There is something that happens when the words of a poet find their best reader–Confluence–that meshing of two ‘rivers’; in which one art meets another, and illumination is the result. As poets, we all want to find our best readers, those who will come to our personal experience, and find in it all that makes it universal — by seeing individuality, and joining it with community. Gustavo Hernandez writes poems of such depth and beauty, of vulnerability and praise, and ardent honesty.
When I first came to his work at The Night Heron Barks, I knew something extraordinary had entered all of us after reading his poems. If poets are windows, readers are doors, and in this review of Gustavo’s collection, Michele Karas has found that very confluence of poet and reader in her words here.
Reading these poems and this review, I think also of Emily Dickinson’s great idea of ‘Circumference’–that we are not beings in a box, but in a vast circle, an expanse that is widened when what we write is opened up by a reader who has seen inside, deeper than the surface of the page, to that vaster scope of how words can instill and inspire understanding. Enjoy this meeting of two arts.
I took up residence in the Toronto airport once. The reasons are a long story and not the one I’m telling. Toronto has two airports. This was the one all in glass. They had a sushi bar that also served coffee. Lattes named after famous novels. I drank from The Awakening twice. Tried The English Patient with evaporated milk, couldn’t finish Ulysses. Ate my weight in airport sushi. I ran into the poet H.L. Hix. We were both trying to get to London by way of Canada. Harvey had a story too, but not the one I’m telling.
A year into our being, the poets who sent us work had their own sense of us, the editorial team budding with confidence. Like the year, this issue felt hard-fought for, and I’m both excited and a little relieved. The depth of field here is special. This was the first season where we wrestled with work from former contributors and how to make that sound with new voices. Continued support is important to us. We wouldn’t be much of a sanctuary if we said there was no return. But still, it was paramount to create opportunities and let new poets be heard. I hope we found the range. Thank you to the editorial team for all their work and vision. Thank you to Rebecca Chace for lending voice to Jean Valentine and Copper Canyon Press for helping to see us through — for this and so many other reasons, this issue is special for me. Thank you to Laurie Saurborn for her notes to our barking sound. As always, thank you to the poets, everyone who sent us work and everyone who continues to get out the word.
Building a poetry journal is a bit like waiting to take flight. You can guarantee a number of happenings that would never quite take place anywhere else, not that way. A cross-section of people hopeful or weary. Everyone with a story. A blue ribbon tied to the handle of a leopard-print suitcase. Sea urchin with a quail egg cracked over it at the Novel Coffee and Sushi Bar. What you mistook for a dare was Harvey Hix rather emphatically saying, don’t eat that before boarding a seven hour flight to the poetry residency of your dreams. Little did I know then, the journey would take me farther, the destination somewhere else. That thing smarter types than me say about process. Have the window seat or climb out on the wing, take in the view. Harvey likes it if you talk to him for the entire flight.
Welcome on the morning of the Lunar New Year to the winter issue of The Night Heron Barks.
I am struck by the kind of conversation that takes flight in Laurie Saurborn’s review of Valyntina Grenier’s FEVER DREAM / TAKE HEART. The grounding Saurborn accounts for in Grenier’s image-building. Grenier, also a visual artist, knows how to engage the mind’s eye of the reader–or pull back the curtain and reveal her own. There is such movement in these poems as in Saurborn’s prose and we are witness to the music between them. Caught up in it.
It was back in August when Laurie and I connected for Angela Narciso Torres’ review. When we realized we shared a similar shorthand about chapbooks and small presses. Shared a belief that the review is vital to the poet. And that craft analysis is more important than the blurb. I’m still a little gobsmacked she took me up on the offer to oversee and guide our review section. And what a gift it is to have her moonlight as our house band on reviews like this one. At its best, a book review not only picks out songs, replaying notes, dissecting others. It’s not so much a reveal as a sharing in the revelation. In the hands of the right writer, it too, is music as much as telling the good news.
Grenier has written a thing with sound and wings. Her own double album. But don’t take my word for it.
I was sitting in a NYC bar with Philip F. Clark waiting for a reading of some sort, writing down possible journal names. Wondered if The Night Heron Barks would get us laughed out of the room. What if we build the pages like broadsides? What if we code the pages for line integrity? How difficult will it be to embed audio, use a unique typeset? What if no one sends us poems? Almost two thousand submissions later, we’ve published 135 poets over three issues, added book reviews, expanded the masthead, nominated work. We hoped our space could be diverse, unique. 14,572 (and counting) visitors this year. We pretty much relied entirely on the online community to spread the word and send their work. Expand our circle. Probably won’t do it, I told Philip. Still, it would be amazing, he said. It has been. So many of you rooted for us, spoke well of us, put out the word. Risked, sent us your poems. I’m so grateful for all of it.
IN THESE FINAL DAYS before an election that, though scheduled, can feel exigent in its circumstances, I find myself stepping away from sides and tallies, harms and breaks, to inhabit momentarily a place of being, of breath, one that pauses the continual intellectual and physical fight-or-flight that has become—or has always been—a normalized response for too many living in this country.
A mirror can be held to the world, but sometimes the world lifts a mirror in return.
Aside from fleeting moments of panic-induced respite, what are our options for traversing this time, and that which follows, in a way that engenders more response than reaction? Whether survival mechanism or coping strategy, we might invite a shift of gaze from hyper-focused objective to those margins of overlap we commonly vault past. With an insistent tug on our sleeve, poet Patrice Boyer Claeys invites us to do just that in her review of Gail Goepfert’s newest book of poems, Get Up Said the World.
