Mark Leidner weaponizes the deadpan tone of a defeated world to reclaim that classically Romantic thing: the Sublime. Weaponizes like the weapon is a water gun; reclaims like he’s won a water gun contest and the reward is the end of global warming. In Returning the Sword to the Stone, Mark isolates the scenes of absurdity that string our inner lives together while gesturing toward the authenticities still available to us at this late date, this deeply stupid, cynical, and sentimental moment in history. Reading this collection was re-invigorating and a reminder that the opposite of stupidity is not intelligence but love.

 

Mark is a generous, wise, and witty writer. This interview was conducted by email.

 

While reading these poems, I was reminded of the D W Winnicott line where he says flippancy is a reaction to despair. What do you think is the relationship between that attitude and that feeling in your work? Does playfulness exist in concert with futility/frustration, or is it something purer and more simply fun?

 

I try to pair flippancy with something else — some other kind of seriousness, a lyricism, a formal constraint — to create tension. My favorite poetry is flippant yet not, playful yet ferocious, silly but provocative. Such conflicts are also the way I feel most of the time: despairing yet ready to laugh, contemptful yet looking to show mercy, skeptical but hoping to be naïve, etc.

 

Following on that, what or who is the contempt directed toward? The idealism here seems to be connected to love – the marveling at your subject who recites “Having a Coke with You” is one of the most moving invocations of love I’ve read in a long time. I love how that poem lifts off. Do you feel idealistic about love and love for writing? Or, why was it important to you to write a love poem where what you love is how much someone loves something else and loves sharing that something else with someone else?

 

I try to reserve the majority of my contempt for my own greed, vanity, and pettiness, but it often sprawls into contempt for the same qualities in others or the culture generally. While I’m idealistic about love and writing most of the time, that idealism is freighted with contempt for the deluding character of love and poetry. I usually feel satisfied with a poem’s honesty about poetry if it has at least little of both of these impulses in it.

 

In “Having a Coke with You,” I was recording a real-life event that spontaneously happened, so I didn’t think too much about underlying whys. In retrospect, it makes sense that I’d want to write this poem and put it in the book because it does present an ideal of love I believe in. Loving someone or something outside yourself is one way to escape the claustrophobia of exclusive self-regard. Loving someone outside yourself who in turn loves something outside themselves — poetry in this case, or a way of relating to it — seems like a more liberating extension of that transcendent space.

 

Transcendence calls to mind the moments of almost gleeful resignation in the collection: in the title poem, returning the sword to the stone (in all its forms) seems to indicate some abdication of expectation that sets you free. Is this act of playfully loving your limits (Sisyphus licking the stone) the same as humility?

 

We all face limitations we have no control over, mortality being the main one. I think learning to accept limitations, and possibly even to love them, is one pinnacle of wisdom. There is that Eliot line from the Four Quartets: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” Someone quoted it to me once, and I often return to it. In Returning the Sword to the Stone I wanted to explore it.

 

The Big Bang Never Happened

 

Turtle shells and yarrow stalks became Chinese
tools of divination. Metagalaxy and antimatter
appeared in books. Mom said I get upset
because I think too much. Everything is spinning.
Cities torture trees. Suburbs farm powerlines.
Cats and birds are always cleaning themselves.
The universe is bigger and older than we thought.
Two galaxies can collide with no star collisions.
Mom said the less we think the happier we’ll become.
Little gifts from her made me cry years later.
All my prior selves seem unconscious later on.
Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies is an American book.

 


artwork by Tao Lin

 

Below are five poems from Will Stanier’s chapbook Everything Happens Next, forthcoming from blue arrangements. Preorder a copy of the chapbook right here. (Preorders come with a special surprise.)

 

 

Parade

 

     sitting wasting time
thereby seize it
      sounds
so aggressive. 

 

     hear actors rehearse
clunky dialogue,
          feet sweaty in flannel lining, look up
and there’s the sky again. 

 

I’m glad not to be sick
     after drinking too much,
           to be without hermeneutics,
     whatever those are. 

 

a man walks by rolling a double bass
                  on a single wheel.
my friend walks by talking on the phone,
     red tassels bouncing
           at the cuffs of her jeans. 

