For June's Stanza Break, I shared the text of an event-specific essay poem with subscribers that was written in the form of a mini-lecture on poetics. The piece was meant to be ephemeral, shared with an intimate audience as part of a gathering celebrating the launch of my friend Kate Lucas's chapbook Heart of the Lonesome Galaxy (CutBank, 2023). At the time of the performance, I hadn't participated in many literary events since 2019 and in that time, I had thought a lot about the form of the poetry reading as a site of possibility. It was that thinking that led me to write the text.
In order to preserve the sense of the ephemeral, the piece was not included in the Stanza Break archive. Instead, in its place, I offer this brief meditation on Kate's chapbook.
The poems in Heart of the Lonesome Galaxy explore the very human experiences of grief, love, and hope. Several of the poems touch on the death of Kate's grandfather. "I do not remember ever learning that my grandfather died by suicide. It was always known, or known before the age that one had language to record it and process it with any critical distance," she writes in "The Coalsack Nebula." And in "Heart of Lonesome Galaxy Is Brimming with Dark Matter" she writes, "Of course it is. How could it be otherwise? [...] Those if us who have experienced the dense accumulation of absence do not doubt." These poems are about what can be seen as well as the gravity of the things that can't be seen or spoken, whether it's dark matter, the light from distant stars, or the people and places that are missing from our lives.
Many of the poems are inspired by NASA photographs seen, I believe, on NASA's Instagram account. In these poems, you can feel the moment of inspiration that triggers a train of thought, but you can also feel the moment that the thought begins to surprise even the writer of the poem. There's an undercurrent of unadorned wonder that we get to live in the universe along with these galaxies, nebulae, and stars. This sense of awe is made all the more potent by the grief and absence in the poems.
I feel lucky to write alongside Kate, and it was an honor to celebrate the launch of this chapbook with her. I look forward to celebrating a full-length collection in the future.