Saturday, September 1, 2012

Michael Robins--Interview Plus Review

Michael Robins’ The Next Settlement (UNT 2007) received the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. His Ladies & Gentlemen (Saturnalia 2011), reviewed below, mixes an imaginative richness with a precise yet wide-ranging exploration of kindness and conscience.  Catherine Theis conducted the interview. Virginia Konchan wrote the review. 


Catherine Theis: I’ve been reading your latest book, Ladies & Gentleman (Saturnalia Books, 2011), and I can’t help but feel the presence of Wallace Stevens, especially since the use of couplets reminds me of Stevens’ own obsession with dualities—mind versus body, nature versus civilization, presence versus absence. I’m curious, is Stevens an influence? What’s your favorite poem of his?


Michael Robins: These are great opening questions–you’re not the first to pair my work with Wallace Stevens–yet I struggle with the comparison: I want to be influenced by Stevens, want to say that his work has, at some point, unveiled all that’s possible in poetry, and I want to join those whose work I admire and who’ve cited him as a central influence. I’ve consciously struggled with memory since I was a boy: I lose much of the day before and, many times, I can’t retrieve what I’ve read or possibly discover in what recess the poems and stories have hibernated, if indeed they still reside anywhere. One weekend, long ago at my grandparents’ house, I sped through the pages of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, fairly proud of my accomplishment. My brother, skeptic to my bragging, asked about a specific moment in the plot and I couldn’t respond. I swore that I’d actually read the novel, but where was my proof?

When you ask about Stevens, I turn to my library—a poor substitute for memory—and open Stevens’ collected poems. There’s a smallish, yellow sheet of lined paper that lists the page numbers of a dozen or so poems I once considered for a wedding ceremony: “Two at Norfolk,” “Idiom of the Hero,” “On the Road Home,” “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” “Wild Ducks, People and Distances,” etc. In retrospect, ten years after making the list, I recognize there are some odd choices; no doubt I was hunting for a poem appropriate for the pairing of two human beings, offering imaginative possibility with a good deal of grounding by the frank reality of the challenges inherit in relationships, in marriage, and in living. I return often to Stevens’ assertion that “the imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real,” and I’m deeply invested in this exchange, especially the pull from reality that nears the point of breaking.


Stevens’ poetry is strange and stalwart, and there are too many flooring moments to note a favorite poem. Perhaps a better way of answering a “what’s-your-favorite” question is to say that, at any moment, any Stevens poem might become my favorite. I’m fairly confident I didn’t read much Stevens until graduate school (memory fails again; perhaps The Collected Poems was assigned), and his work carries enough resonance that I made two attempts (the second attempt, at last, successful) to visit his grave in Hartford… I remember lots of sunlight, Katherine Hepburn’s stone not terribly far away, and Samuel and Elizabeth Colt (think Robyn Schiff’s Revolver) a little farther on. There were, of course, thousands more headstones of those who aren’t remembered for anything.

CT: I’m also interested in this idea that seems to be cultivated throughout your book of a story that leads nowhere, and what that might mean for us as readers—to sit in silence, to sit in mystery. Stevens’ jar upon a hill is retranslated into “a billboard that reads /Redneck Steakhouse.” Or how, “[w]e moved like statues.” I love this kind of transformative power that results when we use stillness as a kind of measure. Are you fascinated with stillness? With form?

MR: I love that some poems create meaning and order from the experiences of life; most of my own experiences, however, don’t conclude in convenient epiphanies. Maybe it’s my wiring. Too many things happen simultaneously, in fragments and half-developed episodes, convoluted always by complex emotions and skepticism. I want to reflect this particular experience of the world, yet I’m guilty too of reaching for solidity, cohesion, and meaning. Ideally, those couplets that you mentioned ease the reader through the sometimes dense imagery and figurative language of Ladies & Gentlemen, providing the reader another opportunity for silence and contemplation. Your reflection on stillness immediately brings to mind Wordsworth’s “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Let us not forget that this overflow is also “recollected in tranquility.” When the creation of a new poem hits its stride, that stillness or tranquility feels like a hearth radiating in my chest. The few truly harmonious moments in my life—that is to say the instances when I’ve felt an ecstatic peace with my place in the cosmos (Kerouac’s “be in love with your life”) and was ready, right then and there, to leave this world behind—were moments of stillness and very much connected to an image. Immersing myself in an artist’s work is another kind of stillness, as is the simple pleasure of spending the day on the beach, far from the everyday nonsense and commotion.

