craft, and his life using this technology. The complete thirty-five-minute video is available below.


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Encountering Andrew Philip’s the Ambulance Box

“Even the pick / of those we share our pulse with shares this jolt / beneath the ribs, this double click of love. / How could they cope with even just one heart?”

-Andrew Philip, “Cardiac”

The Ambulance Box by Andrew PhilipI have Jilly Dybka to thank for sending Andrew Philip my way. Since I have written openly about the difficult and transformational experience of losing our first-born son, she must have recognized the the rare opportunity our being in touch provides. I am glad she did. It is an experience Andrew and I share.

Naturally, I was keen to read his debut book. What I discovered was not only personally moving, but profoundly accomplished work. Andrew writes in both English and Scots, placing himself in a tradition stretching back to John Barbour and encompassing Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns. As an American, I feel under-qualified to comment on the unique cultural and socio-political implications of this dual-language approach. (And, I must admit that I gave the online Dictionary of the Scots Language a good workout in making my way through some of the poems.) However, both as a poet in love with lyricism, and a father who lost an infant son, I can not resist adding my praise and commendation to the acclaim this book is gathering.

Andrew writes not only in Scots, a Germanic (not Gaelic) language, but in German as well. In “Berlin / Berlin / Berlin” he combines all three. If it is true, as Robert Frost tells us, that “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” there is a poetry uniquely found between the languages by Andrew Philip. Wildly associative, and at times experimental, the musicality of these poems lend congruity and veracity even as they burst with linguistic mischief. This is, above all, a collection full of life — which is what makes the moments in which poems touch, lightly but unflinchingly, upon grief, all the more profound. From the premonitory vision of a “difficult, unasked-for joy” in “Pedestrian” through the incredible moment in “Still” when grief rewrites the resurrection, announcing in broken lines across the page, “he is not here / he is not here / he is not here,” these poems are rapturous even in despair. Sentimentality and easy words seem as though they might never have been invented in the remarkable worldview Andrew hands us in this book, “in a language,” as he says at the end of “Tonguefire Night,” “yet to be born.”

As part of Salt Publishing‘s innovative cyclone virtual book tour, I will have the pleasure of interviewing Andrew in about a month. I hope you will join me. Salt has also recently launched a highly successful “just one book” campaign to save this well-regarded imprint from financial doom. If you do choose to support world-class poetry publishing by purchasing just one, or one hundred, books from Salt, be sure to make your first The Ambulance Box.