 

     three watermelon lozenges
turn my tongue sugary pink.
      I see a beautiful woman,
             I see a lot of people. 

 

 

◊ ◊ ◊

 

 

Murmurs

 

what in the dream has eight
corners?     I don’t know!

 

pinhole camera of my hand, fingers splayed against
the sky   swarming, blushing   in edges and inlets

 

“funny the oneiric specters, like I was
supposed to know about things I didn’t . . .”

 

near the trestle bridge made famous
as regular people out for a walk refused to be our project.

Two Poems

By Phoebe VanDusen

Poetry

 

Night Terrors as Self-portrait 

 

Tonight, I am your commercial
daughter, no swallow just bite
and smile. You see, this bed
is my cacophony, my nothing,
my halves, my faithful herd
dog, my white flag of surrender,
my thrash for help. This is where
you can tell I am fractured.
I’m ashamed of all my shame
I try to make sense of my sins,
of my cervix, I throw a service
for my ex-lovers. I dress them
in shrouds of toothbrushes and guilt.
I force them to compliment my body
of written work. Inside my humid
head, I am as lonely as a tyrant, irate
aiming for the jugular. I slice all mangos,
lace, and air. I fuck the faceless
goblin in the gothic attic, overcome
I weep above his dead green
body, and then I say hello!
Hello, sack of talking peeled grapes!
Hello, my rapist!
Hello, lobster devouring my boss’s head!
Hello, celebrity I can’t quite place!
Hello, woman who broke my heart!
What you have all heard is true, I am not
a good person but I know that I could be
a fantastic goat.

Three Poems

By Devon Welsh

Poetry

 

 

Bongos

 

for mama

 

chemtrails made the sky a crossword
and the day was chillier than yesterday

 

I played the bongos at your grave
to say thanks for the music

 

imagining a child doing fortnite dances
in the new grass on the hole you lay in

 

I would have been that kid
if I had been born in 2008

 

too old to be an Obama baby
too childish to have a baby.

 

I’d heard they’d have the cure for cancer
by the time I got cancer

 

which could be true,
but not for you.

 

(this isn’t how he really died
he was cremated

 

in LA and it was hot outside
and I wasn’t even there)

4 poems

By Elizabeth Ellen

Poetry

 

for garielle lutz

 

(the) Conjuring

 

As a new hobby, I think about sabotaging our relationship. I think about this a lot while we’re at Home Depot looking at Christmas lights.

“If we ended it right now, think about how good it would end,” I say.

You look at me funny when I say this. We are each buying a new Dustbuster, tho for some reason yours costs twenty dollars more than mine.

“I don’t get you, baby, why would you say shit like that?” you say, your mask under your nose. “If you want to break up with me, just do it; get it over with.”

But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

 

I spend another twenty minutes after dinner fantasizing about ending things. You come in from smoking and playing video games on my front porch and I’m crying and crying. I thought you’d left.

“I’m just so tired,” I say. I am apologetic. (I am your baby, your baby girl.)

 

I hide my eyes with your hands. An hour ago you wanted me to dominate you. Thigh highs, cock ring, handcuffs. You can’t get more All-American than that.

 

When you come inside me you say: shit, goddamn, fuck.
When you come inside I say, “We better break up now,” and I am crying and crying.

Because poets tend to live as outsiders, poetry communities can be a vital part of our lives and an essential part of American poetics. My questions relate to poetry communities I have known.

How did you get introduced to the world of poetry?

When I was young, a friend introduced me to the poets that gathered around St. Mark’s Church in New York City during the 60’s and 70’s – Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Ed Sanders, etc. Nothing in my sheltered life prepared me for the life of the poets on the Lower East Side. America loves its outlaws and the poets of the Lower East Side were poetry outlaws. They did not have regular jobs. They chose not to be plugged into the mainstream American life. They were not university professors or even teachers. They lived in 4th or 5th floor walkup apartments with bathtubs in the kitchen. They had almost no furniture, slept on mattresses on the floor. They lived outside of any American life that I knew anything about. When I read poems and books with such titles as “Bean Spasms”, “Things to do in Providence,” or “Great Balls of Fire.” I thought What is this and who would name a magazine “Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts”? What are they doing?