Am I fascinated with form? The shape of the poem is hugely important to me, and you’ve probably noticed that the lines of each individual poem in Ladies & Gentlemen (except the two prose poems) are nearly the same length. I say nearly, because the lines of each couplet are purposefully not the same length. After September 11, 2001, during my second year in the MFA Program at UMass-Amherst, my language utterly failed in the wake of the events that day. Months of creative silence passed until, eventually, I found myself writing a sonnet that subtly alluded to all that had happened. Then I quickly began a second sonnet, as if at last the formal constraint gave an organizing structure to what I needed to voice. Of course I love Emily Dickinson’s “After great pain, a formal feeling comes—,”and it seems fitting that my own formal response arose while living down the street from the Dickinson house in Amherst. Anyway, eventually the single stanza of the sonnet gave way to couplets, and for me that’s another kind of formality, much in the way that rhyme or line lengths can serve as a stabilizing force in a poem.

You know, one of the many things I admire about your own book, The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt, 2011), is the assortment of shape and style, and how variety can become a type of consistency in an individual collection. There are short and extended poems in your book, lineation and prose, punctuation and poems without, some poems that adhere to the left margin and others that take advantage of the page. Have you always written with this kind of multiplicity? How do you determine the form of an individual poem?

CT: Yes, I’ve always written this way. The voice of the poem tells me what to do. I don’t have a choice, really. I make sense of things by going through all possible permutations before I make up my mind. Even outside the experience of the poem, I don’t want to be “the bird,” I want to be a flock of birds. I think it keeps me sufficiently delusional. I think you need that delusion in order to be a writer. More simply, the multiplicity of forms in my work reflects the way I think and the way I feel; I’m never perfectly aligned, no matter how I try. I’m constantly at war with myself and, at the same time, with the world.

Poets like Emily Dickinson are curious to me; such singularity of voice! Lately I’ve been fascinated with “The drop that wrestles in the Sea—,” and in thinking about individuality and the Cosmos, and how we are all part of something much larger; a something that most always fails (in the best way) especially when it’s so full. In many of your poems, there’s an overflowing fullness, a ripe-rottenness of “[e]very fruit, rather, wasting in the trees.” Can you talk about this ripeness in your work? How does it work alongside or against ideas of restraint or order? What happens in “the chill shadow of the cherry tree?”

MR: Who wants to waste their time with art that isn’t ripe? Every fullness of the world, inevitably, becomes decay. As you know, my wife and I have a daughter who just turned nine months old, and while I don’t want to sound crass or indifferent, I’m fully aware that someday she too will vanish. That inevitability is never far from my thoughts, as frightening as that can be. In my imagination I see cars missing stop signs, El trains leaning from their tracks, engines aflame after leaving the runway. Are my constant thoughts and scenarios of mortality debilitating? I don’t believe so. Death is very much persistent and present, whether we’re willing to be aware of that presence or not. Most of us do a damn fine job pushing death away, especially in the United States, where we’ve managed to even place boundaries on the behavior of grief. In his poem “Montgomery Hollow,” Richard Hugo writes, “People die in cites. Unless it’s war / you never see the bodies.” When death does arrives at the doorstep of someone for whom we care deeply, we’re devastated. And then it’s expected that we adjust and get on with our lives. This is what happens in “the chill shadow of the cherry tree.” You and I are standing in that shadow always, and I’d rather acknowledge the fact and be less ruined when the things I love dearly disappear. I like how the French refer to the orgasm as la petite mort (the little death). The “ripeness” of living is as much related to desire and goes hand-in-hand with our gradual and sudden releases of what we call a soul.

CT: There’s a section in Ladies & Gentleman called “Circus” that opens up a conversation about U.S. politics, including war and its destruction. Can you talk about citizenship as it relates to this implied spectatorship of a circus production?

