Audio

Paige Lewis Reads “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm”

January 15, 2018

Don Share: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of January 15th, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.

 

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On The Poetry Magazine Podcast, we listen to a poem or two from the current issue.

 

Don Share: Paige Lewis is the author of the chapbook Reasons to Wake You. Lewis told us that they were half way through the poem we have in the January issue when they realized what they wanted to discover in writing it.

 

Paige Lewis: I really wanted to see what happened to an authoritative, overbearing speaker when they came up against the threat of losing the person they previously had power over.


Lindsay Garbutt: In the physical version of the magazine, the poem is a fold out. We did this to accommodate the unusual lay out of the poem. It begins with conventional two line stanzas, and it expands to the margins in small fragments of language.

 

Paige Lewis: It was important to show the kind of disintegration of the speaker’s confidence. Once there becomes some sort of disobedience by the subject of the poem, when the subject of the poem starts to walk away is when these words start to take over the white space of the page, so it’s more of a representation of the speaker falling apart.


Lindsay Garbutt: Here’s the poem.

 

Paige Lewis: You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm

 

Sit on the park bench and chew this mint leaf.

Right now, way above your head, two men

 

floating in a rocket ship are ignoring their

delicate experiments, their buttons flashing

 

red. Watching you chew your mint, the men

forget about their gritty toothpaste, about

 

their fingers, numb from lack of gravity.

They see you and, for the first time since

 

liftoff, think home. When they were boys

they were gentle. And smart. One could

 

tie string around a fly without cinching it

in half. One wrote tales of sailors who

 

drowned after mistaking the backs of

whales for islands. Does it matter which

 

man is which? They just quit their mission

for you. They’re on their way down. You’ll

 

take both men — a winter husband and

a summer husband. Does it matter which

 

is — don’t slump like that. Get up, we have

so much work to do before —                          wait               you’re going

 

the wrong     way               small whelp of a woman!         this is not

 

              how we     behave                       where are you going

 

                                                                                              this world is already       willing

 

to give you anything                  do you want to know Latin

 

                                                                                                         okay             now everyone

 

here knows Latin            want inflatable     deer               deer !               i promise the winter /

 

summer children will barely hurt                   dear        i’m hurt   that you would ever think

 

                                         i don’t glisten to you         i’m always glistening

 

   tame your voice       and               turn around

 

the men are coming                    they’ve traded everything for you               the gemmy   starlight

 

              the click                          click                                  click

 

                                                                                                              of the universe   expanding

 

 

                                                                                                  stop

 

 

                   aren’t you known              aren’t you

                                                                              known here

 

how can you be certain that anywhere else will provide

 

                                                                                    more pears than you could ever eat

 

                           remember the sweet rot of it all

 

come back             you forgot your sweater

 

                                        what if there’s nothing there when you —

 

                                                                         you don’t have your

 

                                                                                                                 sweater

 

 

                                                                                                                                 what if it’s cold

 

Don Share: Everything about this poem just sweeps me away and blows me over. After spending a lot of time with this poem, I realized that there is something in me that was connecting up with Alice Notley who’s our great poet of disobedience. Alice Notley says “we name us, and then we are lost, tamed. I choose words, more words, to cure the tameness not the wildness.” That’s sort of an impulse that this poem really cultivates and unleashes for us.

 

Christina Pugh: The wildness it seems is the breaking of form in a certain way. It starts out as relatively conventional seeming couplets, then it really breaks apart once we get to:

 

Paige Lewis:

Get up, we have

so much work to do before —

 

Christina Pugh: Then the syntax gets interrupted, and the poem is expanded way across the page with a lot of white spaces in between phrases and end words. It seems like that’s an important part of what’s happening here.

Lindsay Garbutt: The experience of reading this poem and then hearing it is a reminder of how willing we are to give authority to a voice in a poem. When the poem starts out with such declarative, authoritative language like:

 

Paige Lewis: Sit on the park bench and chew this mint leaf.


Lindsay Garbutt: You accept it, you start to read along with the pome. All of the sudden that starts to break down and you realize, why was I trusting this voice in the first place? It really becomes such an empowering moment, not only for the person that this speaker has been ordering around, but also for us as a reader who starts to blend in with this person.

 

Don Share: You kind of have to blend in, which is just marvelous. It’s a three dimensional experience. You have to blend in because, it’s almost like there’s the witty bits of Anne Carson’s “Sappho” where if you’re stuck with gaps, you struggle to fill them. That’s where the wildness comes, is in the gaps. They grow and they grow, and the proliferation of things arising from that impulse in that poem are unexpected marvel and pleasure of the poem.


Christina Pugh: It seems to me in those gaps or in that very expanded portion of the poem, part of what’s happening is there’s a kind of breakdown of ideological message as well.

 

Paige Lewis:

do you want to know Latin

 

                                                                                                         okay             now everyone

 

here knows Latin

 

Christina Pugh: It seemed to me that was a very citational moment in the poem. There’s a sort of recognition that the world isn’t willing to give you anything, but there’s a sort of trumpeting of that sort of a message, especially since it’s being addressed to a woman. “Small whelp of a woman”, the idea that there might be this verbiage around that you can have anything you want in the world, but in fact the spacing of such a truism shows that that’s not the case, that there’s some irony in the speaker repeating that to the you, whoever the you is. That was one thing I found really interesting about this. The moment in which you start to comprehend who the you might be, it seems almost a universal you at the beginning, almost a you that’s standing in for an I. Then when the poem breaks apart, you realize the you is a very specified you being told to do these certain things.

Don Share: Including remembering your sweater.

 

Christina Pugh: Including remember your sweater, exactly. And then listening to what Paige Lewis was saying that it’s almost an allegorical splitting of the self, that one part of the self is talking to the other. I found that to be interesting as well.

 

Paige Lewis:

what if there’s nothing there when you —

 

                                                                         you don’t have your

 

                                                                                                                 sweater

 

 

                                                                                                                                 what if it’s cold

 

Don Share: You can read “Take Off Your Sweater, I Made Today Warm” by Paige Lewis in the January 2018 issue of Poetry Magazine, or online at poetryfoundation.org.

 

Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all four January episodes at once in the full length episode on SoundCloud.

 

Christina Pugh: Let us know what you think of this program. Email us at podcast@poetryfoundation.org, and please link to the podcast on social media.

 

Don Share: The Poetry Magazine Podcast is recorded by Ed Herman and produced by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenelosa.


Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.

 

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.

 

Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.

 

 

The editors discuss Paige Lewis’s poem “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm” from the January 2018 issue of Poetry.

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