Volume 109, Number 3/4

Volume 109, Number 3/4

pl10934-lg I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!
—Paul Laurence Dunbar

Cover Caption: “Portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar, ca. 1890–1900.” Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

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Editors’ Page

A formal portrait, like that of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar on our cover, is both fixed and open to interpretation. However still, it suggests the lively context of its making: not only the moment and setting but the circumstances, too. Why was the portrait taken and by whom? How did this American original see himself? How did he wish to be seen?

Capturing the essence of a face, a figure, is no easy task; but capturing the essence of a writer’s gifts is harder still. In 1897, when Dunbar was 25, Poet Lore reviewed his work with bold incisiveness, finding in him “the spirit of the present”—bohemian, democratic, cosmopolitan—while other critics riveted attention on his dialect poems. In this special issue, scholar Melissa Girard explores the journal’s progressive editorial culture (“Who’s for the Road?”), reminding us that the challenge even now is to offer a vivid, if inherently unstable, portrait of new writing: to read without distraction, ignoring the noise and fashions that surround us.

Helen Clarke and Charlotte Porter founded Poet Lore with the conviction that great literature can enlighten as well as enchant. Seeking the universal in the luminous particular, they introduced Americans to new writing from around the world. In a 1966 overview of the magazine’s beginnings, Melvin Bernstein described their inclusiveness: “Just as without argument [Poet Lore] published Russian literature in a decade of mounting Red fear, so in the same decade of anti-immigrant feeling, 100 per cent Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Negroism, it published work on and by Yiddish writers, work on and by Negro writers.

Having edited this journal for a tenth of its long run, we recommit ourselves to their principles: openness, inclusiveness, depth, and authenticity. Believing poetry enacts what other texts can only describe, we’ll continue to read each week in search of language that isn’t merely “of” and “for” our moment but might outlast it. We’ll expand on Poet Lore’s historic interest in translation through our “World Poets in Translation” feature, extending its reach to Africa, the Far East, and beyond.

We can’t say what poetry provides—what meaning, what music—but we can show you. We open this issue with a chorus of poems on race (from harrowing reportage to meditations on labor, folklore, marriage), each voice, each “argument” distinct in tone and timbre. What drives the singing? Maybe it’s what Cornelius Eady calls, in a poem about another kind of song, “love’s unstoppable fuse.”



Joseph Zaccardi
On the Outskirts

Henry J. Morro
Mississippi Summer, 1948

Joseph Ross
When Your Word is a Match

Joseph Ross
Eighteen Years

Lisa Hartz
Girl with a Bow

J.D. Ledbetter
red ribbons

John Drury
New Song of the South

Karl Carter
Life Line

Mya Green

Cornelius Eady
Otis Redding, being Pulled from Lake Monona

Terrance Hayes
How to Be Drawn to Trouble

Gary Fincke
Song and Dance

Carmen Germain
Coming Home, 1945

Daniel Donaghy

Matthew Wimberley
At Sundown, One Story Left Along the Haw River

Steven Winn
Fashion Statement

Gary Hanna
Slipping By

John Bargowski
My Mother’s Toothbrushes

Brandel France de Bravo
Tepoztlán, Mexico

Sue Ellen Thompson

Chana Bloch
In Extremis

Catherine Morocco
The Coffin

Emily Card

Michael Goldman
The Cold

Glenn Pape
Teaching the Children to Be Lost

Jessica Shipley
The Plane

Jayne Benjulian
My Daughter   When She Sleeps

Tim Mayo
The Trucker’s Tale

Martin Galvin
Fingering a Way to Count

C.C. Reid

Chanel Brenner
Into the Schoolyard

David Bart

Peter Leight

Peter Leight
The Gate of the  World

Leslie Ullman
[from Ends-of-Day: a Crown of Meditations] -Time

Leslie Ullman
[from Ends-of-Day: a Crown of Meditations]—Wasted

Leslie Ullman
[from Ends-of-Day: a Crown of Meditations]—Keeping One Step Ahead

Chase Twichell
Radio Silence

Chase Twichell
Nan’s Stick

Jeremy Voigt
Then My Human Heart

Doug Ramspeck
Speaking in Tongues

Doug Ramspeck
Bodhi Tree

Susan Cohen
To My Breath

Susan Cohen

Randolph Pfaff

Suzanne Roszak
Origin Story

Cindy Veach
Pleasure Island

Fred Shaw

Fred Shaw
Scraping Away

Tresha Faye Haefner
We Drove Up to Malibu to Save Our Relationship

Alice Notley
The Nothing

Alice Notley
I’m Putting on My Battle Helmet

Missy-Marie Montgomery
The Bridges We Burn

Jeff Friedman
Hold Your Horses

Marge Piercy
The fifth storm

Dallas Crow
Portrait of My Friend Betty as a Deer Foraging in Her Own Back Yard

Melva Sue Priddy
Spring Equinox

Naomi Ayala

Daniel Bourne
Rain, Then Sleep

Oliver Rice
Occurrences at Gallery Anton

Barbara Crooker
Espagnole: Harmonie en Bleu, 1923

Karen Hildebrand
Two Figures in a Landscape

David Salner
Stag at Sharkey’s

Jessica Jacobs
Early Abstraction

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan
River Pig

Franke Varca
Inviting the Guest Inside

Franke Varca
Cutting Newspaper Obituaries, Finding the Balloon, Jupiter

Franke Varca
Armor and Fever

Linda McCarriston

Linda McCarriston

Melissa Scholes Young
Love Motel

Dara Barnat
Clean Sheets

Nora Hutton Shepard
Changing the Dead Man’s Sheets

Rachel Heimowitz
Life Lessons

Frannie Lindsay

Traci Brimhall
The Old Miracles Return on Victoria Cruziana

Traci Brimhall
The Fate of Maria José da Cruz’s Seven Faiths

Traci Brimhall
Belterra Exodus

Ellen Bass
Not Dead Yet



Introduction by Jean Nordhaus

Melissa Girard “‘Who’s for the Road?’: Poet Lore, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the Open Road of 19th-Century American Poetry”

Joan Hua “Without Borders: Poet Lore’s Early Attention to World Literature in Translation”

Megan Foley “Lovers: A Tribute to Poet Lore’s Founders”

Bruce Weigl “Learning to Hear the Spirits Rumble: My Four Years with Poet Lore

Rod Jellema “Finding the Undercurrent: Three Reflections on the Reading, Writing, and Teaching of Poetry”