MR: “Circus” began as a group of individually-titled prose poems, but those titles (“Personations of Mother Goose,” for example) and their prose form were shed during some unexpected and exciting revisions. The section in Ladies & Gentlemen begins with an epigraph from Abraham Lincoln: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” Lincoln and I share a birthday, and his emblematic character—the honest, model citizen—has been in some ways inextricable from my own life. I wanted his presence to inform the structure of “Circus,” so each page of the poem consists of couplets totaling a dozen lines, and these numbers reflect our birth (February 12th). Plus, the series’ sixteen poems are a nod to Lincoln’s position as sixteenth president, and then there are the appropriated fragments of the Gettysburg Address, delivered, incidentally, near Marianne Moore’s future resting place at Evergreen Cemetery.

I was born a citizen of the United States and, therefore, know intimately no other experience of citizenship. Despite the struggles and our country’s current economic hardships, U.S. citizens are undeniably privileged—I’m very aware these days of the luxury that is my kitchen tap!—and most of those living here would choose to be a citizen of no other country. But as a citizen of a world power, I can’t ignore the shortcomings of our particular democracy, nor can I avoid my own complicity in the actions of the United States on the world’s stage. In the short of it, the vast majority of us are spectators, including myself, and nearly as many are resigned to the news of casualties—allies as well as those of enemy X, Y, or Z—and the double-standard by which our country (be it drones or occupation) has acted unilaterally to infringe the sovereignty of other countries.

A rather unnerving example of this spectatorship came with the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. The morning news included, yes, footage of Obama’s press conference, but his statements were supplemented by the video of spectators in a baseball stadium pointing to American flags, applauding or pumping their fists, and chanting “U.S.A.” The overzealous jubilation of some felt similar to those rare but widely televised celebrations after the attacks of September 11th. Those celebrations are often mistaken as a representation of the entire Arab world, but Americans often fail to recognize how the world views their own actions, which include not only the invasion of other lands, but this country’s failure to take a larger role in slowing down the destruction of the environment.

CT: The dead deer—“more alive to you now”—that shows up at the beginning and toward the end of your book, any relation to William Stafford’s deer in “Traveling through the Dark”? There seems to be a resemblance, no?

MR: I grew up in Portland and began reading poetry while living there, so it wasn’t easy to evade “Traveling Through the Dark” and the influence that Stafford has had on the poetry of the Pacific Northwest. At various times I’ve repositioned my feelings about narrative poetry; honestly, I believe I’ve always maintained a narrative thread in my writing, however thin that thread may wear. Behind the dead deer in “Sleep Is Not Unlike a Waiting Room” is my first-hand encounter while hitchhiking Highway 1 from San Louis Obispo, through Big Sur, and up to Monterey. This was many years ago. When my luck ran low and the rides were few, I walked. Somewhere along the way, the highway’s shoulder became too narrow to continue safely, so I crossed the guardrail and continued on the other side where, suddenly, my downward gaze landed near the body of a gorgeous fawn, almost startled from her sleep albeit her round, still eye staring up at the sky. I was shaken, then taken by a forceful sadness. She’d been struck maybe the night before, and although I didn’t literally take a photograph of her body with the Pentax I had in my backpack, I “blinked a broken thing” as the poem describes, and that single image is connected to many images woven into the poem, including Stafford’s deer and those jumpers whose final moments were documented on September 11th.

CT: What are you working on right now? What are you thinking about in your work?

MR: I have an embarrassingly large backlog of poems and several book-length projects that deserve my ever-decreasing time. Lately, I’m no longer able to rationalize my insistence on the couplet form. There’s a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen’s fourth and less commercial album, and in it Springsteen says that beginning artists create by instinct, but at some point that instinct becomes informed by intelligence. I’d like to believe I’m working in that second mode at this point in my artistic life, although I miss the imaginative capacity of my youth and the enthusiasms I had toward the world ten or twelve years ago.

For my writing, this intelligence now means an accuracy in lineation and in the use of added white space between lines and stanzas. This past March, in New York City, I met Andrea Baker, a fine poet whose first book, Like Wind Loves a Window (Slope Editions, 2005), is positively fantastic. She’d heard me read from Ladies & Gentlemen and was genuinely surprised to learn that those poems are anchored by the use of well-measured couplets. Her surprise, I soon realized myself, was warranted. Since writing the poems of Ladies & Gentlemen, I’ve attempted to move away from the couplet, specifically through a book-length series of poems titled Match. Currently, I’m working on poems that try to explore the wonder of fatherhood, poems that focus on lineation to accurately reflect the pacing and pausing of the language.

