I’m not sure this is completely finalized, but I can’t keep the lid on this. We have a cover for The Elegy Beta!
As I think I mentioned in my last, I couldn’t be more pleased. The image of the fighter jet was made by the artist David Wittig with whom I’ve been discussing these poems for the last ten years. His work is the perfect compliment to these poems not only because they give a sense of terror, beauty, weightlessness, and balance, striking the pose effortlessly that I strive and fall over myself for in this collection, but because in a sense, we made these together. I’d finish one and send it to him; he’d make a group of photographs in response to it, which would usually provide the interpretive angle I needed to approach the next one, and so on. Sometimes, he’d send me an image of a woman on a beach and I’d think aha! That’s what the Sixth Elegy means!
The design itself is by Tom Martin, more inspiring, stunning examples of whose work can be found here.
The book has had seven readers so far, by my count–the editors and the people writing blurbs mostly. One of them, having finished, asked me how I made these poems. (Btw, I love answering readers’ questions about poetry. If you ever have one about a line or an image in something I’ve written, feel free to ask). I answer.
The elegies began for me (checks notes) on a solo writing retreat in Sept 2010 in this cabin on Orcas Island.
I had just read Pope John Paul’s “Letter to Artists” and in response wanted to try to make something that aims higher than my usual cracking wise, something that answered the holy call he laid out, if that isn’t too much to say, as distinct from the wry, hip lyrics I’d been doing for awhile at that point. It wasn’t about their reception, but about register. What would an epic about angels even sound like in a late-modern context? Would such a project, you know, fly?
Perhaps I’d spent too much time reading Victorian epics (my scholarly forte) Does that make sense? To write something earnest, serious, without all the post-modern qualifications around it. Anyway, I’d been reading Rilke and had translated (traditionally, more or less) some pieces of his and I wrote the first elegy, thinking it was a one-off.
A year passed before I tried another. They didn’t come in order. I believe I started with 3, then moved to 6, then 10. After awhile, I started to be so moved by them myself (I hope it doesn’t sound egotistical to say this; I feel art is a gift, one that one must be responsible with, but that one is only marginally responsible for) that the whole thing started to feel like a high-wire act. I wanted to do justice to these pretty things without ruining the effect and so sought to qualify myself to write the next one. I’d spend 3-5 months practicing little bits of them, or practicing other tonally prophetic utterances (much re-worked of St. Issac of Syria), so that I’d be capable of writing the next one when the right angle/idea/method of approach came to me.
So it went for most of the decade. I finished the series in 2018, averaging 1 per year. John Berryman said the long poem “takes between five and ten years;” in this case, he’s was spot on. And you can read this one 🙌 –and the rest of the poems in this new collection– on the release day:
I’ll send out pre-order information and invitations to fabulous launch parties 💃 when I have the details.
Meanwhile, which is to say, while you have your calendars out, take note of the following:
Monday, February 24, 7pm
At Folio: the Seattle Atheneum (a beautiful, hidden, private library above Pike Place Market) I’ll be hosting a conversation about art-making and tradition, belief and epistemology with the following presenters as part of a new series.
The library is normally closed to non-members, but all are welcome for this special evening of presentation and dialogue about how diverse traditions approach the liminal.
Friday, March 6th, 6pm
I’ll be reading poems from the new volume (and may even have early-release copies for sale) at the Art Party for this event where you can also hear from Scott Erickson, Leroy Barber, Peter Moe, and music by Liz Vice–whose record There is a Light was on my bestof 2017 list.