A Conversation Between Poets

Date:       Feb 24
From:       Dave Landsberger
To:         Yaddyra Peralta

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me


Your poems are really good. I liked them a lot. I want to talk about CHRIST STILL SWIMMING to start. Jesus swims through the poem and there’s this tremendous humanizing in that act. I mean, Jesus obviously bathed, but the pervading image is of Jesus’s miracle: walking on the water. That’s a great engine for the poem. Is that where the poem began or was it elsewhere?


Date:       Feb 25
From:       Yaddyra Peralta
To:         Dave Landsberger

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me

Thanks, Dave!

The poem began with another poem which was an unconscious homage to James Tate’s GOODTIME JESUS. That poem was a silly surreal poem in which Christ wakes up in a small-town jail after a bout of public drunkenness. He’s so hungover, he has an out-of-body experience where he can kind of see the rural and mountainous Honduran terrain from above.

It was that last bit that made me want to write more Christ poems. On some level it has to do with religion and with my extended family’s encounters with American and European proselytizers and the way these waves of religion via missionaries–Roman Catholic, American Evangelical–have shaped the culture and politics in Honduras.

Personally, I am mostly interested in Christ as a literary character and he is red-hot when he is human–angry at his disciples for slacking, angry at the money changers, fearful of himself whenever he is alone. . . I think he is an interesting vehicle to use in my work as he is an outsider viewing Honduran culture and history. In some ways, he enacts my encounter with Honduras, as it is mostly the place of my parents. I literally just wanted him to walk through the country, from south to north. When he reaches the Caribbean in this poem, I wanted him to swim because the waters are just majestic there. I didn’t realize that Christ was not walking on water until I had finished the first draft of that poem.

My Christ does strange things in that series of poems. He drinks hooch, talks to toucans, goes snorkeling. . .
So, here is a question about one of your poems. As always, I found so many surprises in all three–I almost don’t know where to start.

I would love for you to talk about the cicadas in IS IT THE SHOES?

I feel like you’ve talked about cicadas before, perhaps at a reading. . . the way cicadas have become a poetic cliché. Just drop one in a poem and your work is done. (I don’t want to put words in your mouth; this is just my memory/interpretation.) Cicadas are traditionally a marker of summertime in Japanese poetry, and at times can be used to symbolize reincarnation. But the cicadas in your poem are dead, dead, dead. Please talk about your reading of cicadas in poetry, particularly Japanese poetry, if you’d like. How does that reading inform your current work?


Date:       Feb 26
From:       Dave Landsberger
To:         Yaddyra Peralta

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me

What bothers me is that poetry can take this living thing, the cicada, and reduces it to one thing: it’s noise. And a poet will make that choice, over and over, to keep using it only as a noise. I understand that it’s what we associate with cicadas, but I think it’s poetry’s responsibility to make a living thing even more alive. The cicadas in the poem are dead because no one’s interacting with them.

In Japanese and Korean poetry the cicada is a symbol of purity. It lives underground off of the dew, for years and years before reproduction. It uses nothing but what comes to it. Many classical poets in these cultures were either high ranking government officials or monastic hermits. The latter lived with no one but the creatures around him, and the cicada became a roommate and an example of a lifestyle to strive towards. A Korean poet I really enjoy is Yi Kyu-bo. He gets really into the cohabitation of man and creature in a fun way. Kobayashi Issa, the Japanese haiku master, is another good roommate.

That’s actually another, albeit right in my wheelhouse, reason I loved the CHRIST STILL SWIMMING poem: getting to see Jesus with sea creatures, which is something I’ve never seen portrayed in any work of art. Jesus surrounded by jellyfish is an amazing tattoo that I hope to see in my life.

It seems then, that really all three of these poems are really ekphrastic poems. Where’s the better poem for you: in the art that you love or the art that frustrates you?


Date:       Mar 3
From:       Yaddyra Peralta
To:         Dave Landsberger

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me

I’m not sure which makes the better poem. I know what makes the better process and in terms of inspiration, I guess I lean slightly more towards frustration.

As I said before, I am not a religious person. My attraction to biblical figures is complicated and something I don’t fully understand. I am not at all attracted to the Christian concept of martyrdom. As a child, however, I loved the idea of Christ and his disciples as a sort of gang. That Christ goes off to a crucifixion he has to face on his own, and that ten of the remaining twelve disciples were said to have died their own separate martydoms in far-flung places–Peter was crucified upside down in Rome and Thomas was said to have been speared to death in India–is sad and lonely in a curious way and luckily there are enough narrative gaps for me to work with as a poet.

VANGELIS OF THE CARIB COAST is a strange poem I never thought would succeed. It is from a series of poems I am working on that attempts to capture the sublimity of discovering the movies in gigantic movie theaters with gigantic screens with large sound. Cat People, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Robocop and Terminator were all films I saw in the years when my parents were also sending me away to Honduras for summer vacation. So these sense impressions–spacey synthesizers and lush highland mountains–came together in a way that still messes with my memories. Because the feelings that these movies and memories still stir in me is nothing short of sublime–at least as the term is used in art and philosophy–something that embodies both the turbulent and the beautiful in an inexplicable way, I am finding these poems to be a bit of a challenge. How do you write that?