CT: You mean, the language of fatherhood? I can’t even imagine what the pacing of Fatherhood Language is like. Strange things happen when you move between prose and verse. Is this what you’re up to?

MR: Well, over the past few years, Adam Clay and I have exchanged daily poems, beginning in April and concluding whenever we’ve run out of steam. These newest pieces are from our exchange this past spring. They’re much more sparse and take advantage of the page in a way that’s new to my writing. Becoming a parent has introduced its unique pace in my life, yes, although the pacing of the poems remains anchored in a meditative gesture. In addition to poetry, I’ve kept a separate journal, in which I embrace cliché and sentimentality more readily. Writing about the utterly unique experiences of parenthood seems 100% worthwhile, and part of my aim in the poetry and prose is to preserve some of what I’ve felt these past eight months. Photography and video don’t do justice. I’m still in the process of revising this work, so I hesitate in saying too much in fear of articulating what the poems still need to discover.

What about you? What are you working on these days?

CT: I just finished revising a play called Medea. I couldn’t figure out how to fix the ending until it figured itself out. Patience! As I may have shared with you, I’m taking the entire summer off from my day job. I’m homeless but writing a lot. Titles include “The Sabbatical,” “The Sunbather,” “A Work of Art,” and “Lunchtime Special, Or Aphorisms.” I write each morning in long hand or on my manual typewriter. I spend a lot of time at the beach. Even though I use 50+ sunscreen, I’m pretty tan. I keep forgetting how old I really am. (Only the sun knows.) I’m reading writers’ notebooks. I just read a Sam Shepard play. I’m not in love with revision right now. I’m falling in love with contemporary Italian poetry. I’m drinking lots of coffee. I’m secretly meeting someone, which always helps my writing. This poem is called “Rinascimento.” I can’t stop thinking about the diary, the dialogue, and the aphorism form. At night, I plug in an old TV and watch movies. Last night, I watched Antonioni’s L’Avventura.

What other arts influence you? Painting? Music? What’s your writing habit look like these days? Has it changed? I know you teach a lot of young writers, what kind of stories do you tell them when they ask about setting up their own writing practices?

MR: I’m smitten by visual art and images in general. I consider myself an amateur photographer, although due to constraints of time and energy, it’s been several months since I’ve used my manual camera. I’ve a fondness for small doses of Edward Hopper (whose grave I visited in Nyack, New York), less so in larger exhibition settings. One of my favorite things is to enter a room at random inside the Art Institute of Chicago, survey the work quickly, then choose just one painting or photograph or artifact to really see at length before moving on to the next room and repeating the process. Cornell’s boxes, a large handful of which are at the Art Institute, are imbued with a reinvention of the ordinary and produce a childlike sense of possibility. If you have the chance, you should visit his red plastic lobsters (“A Pantry Ballet”) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Other artists whose work I admire include Joe Brainard and Giacometti, and I feel the need to mention the ultra-slow motion videos by Bill Viola, which have left me devastated twice. As an artist working with wholly different materials, I leave the spaces of Viola’s screenings and seriously consider why I bother using language. I have very little formal education when it comes to painting or sculpture, for example, but I appreciate how the visual arts can appeal to a wide audience.

One of many reasons I appreciate working in language, however, is the fact that the materials (a pencil, a scrap of paper) are inexpensive, widely available, and ready for use anywhere. This isn’t the case with most visual arts. My writing habits seem to evolve monthly, which may very well mean I don’t have a disciplined practice at all right now. This is especially true as summer winds to a close. I’m a full-time father with a full-time teaching schedule, and although I’m incredibly grateful for both of these things, so much of what was previously “leisure” is now spent preparing for classes and tending to the needs and curiosities of an infant. I can take some consolation in my backlog of poems, although nearly all of this work is in need of revision, reshaping, and (in too many cases) recycling. Revising isn’t as exciting as producing a brand new poem, and I have some tough decisions ahead in determining whether or not to abandon large swaths of my writing from the last few years.


