Blackbird congratulates Tomas Tranströmer, the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.
As poet Jean Valentine notes in her "Letter to Tomas Tranströmer"
|your poems are receptive, tuned in certainly to the political and historical life grinding and haunting around us, but without an agenda. Motherly and fatherly: ‘Come in, let’s listen together.’ Your voice is both friendly and vulnerable. Nonviolent, holding no one off. Passionate, like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, you are a force for openness. Your silences are like silences in music, like negative space—time notation, notation of depth.|
Patty Crane’s new translation of Tranströmer’s Sorgegondolen (Sorrow Gondola), appears in this issue of Blackbird.
When Buffy the Vampire Slayer asks her mother if she can go somewhere right that minute, and her mother replies, no, it’s not like it’s the end of the world, the viewer recognizes that, of course, it is the end of the world and that high school can seem like hell. Buffy shares this figurative connection to disaster with the monster movies of the 1950s, where giant ants or invading aliens stood in for the destructive potential of the H-Bomb and global mutually assured destruction.
Likely it is no coincidence that during and after a time of earthquakes, floods, and melt-downs—both financial and nuclear—at the sesquicentennial of our national collapse, and three years from the centennial of the carnage on the Somme, much of the poetry, fiction, and other work that passes before us hints at a dark space where apocalyptic events operate in the plural and need to stand in line and take a number.
Not unlike his countryman Ingmar Bergman, whose image of Death playing chess was iconic for the post-war world of the 1950’s, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer often takes up residence in the outback of disturbing memories. He is one of the acknowledged great writers of our recently past and bloody century and his collection, Sorrow Gondola, appears here in a masterful new translation by Patty Crane. Introducing the poems, David Wojahn points out that Tomas Tranströmer is a poet of edges, borderlands, and nightmares, whose triumph lies in his ability to harness a visionary moment to the grace required to live always with Keats’s negative capability, poised in the balance of mysteries and doubt.
Sorting out the daily news are the writers in our annual spring Introductions Reading Loop, four poets and two fiction writers at or near the beginning of their publishing lives. Poets Brittany Cavallaro, Jenny Johnson, Eve Jones, and Yu Shibuya traverse a poetic territory that can be dangerous, disciplined, transformative, or reverential. Each shares the distinction of a singular mastery of language, offering a strong case that the nascent twenty-first century has its own poetic masters of disguise and perception. Stories by Julie Hensley and Chris Leo track through familiar territory—dysfunctional families, marriages at risk—with an enviable ability to reshape a twice-told tale and make it new.
Victor Lodato, winner of the 2010 Cabell First Novelist Award, inhabits the psyches of two women, Mathilda Savitch and Sara Jane, with a shape-shifting ease that underscores how fiction enables a reader to lead several lives at one time, providing a refuge in narrative that can cushion us all from the incessant din of the street and the twenty-four hour news cycle.
Seven new poems by Norman Dubie and six by Dave Smith demonstrate that two singular observers of the recent past continue to prod readers to pay attention—to the small gift of time with a dog or the harmonies of Percy Sledge, to the “speeches of bone” and “the thunder-vise of aortic cataract.”
In the Gallery, Robyn Schiff and Nick Twemlow’s video essay “Radon” tackles the monster under the house, and Jeff Porter’s found-sound collage imagines Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History turning a radio dial to land on the destruction of Hiroshima. Dogged by imperceptible radioactivity, these multimedia works emphasize, in an unpleasantly timely fashion, the undiminished fear generated by the demon released from Pandora’s box in August, 1945. The classic short film, “Duck and Cover,” retrieved from the Internet Archive, only underscores its persistent menace.
In Fiction, Steve Yarborough introduces an old man with a cruel streak that manifests itself in agents as petty as guinea wasps and as concrete as a Colt .44, and Kelly Cherry takes a deftly constructed, whirlwind tour of family genealogy. Other old men, these in search of a direction for their dwindling powers, populate a suburban street in Adrian Dorris’s “Dumb Noise,” while Darrin Doyle seats us next to a disabled child, distinguished by her bully-imposed invisibility in school bus hell, who manifests as a grisly talisman in the haunted life of one little boy who has dared to see her.
Additionally in Poetry, Jennifer Chang’s lyrics intuit that loss is always being negotiated—with the wind, with the surf, with the ghost of a good black dog who “preferred not to fetch,” and new work from Jehanne Dubrow balances a surprising confessional impulse with the poet’s abiding curiosity about how voice and diction render emotional nuance in a text. Austin Segrest’s “On the Road to Damascus,” an homage to chiaroscuro and to Caravaggio, describes a “bolt” that “breaks the shade” with enough force to give Saul a “concussion.” Selections from Simeon Berry’s larger series, Ampersand Revisited, hint at architectures of meaning merely obscured by momentary ruin. More poetry content appears in Features with Kathleen Graber: An Audio Suite and a Reading by Mathias Svalina and Allison Titus.
The poets reviewed in this issue—Sandra Beasley, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Keith Montesano, and Joshua Poteat—all seem to be grappling, in one manner or another, with questions of human fragility and their disparate roles as witnesses thereto. These collective indictments and minutely studied evasions run the gamut from poignant elegy to the bitterest of jeremiads. Their playful and important music, amplified as it might be through the vast networks of the new media machine, reminds us how crucial a single human breath can be. Flesh of a whisper. Seed of a scream.
Blackbird marks its tenth year with the introduction of a contributor index. Everyone who has written a signed piece for Blackbird now has a “landing” page in the index which links to their work, readings, and reviews. While we have also revamped our keyword search page as well as our archive page, the Blackbird index provides direct access, by contributor name, to the vast contents of the journal. There are over 690 contributors and over 2,000 entries indexed.