Poet’s Work

By Phoebe MacAdams

Poem

For Lewis MacAdams

This morning the birds
ate most of the black sunflower seeds.
I fill up the feeder,
watch squirrels on the grass
look at asparagus fern in the garden
and read old poems.
I move from room to room,
think about my mother, my sister.
I sit quietly for a long time
then mail letters and observe the hummingbird.

About Ocean

By Eleanore Lee

Poem

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…
—I Corinthians 12:13

I’ll try to explain.
First you immerse.
Okay, go ahead.
There’s water all around.
You’re suddenly submerged
In meaning.
Next, let go. Start slow.
Float.
Simply stretch straight out, face down.
Flippers if you have them help.
Occasional gentle foot movements
And you shoot forward.
You can peer up, lift your mask and see
The green rim of distant coast.
(But we’re not doing that now.)

Okay, poet, what’s your favorite word in English. And why.

Cusp.
It’s a meeting place. It’s undefined, flexible, mysterious.
I like the variety of sounds. The hard kah. How the sexy  s  kisses the  p.

Daddy

By Michael Montlack

Poem

They say it unabashedly.

Sometimes a twenty-something,
half my size, will lean across the bar
to touch my leg. Hey, Daddy,
he says, can I buy you a beer?

Others in their late thirties
or mid-forties, some even
older than me. And still they
say it. In hushed baby talk.
Or a taunting whisper.
Part plea, part demand.
A bratty whine. Usually
punctuated with a hungry sigh
when I take off my belt.

Pulling Bastard

By Kelly Gray

Poem

Come here, monster child. I lead weary. I take your hand and look at your knees. Your ankles with flea bites, your eyes cocked.

Come here, monster child, I see you in me, give me your palm. We lick piss into prayer. We lick like our hearts are made of milk. We lick like three is infinity, but we know that it was only ever:
not like that, not like this, put that down.

 

SNOWFLAKE POEM

 

Stay around on a boat

           O viscous boat of nacho cheese

 Even      the mist is soggy

                                 Refrito pillow thumbprint

Horny rain, refrain

She watched but didn’t kill it

(the roach)

A lanyard in the aisle, invitation to the wedding

              Persistent helicopter boyfriend

Tall drink boyfriend

 

Turkey club boyfriend

 

Tall drink boyfriend

              Persistent helicopter boyfriend

A lanyard in the aisle, invitation to the wedding

(the roach)

She watched but didn’t kill it

Horny rain, refrain

                                 Refrito pillow thumbprint

 Even      the mist is soggy

           O viscous boat of nacho cheese

Stay around on a boat

Photograph by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Tell us about Christopher Theofanidis’ musical composition Conference of the Birds and Aṭṭār’s long allegorical poem The Conference of the Birds, both of which are the inspiration for your new chapbook, Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings.

 The Conference of the Birds, the 12th Century Sufi allegorical poem, was written by Persian master poet Aṭṭār, and tells the story of the seeker’s journey towards God, and, therefore, towards the evolution of self through understanding and connection. In Aṭṭār’s Conference, all the birds of the world convene and determine that they need a ruler and that they will make a pilgrimage to the distant land of the mythic and divine bird, Simorgh. The journey to this faraway land leads the birds through seven valleys of understanding, the first of which requires the birds to cast off all the preconceived ideas and dogma in their thinking, and the final of which requires annihilation of the self in order to attain complete communion with the divine. Beginning with the discord and lack of purpose of the birds and culminating in the discovery that they are all individually and together Simorgh, The Conference of the Birds is a timeless model of transforming confusion and lack of unity into the realization of harmony.

Theofanidis’ piece, released in 2018, is inspired by Aṭṭār’s Conference and traces the metaphoric journey of the birds in seven short character pieces, each lasting between 1 and 3 minutes, and each focusing on a highly defined musical personality evoked by the corresponding valley. As he says in the introduction, “Much of the string writing is inspired by the flocking movement of birds; that is, there is a ‘group logic’—a kind of unity of movement and purpose in which all the parts are highly interdependent.”