We here at Sobotka are excited to announce that Grant Garland will be joining us to help edit our fifth issue this winter. Grant is a graduate of the English Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, former editor of Montage, founder of literary podcast Middle Literate, and contributed to our first issue back in 2014. We’re proud to have him on board as our first guest editor and can’t wait to see what lands in our submission pile for Issue 5!
We are proud to have our words this week come from friend and Issue 4 contributor, Raul Clement.
“Gubbinal” by Wallace Stevens, is exactly the sort of poem I love – one whose surface simplicity gives way, on closer examination, to a great complexity of content and possible interpretations. Here is the poem in full:
“That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.
The world is ugly, And the people are sad.
That tuft of jungle feathers, That animal eye, Is just what you say.
That savage of fire, That seed, Have it your way.
The world is ugly, And the people are sad.”
I read this as a poem about how a certain pessimistic and unimaginative outlook fails to see the wonder of the world—and in doing so, actually diminishes that wonder.
The speaker of the poem sees the sun poetically, as a “strange flower.” But at the same time, with a bitter and sarcastic resignation, he tells the unnamed “you” to “have it your way.” In other words, according to the “you,” the sun is just the sun and nothing more.
The famous second stanza, repeated at the end of the poem, should not be interpreted literally—or at least not with a singular meaning. It does not represent the attitude of the speaker, but the attitude of the “you” he addresses. Stevens might have punctuated the poem like this:
That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way:
“The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.”
To do so, however, would have reduced the secondary meaning. The world is indeed ugly, and the people are sad—but only because of people claiming this is the case. By leaving out quotation marks, Stevens allows for this double meaning.
There is so much more to analyze—the title, the rhyme and meter, etc.—but that could turn into a ten-page essay. That Stevens manages to pack so much into so few words, and with such simplicity, is a reminder of the great power of poetic compression.
Submissions for Issue 5 are open until October 16th!
Send us your poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction!
Find full submission guidelines here!
Our words this week come from Nas’ track “One Love” off of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.
The lines are:
“But, yo, guess who got shot in the dome piece?
Jerome’s niece on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus Little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hanging out with young thugs that all carry 9s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?”
The textual cadence of these words is only a shadow of the spoken delivery, but the internal rhymes and crisp colloquiality of Nas’ lyrics are undeniable. Illmatic is full of dense, image intensive verses but the stylized envisioning of letters to jailed friends found on “One Love” has always stood out to me. The conversational relation of urban tragedy/reality is presented with such familiarity and frankness that I instantly relate to the unnamed recipient of Nas’ news. I feel the sadness of a little girl from the neighborhood being shot dead while walking home. I feel the anger of knowing another young kid from the block is getting involved in the same nonsense that killed that innocent child. I feel the guarded closeness between separated male friends, the commrodary of shared struggle. The clear-eyed bitterness and empathetic realism in Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic is part of the reason the record is a masterpiece, but the unique creative vision and flawless execution on “One Love” make it a touchstone for urban storytelling in my eyes/ears/mind.
This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is from the song “Small Hands” off of Keaton Henson’s album Dear. It goes,
“Get distracted by my music
think of nothing else but art
I’ll write my loneliness in poems,
if I can just think how to start”
A struggle that I never seem to be able to win is the tug of war between wanting to write, and create, and master, and actually being able to begin. One of the hardest parts of writing is conquering the fear of starting, the fear of creating something unworthy, so you stop, you quit before ever beginning. Appreciating, and getting lost in other people’s music is easy, but creating something yourself is a whole other ordeal. Once you begin though, once pen and mind are put to paper, the process of writing often flows naturally. All that is often needed is a nice, hard shove.
Our words this Wednesday come from Elliott Smith’s song “Ballad of Big Nothing” off his record Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars, 1997).
The lyrics are:
“Do what you want to whenever you want to/
though it doesn’t mean a thing/
Smith is undoubtedly a master of commonplace melancholy, but these words speak to a ever-present psychic thread that pulls at my mind: life is inherently meaningless. All your desires and dreads are transient. Every personal triumph or tragedy only has as much importance as you ascribe to it. These lines always sound like a smirk in the face of people so bent on having what they perceive as freedom that they lose sight of the fact that your ability to do what you want doesn’t necessarily fulfill any ultimate end, but rather just gives you access to a million new beginnings. Real freedom probably lies somewhere between realizing there is no perfect, achievable end and being able to consciously choose which beginnings to ascribe meaning to. Oh, and I love the way he sings it.