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Gloss on the Poem: There it is by Chris Agee

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Chris Agee

By Chris Agee

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On my 2013 London “plagues and epidemics” micropoem from Blue Sandbar Moon (2018)

This little poem is about as clear a prediction of this pandemic as would be possible – seven years in advance and with a London setting (subtext: capitalism’s splendiferous capital.)

Not, in fact, hard to prophesy – more of an emotional-visual epiphany that came upon me as I flew into London … so that the poem was written more or less in situ on the plane …

Of course foresight, instead of hindsight, has a certain compelling quality when it comes to poetry – one of those ancient poetic claims – and the fact that it predicts historically (that the poem took that risk) cannot be gainsaid, even if it is small and bijou …

Yet, in a way, the poem illustrates the opposite ethical point: that this pandemic was not, in fact, difficult to predict  …

But where were our political leaders?

I notice and like especially that two words in the poem are being used continually in the political discourse on the crisis: plateau and vulnerable. That somehow (for me) further “vouchsafes” (to use some Seamus Heaney words) the “in-place” verisimilitude of the poem.

The small, it turns out again, is often good for the big.

Or put another way, “microcosm”– and I have long used this imaginatively – is good for clarifications of “macrocosm,” in that the big picture at any one historical point is often obscured by itself.

So amidst the legions of poems now being written on the advent of the pandemic, you might say this one was the bijou mouse that saw it coming … it has that historical watermark …

(c) Chris Agee

April 2020


In the same way, in principle – and setting aside its incomparable quality, compared to mine – Mandelstam’s small poem, “The Stalin Epigram,” is still famous in Russia for when it denounced Stalin, i.e., in 1933. Whereas a similar denunciation by a Russian poet after his death in 1953 would have been mere hindsight, even if (unlikely) executed to the same standard.

On Blue Sandbar Moon:

“I think it is a monumental work ranging across both the European landscape and the deepest inner worlds.”

David Park, novelist

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About the author

Chris Agee is a poet, essayist, photographer and editor. His third collection of poems, Next to Nothing (Salt, 2009), was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, organized by the Poetry Society and funded by the British Poet Laureate. He is the Editor of Irish Pages, Ireland’s premier literary journal, and The Irish Pages Press, and recently edited Balkan Essays (The Irish Pages Press, 2016), the sixth volume of Hubert Butler’s essays. His fourth collection, Blue Sandbar Moon, was published in 2018. He divides his time between Ireland, Scotland and Croatia.

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