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Many of the poems in this issue seem to coalesce around themes of darkness and light. In what
ratio of shade or illumination do your poems thrive? Does a dark poem need light, and vice

In an awkward silence before an academic job interview, one of the host faculty members leaned over and quietly asked me, “I notice all your books have darkness or night in their titles—what do you make of that?” I fell in love with Romantic poetry in high school, I told her. As it turned out, she was the Romanticism specialist in the department, so we talked briefly about our affections for Coleridge and Byron. The interview started, and that quiet exchange wound up being the best part of it.

This may be the Romanticism talking, but darkness and light are mutually dependent—they need each other even as they seem to be cancelling each other out. We seem instinctively drawn to dramatic chiaroscuro borders. We recently passed through the solar eclipse, and the town where I live in central Illinois was preoccupied, almost giddy about the event. The police had to regulate traffic going into the local tv station that morning as they distributed free viewing glasses.

Wherever one is on that sliding scale between dark and light, the energy comes from the tension between them, the dynamics of encroaching darkness and emerging light. My poems tend toward that threshold, the borderlands, even when light isn’t the governing imagery.

In this subterranean poem, your speaker contemplates the many “chances” that must align in order for the miners to survive another day. Knowledge of death seems to keep our miner from falling asleep. Can vigilance be a state of repose?

To be one’s “own bird/testing the air” is a frightening prospect. The whole point of a canary in the mine was to place a buffer, a gauge between oneself and a noxious environment, to let something or someone else determine the air’s safety. But there are some dark places where we can’t send surrogates—we have to be the one to enter some unknowns. So he might be able to send a canary into the tunnel, but the miner must enter his own “caged sleep” alone.
He loses sleep, I imagine, because his work makes him conscious of something true for all of us but lost in the details of our daily lives:  we are all suspended by a thread. We are here and endure by chances beyond our control. Vigilance with those details, I’m afraid, doesn’t improve our chances.

I love the double irony of “repose,” the angle at which a slope can maintain itself without slipping and without supports. The miner has trouble sleeping as he worries about the resting slope of the tunnel ceilings. And in this fright, he never leaves the tunnels because they are, literally and figuratively, a place of constant worry.