Three Yaddo Poets Persist within Conflict

August 31, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Eduardo C. Corral Photo: Matt Valentine

“After Bei Dao / After Jean Valentine” by Eduardo C. Corral

Source: Devil’s Lake, Fall 2011 Issue

Corral evokes the anguish of passengers aboard a rudderless ship set aflame by its captain. “The skin of your deity smells like gasoline / Your prayers are added to the pyre,” he begins, and the indefinite aftermath of a disastrous leader rises, falls, and settles into rhythm as regular as breath. “In the middle of the pandemic / You mistook a group of ghosts for an orchard / You, coward,” Corral continues, disparaging any acceptance of death, as well as the desperate grasp for the illusion of normalcy from which it comes. The tension of this doomed effort “spin(s) in your mind / Like insomnia.” — SS 

Muriel Rukeyser Photo: Tony Evans/Getty Images

“Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)” by Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser, “Poem” from The Speed of Darkness. Copyright © 1968 by Muriel Rukeyser. Reprinted by permission of International Creative Management. Source: The Speed of Darkness (Vintage Books, 1968)

Rukeyser employs simplicity to effectively render the surreal cost of extreme events on the individual: “Most mornings I would be more or less insane . . . The news would pour out of various devices / Interrupted by attempts to sell products.” The poem chronicles the daily Sisyphean wartime task of heaving one’s consciousness from the valley of profitable sensation to the heights of responsible empathy, made possible by human connection. Of her companions in the endurance of cruelty, Rukeyser writes “We would try to imagine them, try to find each other, / To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile . . . ourselves with each other, / Ourselves with ourselves.” — SS

Matt Rasmussen Photo: Stephanie Colgan

“Elegy in X Parts [My foreshadow stretches]” by Matt Rasmussen

Copyright © 2012 by Matt Rasmussen. Used with permission of the author.

To make sense of a great loss is an impossible necessity. Rasmussen illuminates the two distinct worlds grief creates, which occupy each other like warring countries. In first world, we are trapped forever in tragedy: “I am a field / and there’s a man // standing in the middle / of me saying, // God is the sky pinning / me to my body.” In the second world, our submission to our own helplessness forges a bitter peace: “I am a man / and there is a field // under me saying, / A dead man makes // love to the earth / by just lying there.” While the first world of grief permits human fallibility to process the distraught mess of loss, the second allows us access to a world beyond it.  — SS