Dear Mr. Rosset,
I'd like to take a minute of your time to commend a submission in your December 10 - January 11 edition of the Evergreen Review. The essay titled Detained by Dianna Calareso was superb. Calareso managed to guide me with her to the Jordanian border check.I was engulfed in her scene by scene construction and could actually hear the spoken words of her dialogue. From the moment she was detained until the moment she was released, my emotions were pulling at my heart. Calareso captures her readers with her ability convey her anger and fear with a wounded tone of concern. She pulls us in by telling a story that could happen to anyone of us that might choose to travel to a different country. The descriptions of the border check; the surroundings, the Arab population, the Israeli guards, etc., brought in several levels of sensory details. I have to agree with Calareso and find it hard to believe that the treatment she received that day still happens.
Again, thank you for publishing the essay. It raises an awareness regarding our foreign borders and reminds us that we should not take the freedoms we have in America for granted.
Dear Mr. Barney,
I really enjoyed Detained by Dianna Calareso in your December 2010/January 2011 issue. Calareso's personal account of profiling and how it affected her made for an interesting read. Traveling overseas today is completely different than it has been in the past. In a situation where a different language can already seem overwhelming, adding profiling by teenagers with machine guns seems almost unreal. I appreciated the tension and personal feelings that Calareso incorporated into her story and hope to see more by the author in the future.
Because I submitted some poems to you a few months, I gather, you recently sent me a link to your latest issue, no. 125. While I didn’t read every story and every essay, although I gave each one a chance to capture my attention, and I just looked over the many book reviews, I did read every poem. I have to say that you certainly are distinct; that is, you do have your own personality. It’s also apparent that you take the time to put a lot of work into your issues, and that you want to say something, put something out there that would grab the mind of someone and open that mind to what is higher in us, culturally speaking, what would awaken it to the wonder of the world around it, what would wake it up to the notion that a mediocre life is hardly worth the trouble of living. There is also protest, what is aptly called rage against the machine, something perhaps a trait of your personality as a magazine having been born in the late fifties to the beat of the poetry and prose of the anti-establishment. Pardon the poetic liberties I’ve taken in describing you, but perhaps I’ve not come too distant from the nature of your spirit.
Although you are your own person, you are very much of the race of today’s literary establishment in the content and in the form of the material you publish. I can go on and on in trying to describe that race’s characteristics, but what is of particular interest to me is the way it sees the human being, what we as a species are and where we’re going. Generally speaking It sees us from the outside even when looking inside and define us in terms of the outer world and of society. It does not show all of reality and what is possible in outer reality. No eye there is open upon the unplumbed depths within us, what there is in us deeper than thought and subconscious dream. Although it laments the ills of society and even in its more daring moments calls and cries to tear it down, it builds no bridges to bring us out of the destruction, gives no golden keys of change, and would not, I’d venture, even welcome in its pages the notion of the possibility of a bright change in human nature, one, that is, that's not brought about by outer methods but wells up from within, from our own individual deeps. Here I’ve begun to turn off your attention no doubt; these are not acceptable ideas in the literary paradigm. They get declined.
I am a poet, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I began writing poems as a child, got a university literary education, even learned Attic and Homeric Greek and practiced my craft by rendering poetic translations of my assignments. I went through the gamut of poetry’s forms not so much in imitation of other poets but as a natural consequence of my development as a poet. I spent some years traveling and doing performance poetry, which culminated in a rather stupid and dangerous act, but one in which I learned things about us no school on Earth could teach me. In 1995 in the dead of night I posted poems of mine on holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem. There were three nights of postings, one for each of the three world religions there. No, my doing that there had nothing to do with religious fervor; I’d originally planned to do that in the city of Amsterdam, being much more inclined to grass at that time than to God, but in a lucid dream a man came up to me and told me he’d pay my way to Jerusalem, and when I awoke in the morning a man called me and made real that dream promise.
As I developed my own style of verse I began to rely more and more on inspiration rather than on the literary method of sitting down and trying to rationally hash out a poem -- however much that method makes claims to be open to inspiration -- but it wasn’t until spending five months isolated in a cabin in Oregon that I learned a secret poets have kept since time immemorial: inspiration is heard. In that season of writing I heard only two lines – And I suppose a rose has felt well / All the glory a man might –, but it was enough to alert me to the possibility of hearing more, whole poems perhaps, and I spent ten very long years, most of them penniless and wearing a backpack, and all of them outside of the United States, learning to look and listen inside to write my poems, look because many lines come visually, being written on some sign or sidewalk or something in the flash of an inner vision. I also hear music, as many lines are sung, and see also paintings and sculptures, see all the forms of art, although I have not the talent to bring these other forms into outer expression (except to murder on my guitar some tune I’ve heard with the inner ear). I am a poet.
A line from one of the poems in your current issue strikes me as being very true, although I’m sure the poet, Pam Benjamin, means something else by it: “A poem can be anything.” I’ve begun to sadly realize that almost any arrangement of words can be called a poem nowadays, but I should add here as long as it’s short that is. Editors decide basically what poetry is and what it's not, at least in the short-term, and they base their decisions on their personal preferences and the particular slant of their journal or review. The term ‘poetic quality’ is given much lip service, but it’s the subject matter of a poem that takes the position of prominence in most cases, at least from what I’ve seen of today’s poetry. Things have become so compartmentalized in modern society that poetry does not exist as a thing in itself. A poem cannot just be a poem; it’s has to go in this slot or in that, this magazine and not this other, based upon whether it uses rhyme or doesn’t use it, on whether it’s talking about oil spills or about the soul, based on what have you. But poetry cannot fit into such narrow spaces. It needs all infinity and everything therein as its breathing room, but most of all it needs a culture that is open as well to the inside of things, for, as I have seen, poetry does indeed exist as a thing in itself, as heretical as that notion may sound to the contemporary literary mind, and seeks its fullest expression from the inside of a poet.
Although I’ve certainly broken the rules of what should be the form and content of a cover letter by going over a single page, by being creative, by telling a story, by writing to you at the same time a letter the editor, I have I hope at the very least put a pause in your hand as you hit the delete button. That is perhaps all I can accomplice now as far as publishing goes, as my poetry doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. It may, however, fit very well the future poetry, but neither you nor I will be around to see that. You see I am not writing poetry but letting poetry write itself, the poetry that is in me that is, and one day, when we learn there is infinitely more to us than merely the surface of ourselves, that will be something of value; that will be what the reader of tomorrow will want to read – poetry. You are a door, and although today there are innumerable doors for poetry to walk into, there are really only few that are solid enough for the entrance of poetry into the public domain. I see you as such a door, and so I’m knocking on your door and submitting two poems for your review: Really? and Spiral Boy. Open please.