Wild Intimacies in “Raised by Wolves”


In Tess Gallagher’s poem ‘Trace, in Unison,’ two lovers are lying in bed during a night of unrelenting rain when they are approached by a mystifying figure: ‘we rolled toward / the voice like one body and said / with our eyes closed, “Then weep, then / love.”’ The combination of tenderness and wilderness in this scene—the intimate synchronicity of the lovers’ movement and the ferocious element of the rain—characterizes Raised by Wolves, the anthology in which this poem appears. Marking the semicentennial anniversary of Graywolf Press, this anthology vibrates with the different howls of fifty Graywolf poets who select and introduce fifty poems they love by their press-mates.

Katie Ford chooses ‘Trace, in Unison’ and reminds us that Gallagher’s Instructions to the Double (1976) was Graywolf’s first full-length collection of poetry. Drawing from ‘the Double’ of Gallagher’s foundational book and the unison in the poem she has selected, Ford writes in her introduction that ‘[t]wo is the way of the poet. One cannot create figuration, always another is needed.’ In Raised by Wolves, the ‘two of the poet’ collapses and multiplies into a network of untamable bonds—between the reader and the poet, the poet and the critic, the poet and the other poet—within the beautiful, deadly, and bewildering ecosystem of contemporary poetry.

The introductions, while shorter than a page, provide different entry points into the poems by offering useful biographical and historical context as well as interpretative readings. These readings are “close” in every sense of the word: critically careful, open to the many textual possibilities, and characterized by a closeness that has developed over time. For instance, Jennifer Grotz writes that ‘Susan Stewart’s “The Forest” has haunted [her] now for nearly thirty years’ and Vijay Seshadri notes that he has been reading Tomas Tranströmer’s “From an African Diary (1963)” ‘for almost all its life in English.’ Although they never simply proselytize, the introductions are collectively about the selected poets as much as they are to them, to address and honor them, as mentors, ancestors, and muses.

Laying bare intimate relationships, literary inheritances, political alliances, and intellectual coteries, the brief introductions become profound gestures of understanding, (queer) familiarity, and devotion. Carmen Giménez, the publisher and director of the press, writes in her preface that these introductions take on many forms. For instance, Jim Moore composes an epitaph for William Stafford: ‘“Vita” serves as a coda—at once both offhand and mysterious—to a life devoted to poetry.’ Erika L. Sánchez writes an ode to Diane Seuss: ‘The language of this poem tastes like an elegant vinegar. A vinegar infused with a hysterical sweetness.’ Solmaz Sharif comes up with a blurb for Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: ‘This book is one of the most powerful historical registers of the time.’ Jenny Xie shares an anecdote involving Yi Lei and one of her translators, Tracy K. Smith: ‘Smith met Yi Lei by happenstance, over a Chinese New Year lunch in Manhattan. Neither spoke one another’s language.’

In fact, Lei’s poem ‘Between Strangers’—‘a poem of doubled intimacies,’ as Xie writes—could very well be about Raised by Wolves:

Maybe we need only strike a match
for my world to flicker in your sky,
Visible finally, and eye-to-eye.
Breachable, finally, the border between us.
What if we touched? What then?
Would something in us hum an old familiar song?

Strangers connect by coincidence despite language barriers. A world flickers like a moon in someone else’s sky. We touch. We harmonize. There is an ancient humming. We can hear this in Raised by Wolves, in the intimacies between poets who are writing from various ethnoracial locations, in an array of forms (from Alice Oswald’s “Sea Sonner” to D. A. Powell’s pastoral epic), from different generations (from Malcolm Tariq to Linda Gregg), with diverse thematic interests (disability justice, poverty, beauty), and for divergent publics. The poets are gathered in these pages and borders are, finally, breachable.

See Also

Raised by Wolves is a powerful index of the magnitude of contemporary US poetry. The scope of this anthology will provide new readers with a kaleidoscopic view of this ecosystem at the same time that it will allow more experienced readers to explore the dynamics of literary kinship. To put it differently, here we encounter not only the strength of the poet in the pack but the strength of the pack in the poet. Or, as Dobby Gibson writes in the epigraph, “Beware of the wolves. They’ve been raised by wolves.”

Raised by Wolves: Fifty Poets on Fifty Poems
Graywolf Press
Published January 23, 2024

Christos Kalli

Christos Kalli is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Ninth Letter, and the Adroit Journal, and his reviews have been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Harvard Review, and World Literature Today. Visit him at christoskalli.com.


Source link