Three Yaddo Poets Affirm the Agency of the Dispossessed

July 29, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Roberto Sosa Photo: Evaristo López Rojas

“The Poor” by Roberto Sosa, translated by Spencer Reece

Source: Poetry (March 2012)

Sosa manipulates the expectation that a poem whose subject is “the poor” will flatten the toxic circumstances that enable and sustain poverty into merely a celebration of those who survive it. The lines “They see the buildings / where they wish / they could live with their children” foreground a previously understood, and thereby calming, simplicity. Sosa’s expected lament turns to an unexpected, and almost fearsome, empowerment, as “They / can steady the coffin / of a constellation on their shoulders. / They can wreck / the air.” While the disenfranchised “enter and exit through mirrors of blood,” those who are witness to their dormant power “cannot forget them.” — SS

Eliza Griswold Photo: Antonin Kratochvil

Landay by the poet known as Rahila Muska, translated by Eliza Griswold (pictured)

Source: © 2018 Poetry Foundation

The landay form, in which one nine-syllable line is followed by one thirteen-syllable line, has long folk traditions within the community of Pashtun women across Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lone surviving landay by Rahila Muska (a pseudonym translating to “love smile”), who was beaten after her poetry was discovered, and died after setting herself on fire in protest, appears below in full:

I call. You’re stone.

One day you’ll look and I’ll be gone.

The poem is an alchemy, transforming the vulnerability of her speaker’s unmet needs into power fortified by her own value and authority to answer those needs herself. — SS

Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán Photo: Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán

“waterssong” by Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán

Source: NEA Literature Fellowships » 2019 – Poetry

Bodhrán concentrates on the fluid dynamics of agency, even between seemingly defined subjects. When the boat his speaker occupies “is moved—forward. You move forward,” the two united in action. Retreating to a wider perspective, he writes “this wet orb hurtling through space . . . yet, everything-everything seems still,” emphasizing by virtue of scale the tenuous relation of boat to ocean. He then further convolutes the distinction between the two: “You cross the other side crosses you. You cross over. You arrive; are the arrival.” Ultimately a love poem written to suture two separate people, Bodhrán signals the malleability of all things accepted prematurely as eternal. — SS