What Sparks Poetry

Other Arts

In our series Other Arts, we’ve invited poets to write about their experiences with other art forms and how those experiences have resulted in the making of poetry.

“Explore What Sparks Poetry” is made possible with funding from The Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Katie Peterson on “The Fire Map”

The fire map requires touching – on the best device, you can do everything with your fingertips, no keys necessary. I obligated myself to describe the experience of the map – but the poem surged underneath with resistance, digression, argument, frustration. I find this to be common with poems, which are like my favorite kind of children – give them a job to do, and they’d rather do anything else. But give them nothing to do, and they hate you. A poem ends up being equal parts what you must do and what you want to do, but in a way, with a proportion, inhabiting a mood you can’t predict.

Catch Up on Issues of What Sparks Poetry

In stripping away misapprehension and projection, this poem hopes to encounter the reality of the other, and of the otherness within. It’s a poem that begins by opening to the dark, and the force of that mystery persists, for me at least. Though the night is “dark / as the future,” the poem moves forward into it, into whatever it represents. We will never quite be able to say how those inscrutable experiences transform us, and yet they have come to me to seem poetry’s very source.

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Another generative bit of language emerged (and reproduced itself at different moments in the poem) when I found myself looking for a phrase to indicate the numerical “opposite” of one vote (“a flock of votes”? “a pride of votes”? “a murder of votes”?). The evocative collective nouns that have developed for groups of animals began leaping to mind and helped me punningly suggest a few ways that a large number of votes together might be understood, depending on one’s perspective.

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Make him come back, she said,
her voice like something brought up intact
from the cold center of a lake.

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Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi’s essential voice must be broadcast as widely as possible. Not just one of his own country’s most important living poets, he is also one of the African continent’s most indispensable voices today, and A Friend’s Kitchen is but one small gesture towards redressing the egregious absence of literature in translation from the African continent, while also championing an ancient but relatively unknown strand of Arabic-language poetry.

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Persona offered a path through the unimaginable. Throughout my first book, Theophanies, I wield persona to trace a foremother’s face in the dark—Sarah, Hajar, Eve, Maryam. I cannot know them, but in the absence of definitive knowledge, I can speculate. Through speculation, through the assumption of another’s voice, I can clarify my own. Using Sarah-as-foremother as a mouthpiece doesn’t reveal anything true about her. Rather, it illuminates my own inclinations, biases, and assumptions, long-obscured and buried. However frightening, however troubling. By braiding together multiple voices in a contrapuntal, I can better locate my own.

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Being with these buildings, studying them, touching the rough grains of the concrete—it changes something. I learned a new way of seeing. Surfaces stopped receding. I saw the textures, the way that buildings were made. I started looking at architecture, rather than through it. This is one thing poetry can do for you: it can teach you to look at the world again.

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I also knew that self-reflexivity is a mode thrust upon certain artists more than others, primarily those who are forced to constantly position themselves in response to the real and imagined ways that their identities are questioned and codified. Every Native writer I talk to fears being perceived as, or labeled, fraudulent. We all question whether, or how, we are enough. These fears lead, at best, to a care around identity and claim-laying, and, at worst, to a paralysis that constitutes self-colonization. Self-consciousness may be a first step to developing a more expansive, collective consciousness, but to sit in it too long only reifies the structures of governance.  

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In my “Eternity,” poetry attempts to overcome itself as language to arrive at language, using metaphor (as the prerequisite of that visual allegorical rendering of the body) not as trope, but as epistemology and ethics, a fleshy ethics and epistemology never abstracted from the corporeal.

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My father was a young man when we left the Philippines after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. He was in his twenties and had very little money. I should think that weighing the decision to break a five-dollar bill and buying junk food for his kid could and should expand our notion of what is of epic and heroic concern.

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Everything in this poem is true, or happened, or some things are, or would it be better to say they are real, remembered, factual, “the case”? I am troubled by the relationship between poetry and our world. Poems come to us from their world. They address us from behind a shimmering screen like aliens or hierophants. This is so, I think, even for poems that address lived experience (individual or communal) in a frank manner. If it weren’t, we could stick with personal essays.

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Supporting literary organizations like Poetry Dailyenables our literary environment—an environment in which poetry and culture, in which people from all walks of life, can thrive and grow.

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“What Keeps Us: A Community Poetry Reading in Response to Violence” is about bearing witness. Community members are invited to read aloud a poem from the collection below, which I have curated in collaboration with the Poetry Daily editorial review committee, or to sit in intentional silence.

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The sonnet is a device I often use, not necessarily as a formal frame but as a couplet structure to hold against my freewrite. This offers a scaffold toward something that can spread out on the page and take up space in the world.

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If stanza is taken in its literal translation, “room,” then the rhymed lines of a stanza in terza rima (1 & 3) might be imagined as forming that room’s walled enclosure while the middle line, barreling ahead into the next stanza, presents in turn something of a door—such that the poem figures a sequence of interconnected rooms, with doors that don’t quite open and don’t quite close.

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The asthmatic cough is a chorus, a repetition machine. One cough anticipates the next.

Having endured frequent lung imaging, the lung has emerged for me as a primary image. This poem began there: the lung as a bundle of cut flowers in a vase. Repetition and chiasmus allows me to defamiliarize, and even reject, that simple equivalency.

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