Lately, I’ve been thinking about the places where writers live – or have lived – and what that does to a house and to those who inhabit the house later. My neighborhood has been home to a ridiculous number of historically important writers: William Dean Howells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Fuller, Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, Harriet Jacobs, T. S. Eliot. Often, I take a break from my own work and stroll by these spots, wondering what it would have been like to live next door to one of these big brains.
Recently, I was discussing landmarks with a student, who revealed that Eliot had lived in her apartment building. He had lived in one of my rental homes, too, and we compared stories. Did he sit here? Write there? I’m sure each of us brought him back in some way simply by invoking his name.
You’ll find Eliot’s spirit throughout this issue. After all, April is National Poetry Month, and while we haven’t devoted this entire book to poetry, we give it a serious nod within these pages. See Alissa Quart’s piece on transitioning from news stories to meter, Tony Hoagland’s advice on being a better writer, Tracy K. Smith’s reflections on discovery and a heady lineup of poets who reveal their influences.
You’ll notice, as well, that literary long-form nonfiction, which some might call the “opposite of poetry,” is heavily explored here. Constance Hale, Sam Quinones and Pamela Colloff are the headliners, but Ariel Schrag also discusses her first non-graphic novel (aptly called Adam), and Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang gives a personal view of crafting full-length works for the stage.
In the end, all imaginative writing leads to the old house of poetry. Who lives there? What are the particular pieces of furniture? How do they all fit together? And who is in the neighborhood? I’ve been fortunate to live among writers, among their ghosts (real or perceived) and within walking distance to their haunts. It’s intellectually bracing. And sometimes eerie. But I think it’s right to sit with those who walk or have walked in our field.
Eliot said: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” We hope this issue finds you sitting with writers whose work engages you and pushes you far. And again farther. Let us go then.