Poetry / Shara McCallum
:: Sorrow ::
There are too many poems on the subject of sorrow. Why pile one more on this dung heap of sorrow? Once upon a time always promises wonder. We remember, too late, the breadcrumb-less woods of sorrow. You fall asleep nightly rehearsing a lie: Tomorrow I’ll end it, my love affair with sorrow. A woman is singing again. Who is she this time? No matter. Her voice grinds the whetstone of sorrow. What a choice we’re given: to hold on to the dead or let them vanish to try to vanquish our sorrow. I speak my name out loud into my shiny new iPhone. On the screen, Siri spells it out for me: sorrow.
From the writer
:: Account ::
I’ll begin on a lighter note regarding the poem’s origin story. I received my first iPhone a few years ago, and at first, when using the voice recognition software, “Shara” would be transcribed as “sorrow.” Siri corrected this after a short time, but the irony of this slippage of language was not lost on me, and I jotted down two lines that led to this poem. Having worked with the ghazal before, I heard in those lines a tongue-in-cheek “signature” that is a feature of every ghazal’s closing couplet, and I decided to write a ghazal using “sorrow” as the poem’s refrain. Other couplets that followed in the drafting of the poem came, like the first one I wrote, in a voice darkly humorous—addressing in angular fashion a subject that typically announces itself elegiacally. But no matter the tone, the idea of the elegy was underpinning the poem.
It’s not really rocket science to deduce that with more time on the planet the chance of accumulating losses increases. These days, I watch myself and others around me having to exert greater and greater efforts to dig ourselves out from under “sorrow.” Sometimes the source of it might be traced to the daily news and the sense of impending doom that accompanies the majority of the reports from around the globe. Sometimes the trigger is the death of someone near to us—forcing us to face mortality anew—or a less dire personal loss that is yet keenly felt, or some failing in ourselves we confront. Sometimes, the origins aren’t accessible or knowable. Nonetheless, the feeling of sorrow pervades. The ghazal, with its obsessive refrain, allowed me to meditate on the kind of sadness that goes beyond the passing blues, the kind of melancholy or grief that overstays its welcome until we feel we cannot extract it from who we have become.
The poem included in this issue will appear in Shara McCallum’s fifth book, Madwoman (to be published in January 2017 by Alice James Books in the US and Peepal Tree Press in the UK). Originally from Jamaica, McCallum lives in Pennsylvania where she teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University.