I’m delighted to serve as guest poetry editor for The Stinging Fly’s winter issue. Here’s what I’m looking for:
Once, after a reading, T.S. Eliot was questioned about ‘Ash Wednesday’, his great poem of barrenness and conversion: ‘Please, sir, what do you mean by the line, “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree”?’ His response is the stuff of legend: ‘I mean, “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree.”’
There are many fine poems, among them some indisputable classics, surprisingly amenable to prose restatement. But there are also those where such restatement is not only unthinkable but also functionally impossible, where the gesture of ‘translation’ into prose strikes us as one of unconscionable violence, where the very act of paraphrase exacts a ruinous drain on the text’s resources of pleasure and of meaning.
Such poems are fine-tuned, dynamic ecosystems of breath and image, fragile configurations that will not bear exposure to paraphrase. Recasting them in prose is like recounting a dream in daylight; all significance and strangeness falls away. These are the poems I’d like to see in my role as guest editor. For they gesture at least into the fringes of the unsayable, gesturing or hinting toward truths we grasp but cannot articulate. They do what poetry alone can do. Send me the poems—you know the ones—that are most wedded to their own particular carefully calibrated shape and idiom, that are maximally resistant to paraphrase, where your own craft mastered you, carried you forward, left you ill-equipped and mystified in the inarticulate’s soundless jungle.
The issue will be published in October and submissions are open all through February.