As far as offering advice to young writers, of course I tell them to write each and every day, even if for only thirty or forty minutes. To carry a pen and a notebook (or a place on their smartphones) to jot down the world when it presents itself. I tell them that I don’t subscribe to writer’s block; instead, I give myself the time and space and wait. This involves patience, yes, and if the beginning of a poem doesn’t present itself right away, they can always read and read and read. Poets, especially young poets, sometimes overlook the fact that there’s a long tradition behind every poem written, and a steady reading practice can only help us write the next good poem, which is a poet’s primary job. Sometimes the difference between a successful and less successful poem feels indefinable, but back to Dickinson, the top of your head just might remove itself when the real thing comes along. Lew Welch, who disappeared in 1971 and has no grave, once described an ecstasy so great that, in the middle of writing his poem “Ring of Bone,” he got an erection. This was at Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Big Sur. When he finished the poem, Welch walked to an open window, unbuckled his pants, and climaxed right then and there. For the record, that hasn’t yet happened to me.

CT: I never knew how much you liked grave visiting. It’s much more common in Europe than it is here. I suppose it speaks to your willingness “to be less ruined” when the cycles of life cycle. In both of your books, I read of bridges, circles, planks, circumferences—potential frames, really, that position the speaker and reader into a “crossing over” of sorts. Where are you taking us, Michael?

MR: Cemeteries are wonderful. They ground me and serve as a poignant reminder of the dead-end this life becomes. It’s humbling to see the names of those who once walked the same streets and fields, and it’s even more humbling to see the worn stones that are already illegible after just a few hundred years. Embarrassing to admit, but I remember embracing the gravestone of a stranger, late at night, drunk in my early 20s and stumbling toward home. Fittingly, Charles Bukowski was my first literary grave (the Yellow Pages ad noted: “The only cemetery in Los Angeles with a view of the Pacific”), and my ever-growing list includes Ezra Pound and Joseph Brodsky in faraway Venice, Bertolt Brecht in Berlin (all those “b”s), as well as the graves of Anne Sexton and E. E. Cummings, who I recently visited in Forest Hills Cemetery outside of Boston, followed an hour later by the graves of Longfellow, Amy Lowell, and Robert Creeley in Cambridge. There are no more poems from these poets, no more author to breathe the original voice into the work. By visiting the graves of these poets, I want to acknowledge the achievement and importance of their work, all the while half-believing that my presence is recognized.

I have a difficult time living happily in the moment, which can be frustrating or, at the very least, frustrating for those around me. I’m far less glum than I was as an undergraduate, and my hope is that there’s fuller joy ahead. That’s actually a bit hard to imagine as my body begins to show signs of its own failure. Thankfully, poetry doesn’t rely on its author’s physical strength, and I’d like to believe that my poems venture into the past, the present (already the past!), the future, and the imaginative possibilities of all three. Time is terribly fleeting and, just as our personal and collective histories inform the present, I believe the present can also inform the past. Someone fancier than me once said that the best poetry is timeless, and that’s nearly the truth.

Click here <> to view a selection of the graves that the author has visited.

Catherine Theis
is a poet and playwright living in Chicago. She is the recipient of an Individual Artists Fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Catherine’s first book is The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt Publishing <> , 2011). Her latest chapbook, The June Cuckold, a tragedy in verse, is published by Covulsive Editions <>.


Ladies & Gentlemen
By Michael Robins

Saturnalia Books, 2011

Reviewed by Virginia Konchan
An if/then statement is a basic building-block for deductive reasoning, as well as being one of the most basic control flow statements in many computer programming languages.  In Michael Robins’ second full-length collection, Ladies & Gentleman, however, this structure is subverted by the continued pressure the poet puts on the propositional part of the statement.  The result is a suspension of causality wherein not just the imaginary but the fantastic reigns free.  From “The Last Movie Made in Kansas”:  “If women knit the air past her window,/ if in a dream a neighbor sends her news.”  Again from “Your Voice is as Much a Kind of River”:  “If at night the rain slips past, I saw you.”  And lastly, from “Off the Shoulder of Orion”:  “If we turn a key the finch will rotate,/ sing ideas like a tumbrel end to end . . . ”

