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
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.