portion of the artwork for David McAleavey's poetry

David McAleavy’s Comments

So many things sparkle, when the light animates them; poems are tools to get the light right. I don’t ordinarily begin composing following a sudden illumination or inspiration; for me, composing itself seems to generate flashes. If artistic creation requires deep confidence, I suppose my confidence is that when I find myself urged once again toward composing a poem, I am pretty sure I’m going to find unearned and liberating sight and insight—that intuition’s siftings through memory and language will yield an array of words capable of making me at least feel enlivened and purposeful and closer to wholeness and satisfaction. Of course I hope others will be similarly swayed.

My life as a child with my parents, as a husband with my wife, as a father to my children, plays a major role in these particular poems. “The cure” is a kind of bluesy elegy for my parents, who passed away in 2005 and 2008, at ages 90 and 95, respectively. I wasn’t the only kid who got yelled at for letting screen doors slam; that’s only one marker, but I hope it does a decent job of pointing to a child’s experience. The accidental nature of existence, of where we come from (our “sites of nascence”), often prompts the thought that any of us hypothetically could have been born in vastly different circumstances—instead of my having grown up in Kansas, perhaps I might have been Greek (where, in fact, my wife and I did live for a year). There’s a kind of unease in that hypothesis—but, of course, as the poem had started out saying, this is us, waiting for the funeral, a pretty uneasy time. About all you can do is hunker down, as one of my neighbors told me the fish must do, in certain places in Alaska, when a force like the tide comes along. When it’s coming in so strong, you can’t go fishing, as the fish aren’t interested in feeding.

That poem is a prose poem, while the others are all what I think of as “redeployed” or “left-rhyming” sonnets. In each of these poems, I began with fourteen rhyming words (or sometimes just sounds), as found in existing well-known sonnets. Instead of using those rhymes at the ends of lines, I redeploy them to open the lines. Larkin’s sonnet “Friday Night in the Royal Station Hotel,” uses rhymes and off-rhymes (high, differently; chairs, declares; etc.), and I’ve appropriated those words in his order. The compositional challenge is how to create a poem under restrictions that might well be hobbling. In this case, I suppose there is some underlying resistance to Larkin’s near-misanthropy that plays out in the speaker’s displeasure with the guy at the next table in a crowded restaurant. Eventually that displeasure is conquered by a flow of conversation, a focusing on the shared present of our own dinner table (or of our own poem, perhaps).

“My love is as a fever, longing still” is the first line of Shakespeare’s sonnet number 147; I’d suppose my title itself (“My love is as”) would alert a reader to something odd going on; a simple Google search on that string of words brings up the “source” sonnet, and eventually, a reader would discover at least the formal connection between the two poems, though to be honest I don’t think there’s any need for anyone to take that trouble. The kind of marital spat this poem opens with is undoubtedly familiar enough: two people who aren’t always fully engaged with one another finding the other’s behavior annoying. The poem proceeds to counter that moment of dystopia with the recollection of a magical, idyllic experience. I suppose there is a kind of nostalgia at work here, but I’d like to think the poem envisages a canoe trip down the Allagash with enough vividness that it seems to continue even as the poem closes.

The other two poems have some connection to a wonderful vacation we took a couple of years ago, visiting both the Galapagos Islands and a number of archeological and tourist sites in Peru. In the Galapagos, we did a lot of snorkeling among some very surprising animals, and in Lima we were captivated by the dozens of people parasailing all along the beachfront. Though these poems really aren’t “about” those experiences, some images from that vacation flowed into them.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 39 | Winter 2013