Poetry / Kevin Craft
:: Untitled #10 ::
Is that you looking over my shoulder Mark Rothko looking like 1952 all over again the rainbow harrowed prismatic glances shy like a planter’s bed a seeded cloud color seeping from your eyes into mine Mark Rothko the halves and hues of a livelong day is that you gliding through Cold War violets the Red Scare and Bikini Atoll flashes to radical dust let’s get under our desks let’s bivouac like Eisenhower like ROYGBIV under the atmosphere the atomized beef is that you in the bar code of spectral analysis you the iron shine in an old sun’s gut that’s where it ends where the photon perishes and we won’t know it for eight minutes more the light behind light’s own nuclear suffusion I see you everywhere Mark Rothko in leaf sight and skydive swimming pool and switchyard the eyes are the window of the eyes are the harrow of pigment your witness your layer lament we are close to overlapping our one mind divided horizon your still life displacement your ground is there a better self a clearer camouflage than plain sight where the actuarial tables are drawn in our favor the child still stuck beneath his linoleum shield every day shadeless like shame in the blood like a televised memory a blacklist I have touched one or two radiant faces in my time hands down this too shall be seen through and erstwhile averted like a star hung nebula absolving all vector the runway generation scattered in flight
:: Persona Non Grata ::
…and indeed were not particularly welcome in any of the states— the vagrants, old soldiers, travelling theatrical companies, pedlars— all these silted up on the frontier like floating rubbish on a river’s banks. —Penelope Fitzgerald I wore a mask made of holes, none of which weep. I was armed like a gladiator to face assimilated sheep. I could only nod or shake, never blink, never strike like a bowling ball in a back alley brawl. I was a chain letter composed of missing links. It wasn’t my style to menace or gloat. Here’s what I learned: like a bowling ball tossed into the drink, half of us sink and half of us float. Which is why it took so long for Shelley, billowing in Ligurian troughs, to wash up on a Pisan beach. He had to have it both ways, coursing off course, whereas I rode out of town on my own stalking horse. Archimedes sank into his Syracusan bath and came out the other side, thin as a meniscus, having moved the Earth with javelin shade. He did the math, but still this could not save him from a Roman soldier’s blade. Likewise, Ovid in a Black Sea arcade. How do you translate solitary confinement? Jade is rarely prized among the jaded, carnelian among the Gorgon’s foes. Imagine, for the first time, those follicles writhing, those sutures erupting with tectonic woe. When only rivers balk and cry, ask another banished hero to look her in the eye. (Not every tear’s a crocodile lurking in the Nile.) Like a masquerade, coastal Campania is riddled with caves. My descendants are the gawkers and gapers of Neapolis, the fumaroles and forked tongues of Phlegraean fields who haven’t lost their touch so much as fled to cigarettes and convertibles in Nyack, New York. They know the secret stares of peacocks, the audible of the pass rush, the vigilance of thunder. They know the prescription for ancient hangovers: seven laps around the gridiron, one for every sage or wonder. One Mississippi, two Mississippi… the underworld holds nothing new. Believe you me, I wore myself out trying to escape from view.
From the writer
:: Account ::
The thing I love most about poetry is compression—how a poem layers experience, like the sedimentary striping of a river canyon or the excavated foundations of an ancient city. In this way a poem embraces complexity, messiness, fluidity: lives stacked on lives, the heretofore invisible interconnectedness of material reality revealed in the zigzag composition of the line. A poem is curvilinear, satellite to a certain gravity, its arc bending toward accountability—if not justice, exactly, then pointed—with knowing uncertainty—toward wisdom and delight.
In my own practice, this compression takes on several dimensions: I am fond of incongruity, and find great pleasure in straddling tones—the tragicomic yoke of archetype and autobiography fused (not to say confused) in “serioludere,”—serious play. The Fool in Shakespeare, Erasmus’s “In Praise of Folly”—these are my seminal texts.
“Persona Non Grata” began as I was thinking about the double-edged playfulness of this line from Valéry: “a lion is assimilated sheep.” On one hand, it seemed like a wry equation for metaphor making, on the other a terrible vision of the relationship between the powerful and powerless. Eventually, the archetype of the exile or unwelcome figure began to intersect with my own disconnected family history. “Untitled #10” sees the Cold War through the color field abstractions of Mark Rothko, which radiate history on a different frequency, like birds that see in ultraviolet or infrared. I was drawn to the challenge of abstract ekphrasis, of listening in to the language of color. In both poems, the trick in compression is slow revelation: a poem discovers itself only gradually, in different lights and weathers, over time. I hope a reader sees in them many other things besides.
Kevin Craft lives in Seattle and directs the Written Arts Program at Everett Community College. He also teaches at the University of Washington’s Rome Center, and served as editor of Poetry Northwest from 2009 – 2016. His first book, Solar Prominence (2005), was selected by Vern Rutsala for the Gorsline Prize from Cloudbank Books. A new collection, Vagrants & Accidentals, will be published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2017.