Reasons to read are to witness and be transformed. And I am, as Claeys traces the energies of Goepfert’s lines pushing along currents volcanic and riparian, protean in generation and decay. A mirror can be held to the world, but sometimes the world lifts a mirror in return. Gathered in subsequent reflections floats everything that came before and a version of what might exist ahead. As Claeys steps into the work of Goepfert, it is a gift of contemplation and conversion, a way of angling the glass so that others may catch the brilliance of a different perspective, carried forward.
In this world built in its unbounding, poetry helps us alight, feet to ground, to air, to water, as a way to continue through whatever abyss or opportunity we will face, together. My hope is that the work of both these poets will find and sustain you at the margins, in the middle, or wherever you may stand.
I suspect editors have their own version of that hypothetical, if they could invite any five people for dinner. I think of poets and poems. I already have the luxury of talking poetry with Philip F. Clark whenever I want and if we drift over to discussing The Durrells in Corfu, on our way to Cavafy in Alexandria, is that so wrong?
I had the opportunity to first read Angela Narciso Torres chapbook To the Bone last year and then spoke in hushed tones to anyone who asked me if I’d read anything lately. The work heartbreaking and vital. It took me a little time to get the nerve up to ask Laurie Saurborn if she was open to reviewing it. An affecting poet in her own right, we had both read Angela’s first full book Blood Orange, and I knew Laurie had once reviewed it. I had a good feeling about her connection to Angela’s work.
I’ve always seen poetry reviews as more of a necessary drudgery. The questions remain, how do we celebrate and promote these poems and poets? How do we inform a world we haven’t convinced to read the poems in the first place? Does it still matter if it only matters to a few of us? To be clear, it matters to me. In recent years, they’ve seemed to become more of a superlative fest. More of a verbal gymnastic display by the reviewer than speaking to work. I understand it but I want better for us.
The present is a moving force. In these poems there are no stopping places, no points of recalcitrance or reluctance. The speaker does not fight the lines or what she discovers within. They are places of reflection and realization…
Laurie Saurborn, ‘Messages Telegraphic: Angela Narciso Torres’ To the Bone‘
Laurie sees Angela’s work so well here and with depth of field. Her vantage reveals the work in a way that gave me new eyes. But it also feels like a conversation between old friends. As if you’ve invited these poets into your home. It’s a good read, perhaps as simply, because it’s good writing. I’m proud to house it. I’m speaking to you in hushed tones now. You have to read Angela Narciso Torres’ To the Bone, listen to what Laurie Saurborn has to say about it.
I woke early this morning to the news that a certain Republican senator had tweeted last night his intention to vote against witnesses in the impeachment trial. Trying to push down a sense of anger and dismay, I returned to Lisa Rosenberg’s poem which I first read yesterday.
Lisa sent us a poem with a limited window of relevance. One that is closing as we speak. And I marvel at this practice of ours. We do this lonely, quiet work with rather strict rules on publishing credit. Was she confident we would get back to her in time? That the stage would be provided? She took the time to write a limited window villanelle. You couldn’t get me to work in that form for money, with the promise of it set in granite. She took time to edit. Took at least an hour out of her day to draft a cover letter in which she spoke elegantly on the point of it all.
I am having a hard time seeing the point of it all.
But when I read The Skies Have It, I forget momentarily everything falling. I remember the dignity, the quiet breath in truth-telling.
There’s also this, and maybe it only matters to the poets. But Lisa Rosenberg landed a deserving publishing credit today for a poem that needs to sound.
after the left hook of Gustavo Hernandez’ poem title hits you, the right cross of his dedication leaves its mark. You tap play to hear the sure tenor of him read Across the Southwest Our Mothers Were Sidelined and note that his voice is not angry. And though you’ll learn soon enough, I would simply ask you: To whom do you think he’s speaking so tenderly?
Selfishly, I wanted to keep this poem for our inaugural issue this March. A small part of me wanted to keep Gustavo Hernandez’ voice to myself a little longer. But our editorial team was barking and these words need to sound.
I know this poem will be going out to a community that also feels sidelined. Many of us have felt helpless while this president has simply delivered on the hate he promised when he first ran. I don’t have much in the way of solace, but to say that we will not be sidelined for much longer.
I am a poet who takes months to finish a poem. Still writes notes in the margins to published poems. Sometimes when I read poetry, I can see the alternate path, another way in, another word, another world. In our present state, I keep wishing us differently.
In my own work, I am sometimes still crossed up between two tellings or the sense I didn’t say everything I wanted to say. I fear I return to familiar subjects less out of habit or crutch, though certainly those reasons too, but more that I still haven’t gotten it down right. I won’t damn Gregory Crosby’s new poem with such perfect praise. But he rendered this work on January 2nd. Note how fully realized it feels.
This poem is alive and now and on your phone. Gregory Crosby speaks into our eyes. This is his, ‘It Turns, Turns.’
One of the things that I spoke out loud about two weeks ago was the idea that we would make space for work that needs to be heard now. Carole Bromley has written a poem with quiet heartbreak in it. It made me think about foregrounds and backgrounds. How if we whisper about what is happening around us, when the world around us is burning, it is not because we don’t sense the urgency or that we do not feel the need to scream, but rather we recognize that if we are going to save this planet we need empathy and compassion. Solutions don’t come in the form of violence or threats of violence.