Issue 154, Spring 2000
Earlier this year a letter was sent to a number of the poets who have contributed to this magazine. It said in part, "We thought it would be an interesting exercise (perhaps a welcome relief from serious work) to see what esteemed and established poets would come up with given a specific title from which to work-very much the same sort of task that poet laureates have had to perform . .. any form of verse is urged-no rules. "
The editors picked eight titles, drawn from films, classic poems and flights of imagination:
The English Are so Nice!
An Empty Surfboard on a Flat Sea
Lines to Seduce a Stranger an Hour Before the Ship Sails
Upon Julia's Breasts
A Lavatory in a Cathedral
Predictably enough, a few poets sent back return postcards voicing dismay ("frivolous"), others with regret they couldn't comply ("delicious idea but I'm overwhelmed"). David Wagoner wrote that his first reaction was "I don't want to do anything like that. And the next day, I wrote the poem. " Charles Wright got cam'ed away, wrote two, but upon working on the third (Upon Julia's Breasts) wrote that "when the first line, 'Whose tits these are I think I know' came tumbling out of my mouth, I reached for the envelope to enclose the two I had already written, deciding judiciously to rest upon my laurels. "Seamus Heaney made us feel as if we had actually offered a service: "It so happened," he wrote, "that something floating to the surface found its proper title. " We couldn't feel more honored! Perhaps the most enthusiastic entry turned out to be Albert Goldbarth 's in which he combined all the titles in one poem. It concludes the pack . . .
of cloud dispute
the sky of late afternoon,
the going sun suspended
before it drops behind the horizon
and leaves darkness to debate
whether these predatory shapes
are there still hanging in the black air
as the cold bright stars of Sagittarius
climb glittering and disclose
the prospect of their voyages, an invitation
to a freshly minted moon
to edge its way
towards the galaxy
until it stands mid-sky to show
the place where that unmappable murk
hung below and now not one
of those drifting saurians remains
beneath the high clear chart
stretched between earth and zenith.