Poetry / Ryan Clark
:: A View Lodges [i] ::
America is a field expanded over airwaves softening distinctions between American and Portuguese pop culture, a line from Power Rangers to the base to the island.
There is a swirl of forces assembling from a childhood shared in the negotiation of foreignness.
What views are held with very little friction.
For years, civilians work at the base, form a mesh that grows.
Attitudes are acquired, fed, made natural as land surrounding a flag.
Lajes, in the fold of ocean floors, far off from continental powers, is an America you feel under your roof at night.
Earlier, Lajes stood as a basket of well-off Americans dropped on an island of poor farmers.
How a gap demands closure, how advantage is played.
A transient face can be difficult to make out of a uniform.
So contracts rose from a negotiation to resolve what it is to use as a foreign shield your home.
So the foreignness of the field poured out, drew people in.
So cars paved Azorean freeways.
So Terceira is a land relocated with benefits.
From a base, we gather the trust of economy, live in the shadows of aircraft.
A man says if the Americans ever were to leave he’d follow, stars and stripes softly woven into his cap.
What is formed with such use.
[i] Homophonic translation of a U.S. Department of State cable titled “Azorean Views on Lajes,” sent on February 1, 1974, and later released as part of U.S. Department of State EO Systematic Review on June 30, 2005.
From the writer
:: Account ::
These poems come from a project that investigates environmental contamination stemming from the presence of Lajes Field Air Force Base, an American military base on Terceira Island in the Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic that functions as an autonomous region of Portugal. In writing these poems, I used a unique method of homophonic translation which relies on the re-sounding of a source text, letter by letter, according to the various possible sounds each letter is able to produce (e.g., “cat” may become “ash” by silencing the c as in “indict,” and by sounding the t as an sh sound, as in “ratio”). The source texts for these poems are given as footnotes in the poems themselves, and they include news articles about the contamination (often from questionable sources, including Russian news agencies well known for spreading propaganda and stories that serve the purposes of the Russian government—such as, for instance, negative stories against the United States). Other sources include archived cables and other documents from the U.S. State Department, accessible through Wikileaks.
I lived on Terceira when I was a kid, from 1992 – 1996, while my father was stationed at the base. My family lived in the towns Fonte do Bastardo and Praia da Vitória prior to moving on base midway through our time on the island. Praia, in particular, has been noted as bearing the brunt of the contamination, with a number of people in the town developing cancer—though explicit connections between the contamination and cancer rates remain a subject of debate.
I aim to work through these poems with the documentary mindset of poets like Mark Nowak and Muriel Rukeyser, though I am also interested in the idea of “decontamination” as a duty we are increasingly called upon to perform—whether it be through increased media literacy (hyper-vigilant to avoid fake news on social media) or through facing our own nostalgias that obscure what we see with what we’ve hoped to continue seeing. As such, I want these poems to serve as a form of inquiry rather than attempts to answer.
Ryan Clark writes much of his work using a unique method of homophonic translation, and he is particularly interested in how poetry responds to violence and subjugation, symbolic and otherwise. He is the author of How I Pitched the First Curve (Lit Fest Press, 2019), and his poetry has recently appeared in Interim, Barzakh, DIAGRAM, Fourteen Hills, and Posit. He currently teaches creative writing at Waldorf University in Iowa.