Before you do anything else today, I want you to stop and listen. I want you to close your eyes and listen to your surroundings. What is it that you can hear? Birdsong? Is it the sound of passing cars? The wind whispering? Is it the muffle of dead of night? Are you on a train? Are you listening to music while you read these words? Can you hear yourself breathing? Or is there someone else breathing beside you? Are they sleeping? Did the telephone just ring? Is that someone having an argument?
Regardless of what it is that you are listening to, you are experiencing something quite magnificent – and funnily enough, it goes on all around you at every moment of every single day. Its rules change frequently, but I think its premise goes a little something like this: to live is to experience the world and to experience the world is to commune with and within it. We are, all of us, in a conversation this very minute.
And sure, such magnificence is not always so marvellous. I am writing this editorial in an old house that is shared by creative types during waking hours. Unusually, I am here on a weekday during daylight hours – unusual because I typically come here most evenings to work or spend long days on the weekends. During interloping hours, I tend to have the place to myself. Yet today, a Friday afternoon, I am here with a small group of pianists who reside downstairs.
I have grown accustomed to sharing this space with several pianos that get a regular tinkering. And I am trying my best to ignore this as much as I can, now, while I write these words to you. The pianists also have a tendency to turn off the lights on the nights they visit the house. I’m left stumbling about the stairs when ready to go home, but that’s not really the problem. So what is? The problem is that there’s a woman downstairs who is talking very loudly to the group. I have not heard her before. She is opinionated and her voice is grating, tiresome.
What do I do about it? I listen to birds outside my studio window. I listen to the endless cars passing a busy intersection that rests at the edge of this old house. I put on some earphones without playing music. I listen to my own breathing. I decide to have a dialogue with my current surroundings and I begin to concentrate.
Poetry can act much in the same way. It beavers away quietly and then, when it’s ready, it perks up and listens. It sits up and wants to speak. Poetry can be shrill like a boorish woman. It can be mean like a stray cat in the alley. It can be tired, unwanted and looking for a bite to eat, much like the man who came by here last Sunday afternoon. It can be gentle and polite or layered as an onion. Or an opinion. Whatever poetry may be, it has personality. It has a voice that speaks endlessly of the world and how we experience it. And although I write ‘voice’, I mean voices. I mean diversity. I mean array.
So it is fitting that I now present to you poems I have selected for this interlocutor-themed issue. I deliberately chose only one poem per poet to allow as many conversations to unfold as was allowed. I have also grouped these poems into a sequence of loosely connected exchanges and, if willing, you can follow these threads by reading the poems from left to right, line by line on the issue index page.
I would like to express my thanks to all the poets who spent time and energy submitting their work for this issue. I read every poem that arrived at Cordite Poetry Review and I am extremely grateful to you for sharing your work with me. Before taking on this guest editorship, I had no idea of just how many poems are submitted to Cordite, but all that changed swiftly once I was in the thick of selecting work. It was a hard job selecting less than five per cent of submitted poems and I must thank Kent MacCarter for being one hell of a Managing Editor.
I will not mention any of the selected poets directly in this editorial as I’m a firm believer that if you name one poet you ought to name them all. Discussing forty-three poets would take up the entire section of this already bursting issue. The selected poems are wide-ranging in tone. Many deal with the body, with interaction and with being ‘in dialogue’ with the environment the words find themselves in. Other pieces explore the self as nature, while some discuss animals or mountains and the elements, and how such symbols come to represent loss or offering. Dialect, language, translation and the naming of things are ever present. This extends to body language, to legacies, to memory and the inner voice. There are soliloquies, two-way conversations, differences of opinion and rumination on the endless complexities we navigate so regularly. A sense of communion evolves in each poem. Let the conversations begin.