In a world where causality is, as it were, suspended, we enter a world—as introduced in Robins’ masterful first collection The Next Settlement—set in a theatrical milieu occasionally punctured by a deeper interiority than that of performance.  “For a time I left the interior scene, what/ nesting place surrendered for the curtain,/ greatest show from my seat.”  From this profoundly ocular interior beyond or within the stage comes a strange subset of poems which remember, and, through remembering, reassemble a socio-political landscape wherein ceremonial rites like marriage become humanized, if not naturalized, again.  Poems in this vein include “When It Snows in Boston it Snows Everywhere” which levels a beautiful patina of couplets at the reader (“Your hand in my hand,/ we love, we name our failure of orchids/ like we might souvenirs”) before again showing the zeal of public proclamation to be a hairsbreadth away from that of the personal.  In the case of “When It Snows in Boston it Snows Everywhere” we have the poetic issuance (so, hypothetical?  Hyperreal?) of a marriage proposal:  the delicately strung line between public and private speech acts here, attenuates before collapsing.

The couplet is this collection’s high wire, and the speaker’s fraught articulations, the at times “hopelessly hopeful” (from The Next Settlement), at times poignantly despairing (“like a train you stared into the sunrise./  Every fruit, rather, wasting in the trees”) high wire acrobatics.  From the third section of Ladies & Gentlemen, entitled “Circus”:  “A circus is not god,/ nor is the menagerie, nor will those dead// train for war anymore.  I forget such wars./  I beam, leave the young me sleeping, asleep.”  Parades, movie houses, music, and war:  this collection, and this poem in particular, hone in on the odd interfacing of peacetime and wartime, of spectacle and reality, and of concordance and discordance—often within one couplet or a single line.  The “great civil war” alluded to in “Circus” represents the historical stage in flux:  because there is no site, the borders between outside and inside, and between friend and enemy, sparkle and fade.  The speaker offers up to this end one of many different “kind[s] of war”:  “I hated you/ less than I loved myself for hating you.”  Rarely, though, is enmity the form of pathos that structures Ladies & Gentlemen:  that would be love—both in its chimerical and absolute incarnations.


From “All Our Pretty Songs”:  “She is fragments of bread/ that could lead me to love . . . ”;
From “His Passion is Doves”:  “Should he love, our idea of love must end . . . ”; and
From “When It Snows in Boston it Snows Everywhere”:  “a miracle that one could maybe love/ enough . . . ”

Navigating a national topography of place, writ large, this ranging speaker moves through the cities and states blasted or left alone by the wrecking ball of any number of wars, drifting from Massachusetts Bay to the Mississippi to Maryland and Kentucky, showing the reader also to be both victim and perpetrator of a kind of ideological devastation wherein both humans and wild animals find themselves without habitats in which to dwell (the displacement felt by humans being just as seismic, if not incommensurably so, than that of creatures).  From “Answering the Roll Call”:  “To begin the century, to say my name or hers/ from California again.  What’s done is done,/ so I want to leave a note for the joy of life./  In bed, under the covers, she says do I ever/ wish for death seriously./  I say nothing worse/ than country that was our home . . . ”


Elsewhere, the poet makes the equally devastating argument that the teleos of the natural world and the failure of language (to signify, or to deliver meaning) coincide.  “Early I learned the rules/ of language failing, not so much in church/ as in the timbre of a creek, upstream,/ by which I prefer to swim.  So what use/ are these rivers, of what use the oceans?”

Is there an outside to a police state?  To a nation state?  To family?  How can one approach one’s country and its goods and its citizens from a non-proprietary perspective, which is to say, openly?  And is to do so risking everything, when “those of my nation are not/ as they were,” and to believe in one’s fellow citizen is to risk finding “arrows, the feather in your back”?

If the birth or development of national consciousness is connected to that of political consciousness, a reader of Ladies & Gentlemen is that much the wiser upon reading this collection of quiet probity, its lyrics wrested (and occasionally, beautifully, torn) from the bodies that issue them.  As to what to do with this consciousness, look no further than “What I Was Doing About the War,” a perfect poem in which the speaker searches for an iconic image that would capture the historical moment (“smoke signal,” “weather & forecast,” “the satellites/ that pin the speck of beauty to a point,” “the mourning dove alone struck clean/ like glass” and “the stubborn mule tied to a sad piano”) as well as a sound that could reverse the entropic movement from cry to explanation, returning us to “our song, our only song . . . lofty as flame.”

Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets 2011, the Believer, and The New Republic, among other places. A recipient of grants and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Ox Bow, and Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, she lives in Chicago, where she is a Ph.D student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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