Archive Editor's Note

Curare: Editor’s Discussion, June 2022

Dear Reader,

A recent unsubscriber from the Poem of the Day newsletter explained that May’s poems were “too depressing” for them to want to read on. I know how productive difficult poetry can be, and this reader’s comment gives me an opportunity to unpack some reasoning behind Poem of the Day and the archive writ large, especially in light of the first poem you are receiving this June, as well as poems to come.

This month begins with Paul Celan’sAshglory” in Pierre Joris's translation from Breathturn into Timestead (2014). Celan’s stark, stunted language is striking: two to four word lines open the first stanzas with unfamiliar terms including “pontic” and the compound word “ashglory,” creating a consuming and bleak grayness. The speaker says, “I dug myself into you and into you” on the “vertical breathrope,” extending like a stretched throat up and up, craning and perhaps expecting death. This poem feels alien and alienating. The speaker is grasping and digging for something – for what? – into “you.”

I chose this poem for June 1st’s Poem of the Day to mark the anniversary of the devastating, yet necessary, revelation of the first confirmed Nazi camp at Chelma by the newspaper the Liberty Brigade in 1942. June is also LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and I am thinking about how we remember those who we have lost to oppression: how we celebrate and how we mourn. I believe it may be part of our job as poetry readers, writers, culture workers, and appreciators of the Humanities to take deep care with those around us and the world we live in. Deep care is painful and transformative, and despite these “painknots” that we endure, we have to remember that it is better to dig the dirt out of the wound so that it may fully heal.

I recently learned that the word “curate” comes from “curare,” a Latin root meaning “to attend and to care for." I’ve long had an aversion to the terminology of “curating” an archive, since that word is used frequently out of the context of the difficult and important work with which I associate it. After learning this root’s meaning, though, I feel that “curate” may be a more compassionate word⁠— or could certainly be used with compassion. With their roots in care-work, curators gather and provide materials for others to varying degrees of effect. For all of you, we hope to care for poetry and to share it out. Some of that ongoing work is difficult and painful – depressing, perhaps. Take care of those feelings, and of each other, and share the poems that help you to do so.

Power to the People and to Poetry,

Robert Eric Shoemaker, PhD
Digital Archive Editor

Originally Published: June 1st, 2022

Dr. Robert Eric Shoemaker is the Digital Archive Editor at the Poetry Foundation. Eric is an interdisciplinary poet, artist, and scholar. He holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Louisville and an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. He...