From mid-2019 to fall of 2020 I received a slew of letters to Big Bang Poetry. But I'm terrible at responding in a timely manner. So don't come here looking for help on a class assignment that's due tomorrow morning is all I'm saying. But I love getting letters and I'll try to respond here eventually.
(1) In August 2019 a name named Pieter from the Netherlands wrote this:
“For one of our clients I am currently working on a magazine which will be distributed in an amount of 1000 copies among their business relations. I would like to publish your poem ‘Writing Poems 9 to 5’ as part of a spread with a background image of Windows 10. I like your poem as being kind of a meta description of poetry and it fits good with the image thanks to your reference to Microsoft: “Microsoft changed everything with their windows.”
This was the poem from NaPoWriMo 2019:
Writing Poems 9 to 5
My first job was data entry, with all those awful numbers.
The next ones were flush with time and words were incalculable,
floating out of copiers and stenographers. I hand-wrote them then
in-between walking memos to real, plastic inboxes.
Microsoft changed everything with their windows
in which I could type out my poems. After all,
writing poems looks awfully similar to working.
And instead of office supplies, I began to steal time.
I snuck words in through open windows,
met them in small storage rooms, had conferences
with them at lunch. I sat in ergonomic chairs
while they reclined on the yellow, lined paper.
Sometimes I had to cajole them.
Sometimes they were team players.
Sometimes they were only wanting to gossip.
Sometimes they came out of the mouths of people
standing unawares in front of my desk. Sometimes
they didn’t show up to work, but I couldn’t fire them.
They liked to be fussed over, rearranged.
They wanted to be knit and spaced.
All they wanted was my attention.
And they must have known I would never give them up
for all the money. Because at the end of the day,
when they took their leave, it always sounded good.
We came to a nominal monetary agreement but then I never heard back so I'm guessing the client didn’t like the poem as much as Pieter did. Wah wah.
(2) In August 2020 a woman named Angelica wrote:
“Hello, I’m doing a research project for school on the influence of cognitive biases on business decision making and one of the sources I need is a poem. I read your poem Irrational escalation and I feel it incorporates my topic. I understood the first stanza; however, I wasn’t too clear about how to interpret the rest. I was wondering if you have the time to explain it to me. Thank you! From a highschool student in need to pass her AP Seminar class.”
This was the poem from NaPoWriMo 2015:
30 Poems About Suffering: Irrational Escalation
The phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong. Also known as the sunk cost fallacy.
The Donner Party refusing to stay put,
Mark Twain’s four million dollar investment
in the Paige Compositor, an early automatic
typesetting machine, Paige taking Twain’s money
for 14 years while other machines prevailed.
A project of biases like this.
It is the broken heart bias, the grit bias.
Tenacity like a tin ear. The fellow who completes
what he has, dammit, set out for.
Does it take decades anymore? Months across
the mountain pass? A lie you tell yourself
as fast as a tweet?
In times like these a robot could grab it—
your timely mistake and capitalize
your catastrophes . No leak. No hack.
No time to adjust to fortune’s funny ironies.
What happens too fast, what happens slow and long—
there’s always a spot of space to stop for,
time to consider time itself in your hand
with its diamond faces. What are you doing
and should you not pivot slightly to the side?
I love the idea that a business class might be requiring poetry research. My response: "I'll try to explain it with some questions...
The first stanza is just examples of historical people who have refused to give up no matter how dire the situation.
“I found your short poem The Bosque online and really connected with it. I’m making a short film about the Bosque for my capstone documentary class at Santa Fe Community College and was wondering if I could use your poem in the film. I think it will be a really good fit for what I’m trying to capture. Of course I would credit you.”
Here's the poem from NaPoWriMo 2014:
30 Poems About Language : The Bosque
Not the fog of memory,
the fog of a fugitive concentration.
Letting go of the handrail
and wandering in the bosque.
There is no memory there.
How exciting! I said okay and asked to see the film when it was done. He showed me an early cut and my parents and I were able to watch it together in Cleveland. If the film ever becomes public, I'll post the link here. The photo above is from the National Geographic article on the Rio Grande Bosque.
"I’m reading Paul Celan. I came across this poem and I need an expert’s take on what it could possibly mean. I have my own…impression but I want to flesh it out. The poem is:
'Each arrow you loose is accompanied by the sent-along target into the unerringly-secret tumult.'”
This was a fascinating question and typical enigmatic poem for Celan, made even more fascinating by the fact that I found multiple alternate translations online. This question even inspired me to read one of the collected translations.
To me the particular translation above seems to be about how the object of your desire(s) can get tangled up into the chaos of your affections.
But some versions didn’t seem as negative in connotation. So I tracked down the original German poem and found a native German speaker to provide a literal translation. My friend Julie hooked me up with her friend Heike's husband Joe who said,
"I went a bit more literally:
'Every arrow that you send its way accompanies the shooting target into the undeviating, secret scrimmage.'
To me that describes a situation, like in ancient times, where archers sent the arrows in the air targeting someone, but it could hit anything in a certain unknown range where the arrow went."
Totally different than my interpretation. Interestingly Paul Celan was the subject of a recent New Yorker article in November 2020, “How Paul Celan Reconceived Language for the Post-Holocaust World.” Turns out this is the 50-year anniversary of his death.
In the article they quote Celan talking about the “thousand darknesses of murderous speech” (which is timely since which we are living through murderous speech again from neo-fascists and QAnon. Examples include the rally cry “death to democrats” and the threats of beheadings against public servants who disagree with their dear leader.
Both of Celan's parents were murdered during the Holocaust and Celan spent his career dealing with the atrocities committed by the Nazis in a language “sullied by Nazi propaganda, hate speech and euphemism.” Sound familiar?
Hans Egon Hothusen, a former S. S. officer who became a critic for a German literary magazine, called Celan's famous poem "[Deathfugue]" "a Surrealist fantasia” which was both a denial of Celan's own experience and humanity, spoken by a residual Nazi attempting to control the narrative. Even after the war ended, Celan was still trolled by anti-semites.
"I was very drawn to one of the poems I read on your website because it seems eerily similar to how I view American leadership the last 4 years. It begins with “you mistake me.” The poem doesn’t seem to have an author, title or date. Is this something you wrote? Can you provide any info at all?
My response: That verse you indicated is part of a long poem called "Listen to the People" by Stephen Vincent Benet (from 1941). He's a great lost poet from the 1930s and 40s. The poem was so long I couldn't quote all of it so the ellipses (...) between the verses indicates there is text in-between which was not quoted. Here is a link to the full piece: https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/listen-people