Photo by Michael Sweetman
From the editor’s desk
At the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba talked about the rise of automation and how we need to fundamentally change our schools to focus on those intangible human skills that separate us from machines. He was talking about soft skills, communication, empathy, creativity. His point is: There’s no use in learning things a robot can do more efficiently and with greater accuracy. And perhaps this is why in a world that has little appetite for poetry, some of us find it so essential, because, if machines can, they one day will replace us and take with them most of what we might understand to be our current value.
Take the labor out of the world, and what do we become but hedonists. However, I do not think I am attracted to poetry as I am attracted to pleasure. There is some endorphin response to the effort and process of creation, but I refuse such a qualifier, because I don’t think we are attracted to pleasure alone. Sure, there is a hedonism in scrolling news stories on my phone, but I would not call it pleasure either. If these news stories and notes on popular culture are addictive, it is because they help cultivate my robotic, consumer, soulless self, the part of me that does not explore, connect, or love, the central conflict inside each of us in the current culture. While, quite the opposite, in the poems I most value, there is something that reminds me that I am a human being and that I have a life that is slipping away, even as I read.
The slipping is important too. Much of the wonderment of poetry is based on our feeling of loss and discontentment. Whether the poem is overtly about loss is not the point. But it might be, at a deeper source, about beauty, a thing that is only truly felt as it passes us. And perhaps this is why lately, during my insomnia hours, I have taken to looking at YouTube videos of automated processes on factory floors. The triumph of mass production. Yet, it is not the hypnotic accomplishment of so many products being born and batched with lot numbers into the consumer world, it is that I am looking for the flaw, a bottle half-filled or the one with its label flapping, partially unglued or misplaced. I am looking for the error within the multitude that signifies an imperfection. And if I find it, this is my victory. For isn’t it the flaw in beauty that makes it recognizable? Plus, it reminds me that this is still a sloppy world, a human world in which the hero is not designed nor intentional but nevertheless here, among us and original. In other words, The real thing, as Coca-Cola might say.
And now a few moments from our current lineup of poets that make me feel, momentarily, less robotic.
Paul David Adkins: Willie Hunter and Prince Williams, / trapped in Brown’s Drug Store’s burning basement, / could be heard screaming eloquently / on the matter of Dresden.
Mike Bove: I should have / left alone the shoot of hay I found /
half chewed in his warm mouth.
Noah Davis: The woman whose memory / sags like heartwood in a dying / alder walks the tangled fence / line to the creek past the meadow / and calls her sisters’ names
Paul Lieber: You can see below the skin, / into the hollows. Stop and weep / a few moments and then return. / Return to the boy’s face / who looks like I did as a boy.
Nate Maxson: That you would attempt / To name the river like a singularity and not a motion / That you would attempt to assume a single name for Lethe
—Darren Morris, Poetry Editor