Ryo Yamaguchi: I’m Rio Yamaguchi, and this is Poetry Now. I was writing this around the time of the inauguration of Donald Trump. I’m not an overtly political poet, but I felt the impulsion to respond to that specific political moment. I do think that the motivation of the poem is to think about where we are historically, seemingly at an end of history. The opening line of this poem, of “The Present”: “It was a vertical time”. It definitely has resonances with the Charles Dickens book, A Tale of Two Cities, which famously opens with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
Ryo Yamaguchi: The Present
It was a vertical time. It was the expression, a spirit giving way onto an electric barren. We
circled and were encircled and had no cause. It was a time of the self come on in a field of
apparatuses. It was vignetted by sleep, and the sleep was in its center breached. Cold moving
through the smell of gas. The big-leafed enclosure. It was a time that clattered at the horizons,
whose recounting was already foreclosed, as in a numeral smudged in powder, as in a thin water making of the atmosphere a disc. It was a time of guzzling. A time amid what has been kept, a time of calendered trust, repeated appeal, erasures of flight. We begin with a weedy stem drawn against the winter sky. Dear hierophant, our decision initialed. The muffled sound of the closet and the machine.
Ryo Yamaguchi: We typically think about time as a dimension, maybe the most beguiling one. But just as often, I tend to think about time as a kind of magic, as a sorcery. The moment that you think you’re living in the present or you’re thinking about the past, you’re also having hopes and dreams toward the future. They’re all interplaying with each other. That’s something I try to capture textually within the poem. For instance, it’s a time about the present, but it’s written in past tense.
Ryo Yamaguchi: It was a time of guzzling. A time amid what has been kept, a time of calendered trust, repeated appeal, erasures of flight.
Ryo Yamaguchi: I do think that the speaker is addressing his fellow citizens. The speaker is definitely trying to describe what it was like to be in the present, and probably making that description to future citizens. But again, since time is a trickster in this poem, it’s all of those things all together. If it’s one way that can characterize our current moment as we think about late history, it’s consumption and it’s our appetites. Especially it is the unbridled full throttle appetite that especially characterizes our media consumption, you might say our consumption for intoxicants. But it’s also the slaking of thirst and quenching. It’s both the gas guzzler and the water guzzler.
Ryo Yamaguchi: It was a time that clattered at the horizons, whose recounting was already foreclosed, as in a numeral smudged in powder, as in a thin water making of the atmosphere a disc.
Katie Klocksin: hat was Ryo Yamaguchi, and his poem “The Present”. I’m Katie Klocksin, and this is Poetry Now, a production by The Poetry Foundation. For more about this series, go to poetryfoundation.org/poetrynow.