POETS ON GROWTH: Editor’s Note
PETER LABERGE & TALIN TAHAJIAN
Between the two of us, we made thirty-seven years. Living in Philadelphia, outside Boston, still on our parents’ dime. It was a time marked by questioning, self-consciousness. Reading through Best New Poets 2013: Can we actually do this? Flipping through the latest issue of Poetry Magazine: How did these people even get where they are, anyway?!
The thought of being a writer seemed simultaneously plausible and crippling. It’s all well and good to write a poem, but when does one really “become” a writer? (A writer, versus… what, exactly? We didn’t know.) And how does this transition work?
We knew, wherever we were, we weren’t doing too badly. With one of us at an Ivy League university and the other heading off to the University of Cambridge in the fall, reflection told us time was on our side. After all, we were (and are, as we write this) still teenagers: While our friends snuck out of bedroom windows to watch the R-rated movies our parents still warned us about, we read poetry to each other on Skype, melted into admiration for images and line breaks and poetic ambition. Life didn’t feel strategic, or efficient, or even pride-inspiring.
Life felt like life. We read because we wanted to read. We lived in the poems we found meaning and life inside. We craved the spark, the heat that only nature (or a good poem) could provide. We wrote stanzas on our palms, spun the blue or black words in our minds until we could feel them screaming and kicking inside us. The push-and-pull feeling of writing poetry together in the innocent blink of a homework-less night was a beautiful, inspiring (albeit somewhat daunting) feeling. These moments we came to love and identify with, still aflame long after we first felt their heat: words we could use to grow and mature—shakily at first, then steadily.
But, returning to the original questions we couldn’t help but ask: Can we actually do this? How did these people even get where they are, anyway? The answers, dear reader, are right here.
The anthology came together quickly. An idea; an hour later, an anthology proposal. Something about poets and development and growth. The response came quickly, and it was positive. A press was interested. Another three hours, and we were on the phone. By two o’clock in the morning, some birds were already singing, and the moon was low, and we were bursting with an excitement we knew we couldn’t ignore.
At its foundation, this collection seeks to explore the journeys of some truly inspiring poets—people we admire professionally, artistically, and socially. Fascinated by their work and their own creative development—with the knowledge that we’d hardly dipped our toes into this vibrant, beautiful world ourselves— we were dripping with questions. (And, simultaneously, we were already being questioned by students two, three, even four years younger than we were: “Where should I submit?” “How do you cope with rejection?” “What do you wish you’d known?”)
The overwhelming desire for this variety of “magic” advice was evident everywhere, and that was how we knew that this project was necessary. We wanted to pry open these artists’ respective geniuses, challenge them to hold their own artistic processes up to the light. Their growth as poets and as people, what it’s like to be both a poet and a person in a world that focuses only on the latter. How they’re theoretically the same, but so inherently different. Seeking to answer every question in ways both relevant in their specificity and all-inclusive in scope, we knew that diversity was essential.
So, in these pages, you’ll find Southern idioms, religious scripts, and homeless nights spent in Penn Station. Nursing homes, metaphorical rendezvous with Sylvia Plath, and Tupperware boxes filled with poetry. And somehow, it all seems to fit together: a vast range of people, a vast range of relationships and places and lives, and yet, in the end, one portrait of what it means to breathe, write, and survive. What it means to grow.