Volume 37 Featuring the 2016 Frank O'Hara Prize Winners, the Manuscript Winner of the 2016 WCPA College Poetry Contest, New poetry and fiction from emerging and established writers, and a Feature Section on Scofield Thayer.
Rimas Uzgiris is a poet, translator, editor and critic. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, AGNI, Atlanta Review, Quiddity,The Iowa Review, The Hudson Review and other journals. He is translation editor and primary translator of How the Earth Carries Us: New Lithuanian Poets (Vilnius, 2015). He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University. Recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, he teaches literature, translation and creative writing at Vilnius University. His poem "We" is featured in Volume 36.
First, what was your inspiration for your poem "We"?
I was reading and translating a Lithuanian poet at the time, Donatas Petrošius, who had written a series of poems in response to films. One of these was inspired by Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man". I recalled the river journey at the end of the film where the character William Blake floats out into the ocean to die. There is a dramatic and beautiful shot of his boat going out to sea with rain clouds looming beyond, sunlight breaking through. This image and the preceding journey triggered a strong personal response, which also struck me as archetypal. So I wrote the poem with that in mind--William Blake's journey is our journey. Hence the first-person plural, which I almost never use. The specific imagery of the poem is all from my own memories of rivers and seas. I made no attempt to comment on the movie because the thought of it had called up so many personal associations. The style of the poem was influenced by my reading W.S. Merwin's The Shadow of Sirius at the time. I was inspired by a number of his un-punctuated poems with no stanzaic form which seemed to fit the theme here of a continuous journey that is over so quickly you hardly realize what has happened.
How did you get into writing? When did you know that it was something you wanted to pursue seriously?
James McKee and his wife live in New York City, where they each work as educators. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Virginia, he held a number of jobs before spending over a decade as a teacher and administrator at a small progressive high school in Manhattan. He currently works as a private tutor and spends his free time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help. His poem "Home" appears in Volume 36 of The Worcester Review.
Your poem "Home" describes a situation many people encounter, having a loved one move to a nursing home. What is your experience with this and how did it inspire you to create a poem about it?
When my mother became ill for what turned out to be the final time, I simply refused to acknowledge the gravity of her condition until the visit depicted in the poem, when at last I was forced to admit she was dying. We were very close—I was her only son—and in recent years she had been hospitalized more than once, always returning home after a week or so. This time was different, and I wanted the poem to present the speaker’s experience becoming irrecoverably aware of a loved one’s imminent death. Once she knew that I had finally accepted, or at least understood, what was happening, there was very little time left; under the weight of what was soon to come, we were often unable to say very much to each other. Somehow every trivial detail of the home, which was really not so bad as such places go even if my memories of it have a Grand Guignol savagery, exacerbated my grief at soon losing her.
A lot of people talk about the "sandwich generation" as being the generation of people that have to simultaneously care for their children and their parents. What's your take on that situation?
My wife and I don’t have children, and even though my mother continued to live on her own until her final illness, the strain of worrying about her all the time & checking up on her regularly took its toll on me (and on my wife). On the one hand, I can only imagine how stressful raising children while caring for a declining parent might seem—yet I also think they would be, in their boisterous and uncomprehending way, a great comfort and source of strength, a distraction from grim clinical realities.
How did you first get into writing?
I have wanted to be a poet almost continuously since my teenage years, although it took me a long time to attain the discipline necessary to write in a sustained and artistically serious way. Certain poems I read in high school, "Prufrock," "Dover Beach," "The Tiger," haunted me in a way that at the time I hardly understood, but that now I recognize as something like a summons.
The playground called "the park": three diamonds once,
Then, only one providing fans a cage.
Worn down to khaki talc, the other two
Survived in only faintly rhomboid traces.
On these, the five of us swung for the fences.
(There would have been no point to stolen bases,
Sacrifices, suicides, or bunts.
Besides, those were too hard for kids our age.)
A fly to right was out, force-outs were few,
And when it didn't rain, the skies were blue.
What girls we knew had not yet had their menses.
Well, Bobby's sister Betty--maybe--who
Could homer farther than you ever saw,
And rounding third, elicited pure awe.