You must change your life. Says who?
What's your favorite rhyme ever? Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Yeats, Cole Porter...It's a one-way question, she said, so don't answer, what's yours?
I guess the best questions are impossible to answer.
Give me the impossible.
This is from new fiction by Stuart Dybek in the January issue of Poetry. That's right - new fiction! We've loosened up our format for the very first time to publish a story called "Pink Ocean." Dybek, who was just awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, is both a fiction and poetry writer, and his work bridges any gap that might exist between the genres. His writing, the MacArthur folks recognized, "dramatizes how a new storytelling tradition takes shape." "Pink Ocean" arises from the sort of dream state that often generates poems and stories alike; it begins:
"I dreamed in negative exposure, of a room where night and light sound nothing alike and so are not balanced in opposition. A room expelled from a children's story because its clock won't go ticktock and there's no hat for cat nor a spoon to reflect the moon. The only illumination, a levitating dress, a handkerchief bidding farewell from a steamer, the gossamer curtain suspended on the thermal of a hissing radiator."
Dybek's prose here has the imagery and rhythmical language of poetry, but the story is also in many ways about poetry. The narrator recalls, as if in a fog, a time when he and a woman were "trading dreams in a Jeep Cherokee that smelled of hay":
"I was teaching Your Life As Poetry—not a title I'd chosen—at a community center for seniors. My students all wanted to know whatever became of rhyme. She taught riding to the blind, the friend told me, and lived on a horse farm. I don't know what I expected—cowboy poetry, greeting card verse about horses running free? At the very least her poems were the work of a sophisticated reader, written in a current style: free verse in which the poet addressed herself as you. Their subject, besides you, was abandoned barns—a sequence that explored old barns as photographers do, but the barns in her poems could have only been constructed out of language. Barns the horizon showed through, composed more of slatted light, motes, and cobwebs than warped siding, their tattered roofs askew beneath the frown of crows; barns like beds unmade by tornadoes, weather vanes still dizzy; washed-up barns, driftwood gray, flotsamed with rusted, mysterious tools; barns shingled in license plates, their only history a progression of dates—different colors, same state: decay. Unhinged doors gaping shadow and must, recurring hints about divorce and childlessness—a few would make it to the pages of literary magazines."
They sip Lipton tea in a place wistfully called The Chalet, and eventually, the woman asks him about his favorite rhyme, as above. They go to a Monet exhibition. She poses for an illicit photo beside an uncastrated Apollo. And here the story turns to the ways in which language used to be connected to looking. There are ghosts, barns, dreams, animals - and poetry - all through the story. And at one point, this bit of musing:
"You must change your life.
The best questions are impossible to answer.
Don Share became the editor of Poetry in 2013. His books of poetry are Wishbone (2012), Squandermania (2007), and Union (2013, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012), and editor of Bunting's Persia (2012) and a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems (2016). He...