National Poetry Month Spotlight: James Reidel

Coma Berenices
You’re born, a gray dye pack.
You get so far from the hospital.
Then one day it’s the medicine cabinet,
That first door to open for so many,
That gets us back into our day,
And there it is in the mirror.
Fun house.
But it’s nothing, a dusting, Jack Frost in the
A pantry moth’s worth,
A couple of tired ones,
The kind I can pinch off the screens,
Powder marks between my fingers,
A gray so faint to the eye you could still cut it all
***for a sick child’s wig,
Not even brush,
Just look at hard
Until it turns and laps back into temples dishwater
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: Before a painting titled Ariadne Sleeping by Reginald Grooms that hangs over my desk. Ariadne’s folded legs fall such that her bare knees point directly to my flat screen monitor. My eyes must always return to my work should they stray up to her naked form, and so they do now, to a poem that is titled “Coma Berenices,” after a constellation that is also named for Ariadne’s hair by astronomer Eratosthenes. My desktop, by the way, is covered by an enormous piece of plate glass under which I have hundreds of pieces of paper, pictures, photographs, anything flat really. It forms a collage, or a constellation of my history. So, I guess, all of this fits with my métier, which tries to assemble a fixed object out of fixed fragments. It’s getting them into motion that is the poetry. Every line of this poem came from a different day, from a different experience, but made for one experience as it was, when it did not have all the words yet but the mild shock and how it faded. So my workplace—the painting was found in the basement when we moved in, the big desk, the glass and confetti-like lantern show underneath came later and was shoved underneath over years—forms a triptych of what I do, what we all have to do, work through beginning–middle–end.
Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?
A: “Dream Song 14” because it’s such good advice. Every line should be cut up and stuffed in as many fortune cookies. The poem has long been my fortune. Do feel sorry for me, I guess.
Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?
A: This revised and expanded English translation of Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Until now, what we have read in English is a condensed book that never said so. Uncondensing another man’s translation is a very interesting thing to do because it is so forensic, so like art restoration. I had to make it seem like nothing happened over the 12 months that I worked countless hours, that nothing was wrong in the first place. It was like dubbing, too, this time an American voice for English actor—and the first translator was a former actor—while still pretending to be Werfel and not getting him so wrong after being so memorably acted.
James Reidel is the author of My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg and other poems (Black Lawrence Press, 2006). His translation of Franz Werfel’s shortest novel, Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand, and a revised and expanded translation of Werfel’s longest, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, will be published by David R. Godine in mid-2011.