While gently (read: aggressively) extolling the virtues of Adult to Colin, who had already paged through the magazine, I finally hit on the reason that I’m so enthusiastic about this publication: “It’s not just the c#!@$—there is some great writing and art in here, too!” Which, to be fair, has been used as (unnecessary) justification for erotica since the dawn of Playboy. But truly, I urge you to see for yourself.
If every poem really is a love poem (in some kind of clothing), then a true love poem has to be ever heedless and heartlong. Put it all out there. This is not about endearment or adoration. This is about the deep down, the I-can’t-get-you-out-of-my-head part. This is something beyond the normal, and so beyond the usual patterns of speech, cliché, platitude. Like an act of love the poem must fling itself open. And like love you must throw yourself, whole, into it. Write your love poem as if it was the last thing you were going to ever say.
(And if you’re stuck with the white page, begin with the mouth. That’s usually where we all want to begin anyway, no?)
Sophie Cabot Black’s first poetry collection, The Misunderstanding of Nature (Graywolf, 1994), received the Norma Farber Book Award from the Poetry Society of America; her second, The Descent (2004), received the 2005 Connecticut Book Award and was subsequently chosen as a hot pick on MSNBC’s program Topic A With Tina Brown. Carol Muske-Dukes called The Exchange (2013) “Black’s best and most eloquent book to date.” She has been awarded several fellowships, including at the Fine Arts Work Center, Macdowell Colony, and the Radcliffe Institute. She currently teaches at Columbia University. Hear more at sophiecabotblack.com
In my experience it seems that every time an adult recommends a children’s book they do so with the unspoken good fortune of not having actually suffered through one. Or, to put it another way, adults—generally—talk about children’s books the way servers talk about menu items: with seething remove. We at Common Good Books believe there’s no such thing as reading from a distance. Shooting off fireworks? Sure. Participating in ice-sports? Maybe. Depends on what you mean by participating. The point is, no matter what the book or who its intended audience, you’re either in or out. And we are definitely into our favorite selections from The New York Review Children’s Collection. Short on morals; not big on answers, either. Just like life. But with better drawings.
"Mud Puddle Soup: Find a mud puddle after a rainstorm and seat your dolls around it. Serve."
"His father came into the breakfast room. "Goodnight, Pa," the little boy said to him. His father stood and looked at him. "Goodnight," he said.
"Never mind," said the little boy. "I’ll grow bigger and bigger and when I grow up I will ride on an elephant." Also available by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, Ola.
"I am NOT thinking about a walrus with an apple on his back."
"And if someone tells you something you don’t believe, look at him steadily and say FIRKYDOODLE, FUDGE or QUOZ.”
It is sometimes said that love is the only true subject of poetry. It is our highest function as a species—to love—and so we are changed by it. My advice is to write what you think of as the saddest lines first, and then go much farther, like a sparrow flying through a tunnel.
Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956 and raised in Virginia. He has published eight collections of poetry, including Middle Earth (FSG, 2004) which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He has received many awards for his work, including the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Lenore Marshall Award. His most recent collection is Touch (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011). He teaches at Ohio State University, is poetry editor of The New Republic, and lives in Boston. Find poems, articles and more at henricole.com.
Nick Lantz is a poet, playwright and author of We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (Graywolf Press, 2010), The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010) and How to Dance as the Roof Caves In (Graywolf Press, 2014). He currently teaches in the MFA program at Sam Houston State University, where he is the poetry editor of the Texas Review. For more information about Nick Lantz’s books and plays, visit nick-lantz.com
CGB: What made you decide to fit (and how did you fit) the “How to…“ format into a collection of poems?
NL: I can’t now remember how I landed on the site, but I found an online collection of user-submitted how-to articles. I was immediately struck by the odd subjects of some of the articles, either because they gave advice about something seemingly simple, like boiling water, or because they were incredibly specific, like choosing a wedding chapel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Reading some of the articles, I could also sense a pretty rich subtext.
My favorite was “How Not to Always Talk About the Same Things.” The article reads like its author has one particular person in mind, someone he knows who is always talking about the same thing, and it drives him crazy. It was weirdly personal; a lot of them were like that. I had borrowed titles from other sources for my first book, so I thought it would be fun to try that out with the how-to titles, and I found the exercise quite productive.
Originally, all the poems in the book had how-to titles, though I changed most of them. After I’d written several poems this way, other themes began to emerge. My wife and I had been married for about 5 years when I started working on the manuscript, and at the same time, the marriages of some of our close friends were falling apart. So marriage, and love (or its lack), intertwined with this idea of an instructional book. I was very interested in the idea of instruction or advice that isn’t helpful or that comes too late.