I am glad you mentioned Issa because I was trying to put my finger on the tonal quality of your poems. Issa’s haiku—direct, honest, at times, downright cranky–sometimes make the work of the other masters seem like pretty landscape paintings in comparison. Your poems have couches that hate, moonroofs that confuse, and yammering dumpsters. They seem to be of a different genre: the anti-pastoral. Or the urban elegy. Very little romance or white-washing here. I’ve seen this element in your work before, particularly in the work you produced when you lived in South Florida. How is your current environment influencing your work? And in general, how sensitive are you, as a poet, to your living and working environment?


Date:       Mar 15
From:       Dave Landsberger
To:         Yaddyra Peralta

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me

I always tell people who aren’t from Chicago that the best thing about it is that everyone who is here wants to be here. People don’t come to Chicago to “make it” or whatever, they come here because they like it, and the winter is a blessing in disguise because it keeps a lot of posers and lazy people away. I think that’s a great environment in which to create. Everybody here is all in.

But Chicago is still this beast of a city, grazing next to Lake Michigan, and it’s stubborn and primal. I work in the Loop on the 36th floor next to the Chicago River, and there are peregrine falcons soaring and stooping outside my window everyday while I make calls, write emails, etc. Everything feels like it’s at work here, constantly. I’m sure Carl Sandburg said this more eloquently 100 years ago. Like in the opening stanza to his poem Halsted Street Car:

“Come all you cartoonists,
hang on a strap with me here
at seven o’clock in the morning
on a Halsted street car.”

It’s a small poem but it gets at what makes things move here to me. First, there’s people going to work at 7 am on that car. Second, the only people who can capture it the right way would be the cartoonists. Sometimes I feel a greater connection to cartooning than to poetry.

Most poems start with an image for me, an overwhelming percentage of them. If not, it usually begins with something I read, like a quote. I don’t really start poems with ideas or arguments or forms, it’s rare. The poem GENTRIFICATION is an example of a poem beginning with an image from my environment, even though I was just passing through a small town in Indiana where I saw the old and the new Pizza Hut next to one another. Images birth ideas in my head, not the other way around. Do you ever see something so often that you feel like you have to write a poem about it? Sometimes I write poems because I feel I owe it to the subject of it. The car wash next to my apartment has been begging for a poem for months.

GENTRIFICATION began as an image but evolved into an argument. And once all that was in place I could settle on the form, which is a haibun.

Let’s talk about how poems begin with ST. PETER IN DENIAL. You have an epigraph in the poem, John 21:18. I’m really into epigraphs at the moment and I was wondering with this poem and you other work, where does the epigraph enter the creative process for you?


Date:       Mar 23
From:       Yaddyra Peralta
To:         Dave Landsberger

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me


Epigraphs have only entered my writing practice in the last two years or so.

The manuscript I am working on includes a few poems based on historical figures. Since I do light research at times, I like to collect interesting quotes, facts or ideas that I come upon–I like finding odd things that are surprising and stir some kind of odd emotion for me. For instance, the fact that Jack Ruby left his prized dachshund in a parked car so that he could go shoot Oswald. The quote is a simple one I found on a blog: “Jack Ruby left his dog in the parked car.” Well, for me any dog in a parked car is an evocative image. Separation. Anticipation. Fidelity. Abandonment. How does one turn a poem that could topically be about the Kennedy/Oswald assassination into one that’s about the intimate dependency between two beings? One that is about the invisible moment when the cord is cut? Either by choice or circumstances beyond their control. I’ve actually not written this poem, but I imagine that if I wrote a poem inspired mostly by an epigraph, this is how my thought process would work.

For ST. PETER IN DENIAL, I had a title–Peter was the disciple who denied Christ three times–and I had the overall concept for a series. I imagined placing 10 of the disciples in parts of Honduras as they neared their martyrdom. I knew I didn’t want them to be fully narrative and I didn’t want to reference the actual method of execution. I envisioned Peter being carried out of caves located in the interior of the country where my mother is from. But because this was random placement, I had no clue as to how I was going to enter this poem. I picked up a Bible, flipped to the New Testament and found the epigraph you see at the start of the poem. I was haunted by that image of being carried where one does not want to go, and that image carried my imagination into the poem. The epigraph works because it doesn’t explain too much. It’s a bit mysterious and open-ended like the poem itself.

I guess I will end this amazing conversation with a question that seems obligatory and maybe boring, but I do really want to know: Who are you reading and why?


Date:       Mar 24
From:       Dave Landsberger
To:         Yaddyra Peralta

CC:         Marina Pruna, Me

The fact that you haven’t written that poem about Jack Ruby’s dachshund in the car is great, just so great. I feel like you illustrated even better than I could about what makes epigraphs so magical: they create their own tiny universe simply via innuendo, slight connection, or in dichotomy against the main “body” of the poem. I feel as if they are so, so, useful in that sense, if not for the finished product of the poem itself, then simply for the writing process.

Rather than tell you what I’m reading now I’ll tell you the best thing I’ve read in a long time: “The Peregrine” by J.A. Baker. The book is a daily journal of Baker following a few peregrines on his property in England from the beginning of autumn to the end of spring. It is the best nature writing I have ever read. I cannot recommend it higher.

Thank you so much, Yaddy. It has been wonderful to peek around in your brain.


  1. laura1553 says:

    What an inspiring conversation. Thank you!


  1. […] Milbrodt, and Valerie Valdes, Nonfiction by J. Michael Lennon, Erin Khar, Rebecca Cook. Poetry by Dave Landsberger, Yaddyra Peralta, John Sibley Williams, Joseph Mills, Katharyn Howd Machan, and Patrick […]

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