Les Kay

Catching Up On Recent Publications: “New” Poem in Sweet

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Since I’d been traveling and preparing to travel for much of June, I haven’t had a chance to share news of recent publications. In Issue 7.3 of Sweet: A Literary Confectionyou can read my poem “Frostbite”.

While this poem is probably best described as a poem about love, I tend to think of it as a testament to revision.

I found the epigraph from The Smithsonian in the mid 1990s while I was an undergraduate. If I remember correctly, I stopped for lunch at a gyro shop on Forward Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. For some reason, this particular restaurant had a stack of magazines for customers to browse, and while waiting on my gyro, I stumbled across that quote in an article about the science of winter. And of course, I wrote it down:

All snowflakes look very much alike; like little white dots.

That was the first spark for this peculiar little poem. Even 20 years ago (perhaps), I was delighted by the casual disruption of cliche, the way something so utterly familiar as snow–particularly in Pittsburgh–is made strange again with such a flat observational statement. That observation, of course, is dependent upon a very particular perspective, just like the cliche we still hold to be true. The poem, alas, was probably not so good as the epigraph.

At first, it was an I/you poem, that may or may not have been written with my one-day wife in mind. It was, I do not doubt, a poem-like thing that probably looked very much like many other undergraduate poem-like things presented for workshop in any creative writing program, but the basic structure and narrative you now see in the poem was there, and I was beginning to learn a thing or two about character.

Somehow, through several lost computers, it was one of the poems that survived my MFA and the many moves that led me, eventually, to Cincinnati, where I started thinking about collecting poems into a manuscript. For several years, the poem was part of the narrative arc in the manuscript Home Front, which I’m currently sending out to presses that may or may not feel like little white dots. And there, when juxtaposed with poems that did not rely so strongly on epigraphs, the poem began to change. The point of view shifted. The language was made (much) tighter. The details changed and began to work more consistently together, but the poem, now more than a decade old, never fit as well with the surrounding poems as it should have. In part, because it simply turned to the cliche and that praise of the  “delicate / flaws” of uniqueness.

In short, it took me decades to imagine these characters and that “thin scar above an eyebrow / left from a childhood game of chicken / with a brother.” It took me decades until “the word fell featherlike.”  Now, it’s a few lines that have remained after scores of other lines have been cut. It’s a poem I’m proud of and a testament to patience and the sometimes long, painful process of revision.

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