Friday, October 21, 2011

New Traditions ~ A. E. Stallings

Another Lullaby for Insomniacs

By A. E. Stallings

Sleep, she will not linger:
She turns her moon-cold shoulder.
With no ring on her finger,
You cannot hope to hold her.

She turns her moon-cold shoulder
And tosses off the cover.
You cannot hope to hold her:
She has another lover.

She tosses off the cover
And lays the darkness bare.
She has another lover.
Her heart is otherwhere.

She lays the darkness bare.
You slowly realize
Her heart is otherwhere.
There's distance in her eyes.

You slowly realize
That she will never linger,
With distance in her eyes
And no ring on her finger.


by A. E. Stallings

What butterfly—
Brain, soul, or both—
Unfurls here, pallid
As a moth?

(Listen, here's
Another ticker,
Counting under
Mine, and quicker.)

In this cave
What flickers fall,
On the wall?

Spine like beads
Strung on a wire,
Of our desire,

Moon-face where
Two shadows rhyme,
Two moving hands
That tell the time.

I am the room
The future owns,
The darkness where
It grows its bones.

The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons

by A. E. Stallings

I hate you,
How the children plead
At first sight—

I want, I need,
I hate how nearly
Always I

At first say no,

And then comply.
(Soon, soon

They will grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord)—

Over the moon,
Should you come home,

They’d cease to care—
Who tugs you through
The front door

On a leash, won’t want you
And will forget you

On the ceiling—
A giddy feeling—

Later to find you,
Puckered, small,
Crouching low

Against the wall.
O thin-of-skin
And fit to burst,

You break for her
Who wants you worst.
Your forebear was

The sack of the winds,
The boon that gives
And then rescinds,

Containing nothing
But the force
That blows everyone

Off course.
Once possessed,
Your one chore done,

You float like happiness
To the sun,
Untethered afternoon,

Marooning all
You’ve left behind:

Their tinfoil tears,
Their plastic cries,
Their wheedling

And moot goodbyes,
You shrug them off—
You do not heed—

O loose bloom
             With no root
                              No seed.

A. E. (Alicia) Stallings is a poet who writes some of the most exciting lyric poetry today.  She rides the rules in an original way, finding a very modern music in traditional verse forms.   The MacArthur Foundation recognized her in this way:
A.E. Stallings
A.E. Stallings is a poet and translator mining the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft works that evoke startling insights about contemporary life.  In both her original poetry and translations, Stallings exhibits a mastery of highly structured forms (such as sonnets, couplets, quatrains, and sapphics) and consummate skill in creating new combinations of meter, rhyme, and syntax into distinctive, emotionally compelling verse.  Trained in classical Latin and Greek and currently living in Athens, she brings a wide knowledge of Greco-Roman literature, art, and mythology to bear on her imaginative explorations of contemporary circumstances and concerns. (More here.)
A. E. Stallings received an A.B. (1990) from the University of Georgia and an M.St. (1992) from the University of Oxford.  Her additional works include the poetry collection Archaic Smile (1999) and poems and essays in such publications as Poetry, the Atlantic Monthly, the Hudson Review, and the Yale Review.  She makes her home in Greece with her husband and two children and also serves as director of the poetry program at the Athens Centre in Athens, Greece.

Another Lullaby for Insomniacs appeared in Poetry Magazine in 2004, and had been previously collected in both Archaic Smile : poems, selected by Dana Gioia for the Richard Wilbur Award and published by University of Evansville Press, 1999 and again in Hapax: poems, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2006.  Ultrasound appeared originally in Archaic Smile : poems, and can be found also in 32 Poems

A Mother's Loathing of Balloons was originally published in Poetry in 2009 and will be collected in upcoming Olives: poems, to be published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2012.

There is an insightful overview of her career in The Mezzo Cammin, Woman Poets Timeline Project.  Recently she joined Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour for a conversation following her being named a 2011 MacArthur fellow.  Enjoy ~

(Poetry reprinted by permission)

Images ~

Artisan Poets

Ojimi Bead carving of Bird
East West Poetry will have its first anniversary soon and it's interesting to look back at how an idea found its form.  Originally I wanted to use the subtitle "Artisan Poets for a New Generation."  A little pretentious, I admit, so it was dropped ~ but I mention that here because it lies beneath the foundation of the site: the love of craft and well-crafted work.

There is a unique and interesting beauty in well-made, lyrical verse, and, over the past century, our world has been less rich for its loss. Mastering any art or magic it takes years of practice to produce works of grace. Though I'm just a journeyman, I have worked enough in my own way to appreciate the gifts, grit and tenured talent it takes to make lyrics appear both luminous and effortless.

I love well-crafted verse in the same way that I love a garden with stone steps and paths that bring me to standpoints where something unexpected is featured and so discovered or, if revisited, savored.  Carefully crafted poems can be as marvelous as an Ojime bead, a mile of detail in a quarter-inch of boxwood.  There is a thrill in the precision, the playfulness, the breathtaking finish.  It gives the stuff of language a crystalline structure ~ the poet compresses and condenses, then shapes it with a well-practiced hand.  

We are fortunate to live in a day when when some amazing poets are revisiting and refreshing the lyric arts, fortunate to live in a day when A. E. Stallings is writing for us.  Alicia ~ whose books are true delights ~ is young, playful, passionate and precise, crafting work that is architecturally advanced and filled with light.  Her sense of timing and ear for the music of the language are both challenging and refreshing.  Enjoy her Blackbird Etude below and look to the next posting to read more.

Blackbird Etude 

For Craig

The blackbird sings at
the frontier of his music.
The branch where he sat

marks the brink of doubt,
is the outpost of his realm,
edge from which to rout

encroachers with trills
and melismatic runs sur-
passing earthbound skills.

It sounds like ardor,
it sounds like joy. We are glad
here at the border

where he signs the air
with his invisible staves,
“Trespassers beware”—

Song as survival—
a kind of pure music which
we cannot rival.

A. E. Stallings's poem Blackbird Etude originally appeared in Poetry Magazine (2009) and will be collected in her forthcoming book, Olives: Poems, a TriQuarterly Books imprint, to be released by Northwestern University Press in the spring of 2012.

(Poetry reprinted with permission)