On a rainy, leaden day at
a rented country place one summer, I ended up snooping around in the basement
and lucked on a fruit crate of old magazines. Old Atlantics and
Saturday Evening Posts. Their pages were mousy and yellowed and
no doubt worthless. I found a vintage '69 Esquire, an issue I remembered
as actually having long ago read. An act which was impossible, I thought,
as I would have maybe been all of ten. But this wasn't some madeleine
The first stories and poems I inadvertently turned to outside of a classroom
were in the columned glossy magazines my mother lay fanned across our
coffee table as an accessorizing splash of decor. Mostly women's journals
and an occasional Look. The Atlantic or Argosy now
and then. I'm sure I wasn't expected to read or have any interest in the
glossies, and I clearly didn't . . . as long as my parents were in the
house, since in those pages a kid had relatively unlimited access to the
complex and often racy adult world. Something like a premium subscription
to cable. Sure, there were bra ads and starlet photos and so on, but eventually
I would find the odd inset column where a poem seemed to float by itself
in beige space. Befuddling, moody poetry in those vacant days. Or there
was a story that wasn't too wordy, even if it frequently made little sense.
Who knew what this literature meant or who the writers were who wrote
Down in the dusty basement with its junk and radoned coolness, I realized
I'd once read a John Cheever story in that '69 Esquire while still
a boy. Were there also poems I'd read by Ann Sexton, William Stafford
or Sylvia Plath? Poets I had maybe read as I looked for the prurient or
some mystery at most. Oh, the difficulty of poetry back then.
Reading contemporary writers
now, I am aware that complexity of feeling, of voice and image, aesthetics
and sensein a word resistance to easy translationmay be the
very quality that draws me so keenly to the heart of a poem. Surprise.
The unexpected perception, secrets and risk. Complexity not for some self-aggrandizing
encoding (as I once was certain), but to reach those areas of consciousness
beyond the boundaries of everyday utterance and noise.
Cheever once said that literature was "an extremely intimate means
of communication, involving sentiments, passions, regrets, and memories
that simply don't belong in the spectrum of simple conversation."
Yet the arts of poetry and fiction are nothing if not conversations (a
discourse if you will) between writer and reader, solitary in their mutually
distant instances, both in the writing and in that recreative moment when
the reader takes solace in another's speech. Plainly spoken or dazzlingly
incanted, why would one read literature at all if not for the pure intimate
pleasures of that act? We hope you will find such pleasures in Blackbird,
issue number 2.