February 14, 2008

Rocking the Boat

The 2007/8 edition of DRUNKEN BOAT just went live and damn, am I excited to be a part of it. Any time a poet gets a chance to showcase three poems, it is an honor.

But in addition, the editors have created a very intriguing "Poetics" folio. As explained here, they chose dozen poems from the issue--including my poem "Orchis"--and asked experts of various other fields (architecture, fiction, lit crit) to respond to the poems of their choice, the overall portfolio, and/or the state of contemporary poetry.

First off, what amazing company: Nathaniel Tarn, D. Nurkse, Ron Padgett, Lisa Spaar, Jeffrey Skinner, Camille Dungy...holy hell. I feel like the knock-kneed little sister, tapping on the clubhouse window! Second, this is just a nifty idea, the kind of cross-genre thinking that gives Drunken Boat its charm.

The person who goes most in depth into examining my poem is...Stephen Burt. He of the mysterious and thrilling Harriet references. Seriously, I've never met this guy, but now I'm dying to. Thanks also to Rand Cooper, Chiori Miyagawa, and Okey Ndibe, for their senstive responses to the poem.

For those curious, the reason I called it "Orchis" (rather than the more direct "Orchid") was that I had come across the Greek myth of Orchis (son of a satyr and a nymph), who--after attempting to rape a priestess during one of Bacchus's festivals--was torn limb from limb by vengeful beasts. From his remains sprang the flower, the orchid. That's the myth that drives the ending narrative of the poem.

The myth is relatively obscure, though, and looking at the response essays--particularly that of Chiori Miyagawa--I can see that it is a source of frustration to the readers. There's no broad-base cultural awareness of the myth in the way that "Leda and the Swan" can take advantage of the Zeus myth. And I hate it when poets demand that their audience seek out background info in order to "get" a poem. So should I have embedded a more explicit connection?

I'd love to know how people feel on this issue, as both readers and poets. And I'm very, very grateful to Ravi Shankar and the other DB editors for creating the space for this kind of dialogue.


mgushuedc said...

Sandra: please please please do not worry about not being explicit enough! Your pitch is perfect, confusion is a fine thing in a reader, and the road to being explicit is a slippery slope. Mary Ruefle says somewhere that a poem is always about something else. Also there is Celan poem about a visit to Heidegger at his forest retreat that uses the word orchis, and your poem riffs on this quite well. Regards.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Your instincts not to explain it were right...

Valerie Loveland said...

My favorite thing about poetry is it doesn't tell you everything--it is a little puzzle I get to solve.

Greg said...

Congratulations! That's a beautiful site and your work is good. (I esp. liked "Heretic"). Thanks for the post; I was inspired to submit some poems myself!