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Transom:
In the epic tradition, a poem begins with the poet petitioning the Muse to inspire his song. But in “No More Birds,” your speaker appears to do the opposite when he commands, “Refuse to sing because/ the song is stuffed.” Whom or what does the speaker address in this line, and why is silence (i.e., the birds’ “wordless carol”) the only appropriate sound to (not) make at this moment?

Banias:
The poem wants to hush beauty for a moment in order to ask what else might be important; to question beauty’s terms. But the poem inhabits contradiction: refuse to sing (oops, I’m still singing) no more birds (but here are birds multiple times), and so on. And it begins in frustration – with the self, with the world at large, with the attempt to express – starting with the appearance of the birds/trees/moon, these overused symbols of the poetic. I mean, how can one possibly sing? But one feels compelled to sing – that’s why lyric (still) exists, despite the claims that it doesn’t or can’t.

Elaine Scarry argues that when we regard beauty, we instinctively incline toward ethical behavior, toward justice. I’d love to believe this – it’s a reassuring, and actually, beautiful idea – but her argument leaves too much unaccounted for (think of how Western notions of beauty have been used to justify colonization and subjugation, or the idea that symmetry is an indicator of beauty and what that implies about ability, or that a culturally produced value system relying on the category “ugliness” in order to leverage itself can’t ever be just). This speaker doesn’t quite know how to stomach beauty, or how to reconcile it with institutional violence and other injustices, and so tries to reject it – though ultimately, is unable to entirely turn away. So the poem came partly from that struggle.

Transom:
How much lyric DNA might your birds share with Yeats’ hard-of-hearing falcon in “The Second Coming?”

Banias:
 They seem like cousins. A few times removed, who may not have ever met.

Transom:
In the central portion of your poem, items like “chainlink fences,” “the bodies we inherited,” and “this face” seem to drop out of existence through a kind of amnesia: “Who called again/ to say what’s ugly?” We’re usually invited to read poems as the artifact of a poet’s attention. Does this poem articulate an aesthetic of forgetting?

Banias:
I think it’s asserting the existence of the places and subjects you mention, and saying that they matter. The eye can pass quickly over what’s ordinary (a worn fence, sparrows bathing in dirt, an unspectacular tree). This isn’t where the culture tends to look with interest and care. And the so-called ugly, what’s decaying or queer or awkward or cast off or too frightening, becomes either momentary spectacle or deliberately ignored. So the poem is thinking about representation, but also attention – in that sense, it’s pointing to what might be overlooked (our own bodies, estrangement, garbage, wars, how and whether we touch…). Who or what directs our attention, and what names do they call – or bestow on – us? Who tends to sing the song, and what is described by it? What does it leave out? Is it always in the same damn key? How does it encourage us to see ourselves, each other, the world? What other songs might we need to sing or hear?