Photo by Caren Sturmer
I see at last that all the knowledge
I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.
Randall Jarrell, 90 North
Thematic issues in poetry are not my favorite, unless they are truly obscure or excruciatingly private, such as “Contracting an interspecific STD,” or “Those times I spoke to a lamppost I thought was God and might as well have been,” or my old favorite “Stepping on empty recyclables with pointy shoes.” But I agreed to go along with my colleagues (only for the money) and ran with the collective “dark” theme for a Halloween publication date in mind. Last year, we put out a non-themed issue around autumn, and I wrote about how the season is really the poet’s season of transition. Halloween doesn’t even scare you, unless you are a prudish evangelical. That was never the point. The point is change.
I suppose that is why I received so many poems under the current theme that were specifically about Halloween as an antiquated childhood remembrance, a sentimental lost time of innocent joy.
However, given that a broader “dark” theme is something to which nearly every poem ever written can be pinned, I did not think that it would disqualify poetry submissions, even of a general nature. It seems to me that poetry already encounters darkness as a foil or counter-pressure: darkness of loss, loss of vision, loss of hope, loss of creative impulse, loss of feeling. Other types of darkness snake around these ideas: darkness as obsession, of ostracism, of guilt and regret. The world in fact is full of violence. Often emptiness fills more space than the dry land of authentic being. Darkness is as ubiquitous as air. There are entire oceans of moral or ethical failures surrounding us, daily conscription to loneliness, privation, amazing chasms of solipsism and ego and avarice. All I’m saying is, one does not have to look very far to find darkness. It is called reality. Plain old unadorned pain and suffering. The secret of poetry, as Jon Anderson tells us, is cruelty.
And sure, there is other stuff too, modest victories, beatifications, alleviations, escapes. There is goodness and there is love. But come on, you would not even recognize those things if the constant mode was not a kind of meaningless free fall through life toward inevitable destruction.
I am not an editor who will tell you to read past issues in order to get an idea of what we publish. But you will not make it into this magazine unless you face a few things head on and refuse to shy away from the hard stuff called truth. I do not like rejecting people, but I am not really interested in linguistic acrobatics or cleverness. Writers who claim they walk around in constant amazement bother me. I am not interested in hearing what a good person you are or how you shepherd beauty for the rest of us. The regular and normal are disturbing to me. Write a relative about the successes of your garden, but save for your poems the stuff you should not or cannot tell anyone else. I crave honest expression and original delivery. Creativity, let’s remember, is disruption.
This issue, I have selected six poets to feature. Among them, the subjects addressed and tonal range is enormous. Yet it is tone more than subject that shades the darkness in these poems. According to Tony Hoagland, “tone shows the how of attachment: how the writer is connected to the words, and how the words are connected to the world.” That is the extra that I focused on to build this issue and it’s likely to shift again in the next issue. I have no intention of staying static as a reader or an editor. Now, let the dark power of these writers seep into your consciousness and pay special attention to the attitudes described herein.
Let the white wolf swallow / the sun. I no longer want / to see its light. Let the storm / shroud the world in glittering / snow. White is the color / of mourning.Dana Knott, “Mourning Routine”
This is the only cup spilled, the bowl that broke. / This is the dirt corner where my hollowed / children met the earth.Vinny Steed, “Canal Bank Hole”
No one is / more dignified than this stone.George Looney, “Abandoned Stone Cottage in the Hills Above Kinsale”
don’t let the poets fool you / you’re fighting / not playing the fucking piano.Will Stenberg, “Fritzie Zivic”
Not that it always matters / Or that always mattering always matters / Or that we don’t sort of live by erasuresR.W. Haynes, “Sweet Rage in Athens”
when she would / fold one end over to meet one corner to / another in a silent kiss he would be / wrapped in the sheet like a baby swaddled / the scarecrowDenver Butson, “Dream”