What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we’ve asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

Heather Green on Dan Beachy-Quick’s Stone-Garland

Dan Beachy-Quick presents an inspired and intricately-constructed collection of ancient poetry and contemporary commentary in his recent volume Stone-Garland: Six Poets From the Greek Lyric Tradition. In the front matter, Beachy-Quick excavates, in lyrical prose, what it means to look back, as a poet-translator and scholiast, a commentator on the ancient past, and wander an imagined graveyard of long-dead poets while “gathering flowers,” as the etymology, from Greek, of anthology, would suggest. Digging below the Greek words for “hero” and “love,” Beachy-Quick unearths, via Socrates, a common antecedent meaning: “to disappear into one’s own harm,” later remarking: “It is not enough to learn the words; one must learn from them.”

In the six sections, Beachy-Quick introduces each poet, then “sings another’s song” through his translations, reifying each speaker’s preoccupations, whether love or lust, revenge or financial ruin, aesthetic wonder or the transience of life. Throughout the book, we find all manner of fragments: poems torn in half, lines cut short mid-word, and other poems, according to Beachy-Quick, assembled from various incomplete texts, “held together not by fact, but by resonance.” In Anacreon’s case, several poems are assembled from various sources, including poems written “in the author’s voice” centuries after his death. The final poem of each section is a sepulchral epigram, an epitaph composed either by the poet himself or by a contemporary or acolyte, which Beachy-Quick, in keeping with the metaphor of gathering flowers in a cemetery, presents as “a gravestone complete.”

Some of the most dazzling verse appears near the end of the volume, among selections by Alcman, a poet “born around 680 BCE,” rumored to have learned the art of poetry from nightingales and partridges, and Callimachus, born almost four centuries later and thought to have served as head librarian of the Great Library in Alexandria. Alcman’s brief poem, “On Tantalus,” could be an analog for the way a translator works across vast expanses of time:

    Among pleasing things he sat, the sinner,
    under a rock, seeing nothing, imagining all.

And Callimachus writes, in an elegy for Heracleitus, lines that resonate with Beachy-Quick’s enchanting, death-defying project:

    Your nightingales still live—and that thief Hades, who steals
      will not take those birds in his hands and throw them down.

Writing Prompt

Write a poem that is “after” a poem in another language written at least one hundred years ago. If you know the original language, do a loose translation, digressing where you want. If you don’t know the original language, look at a variety of translations, and start writing with the understanding you receive from that selection. Include an object in your poem that could only be found in the last fifty years.

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Heather Green

Heather Green

Heather Green is the author of No Other Rome (Akron Poetry Series). Her poems have appeared in Bennington ReviewDenver Quarterly, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is the translator of Tristan Tzara’s Noontimes Won (Octopus Books) and Guide to the Heart Rail (Goodmorning Menagerie). Her translations of Tzara’s work have appeared in AsymptotePloughsharesPoetry International, and several anthologies. She is an Assistant Professor in the School of Art at George Mason University and is a faculty member of the Cedar Crest Pan-European MFA in Creative Writing. More at https://www.heather-green.com/