Poems - Bio - Interview
Winter After the Strike
if you cast wide enough
your net of want and will, something meaningful
will respond. Perhaps we are the response—
each a cresting echo
hesitating, vibrant with the moment
before rippling back.
But you’re steadfast as Odysseus strapped to the mast, as you were
in ’81 when Reagan ordered you back to work. You were President
of the union local you steered with your working-man’s voice,
voice that ground the Ptolemaic ballet of air traffic to
a temporary stop.
You used it to refuse to cross the
picket line I walked
with you outside Newark International.
I miss sitting beside you at the console when you worked
shift in the tower. Mom and I visited with our
I could see the dark Turnpike for miles, the
office buildings winking insomniac cells, the tarmac
spread before us like a picnic blanket and you, like a jade Buddha
in the glow of that radial EKG.
You’d push the microphone in front of me, nod, and let me
give the word.
all my stars home, trajectories bent on the weight
of my voice.
You say you miss tracking those leviathans,
each one snagged
on the barb
of your liturgy. I, too, get reeled in by the hard, now rusty music
of your pipes.
I follow it back to the day of your accident in the story you tell:
you were sixteen, hurdling the railings
dividing row-house porches
from one end of Widener Place to the other to impress Mom.
I imagine the way you cleared each one like a leaf
on water, catching
the penultimate, the rubber toe of your Chuck Taylors kissed
by the rail, upsetting your rhythm and you roiled
in the air
arms outstretched, stumbling toward the last like one hell-bent
or sick to the stomach. The way you landed,
on your throat,
could have taken your head clean off. Since then, your voice issues
like some wartime communiqué: a ragged,
which you swallow with your smoker’s cough black as a tire
spinning in the snow. That winter after the
we were so poor you
sold everything but the house. Tell me, Dad,
when you’d stand at the door calling me in for the night,
could you hear me speaking
to snowflakes falling beneath
Could you hear me out there, imitating you imitating
Poems - Bio - Interview
Gregory Pardlo is a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry and has received
fellowships and residencies from the NEA, the MacDowell Colony, the Seaside Institute, and the Cave Canem African
American Poet’s Retreat. His poems and translations have appeared in Callaloo, Lyric, Painted Bride Quarterly,
Ploughshares, Seneca Review, Volt, and elsewhere. His reviews have appeared in Black Issues Book Review
and have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His volume of translations from the Danish
poet Niels Lyngsoe, Pencil of Rays and Spiked Mace, was published in 2004. He holds a MFA degree from New
York University where he was a New York Times Fellow in poetry and is currently working on a Ph.D. in English at
the Graduate Center, CUNY. His is first book, Totem, was chosen by Brenda Hillman for the 2007 American
Poetry Review/ Honickman Prize.
Poems - Bio - Interview
Interview with Gregory Pardlo by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum: Can you tell us a little
bit about how this poem came to be? Is this a poem that was inspired or that you had in mind to write? Has it drastically
changed over time? Did it start out in this form, as a sort of address to your father, or did that come with revision?
Greg Pardlo: It was definitely a poem I had in mind to write because the union, the
Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), had cast such a long shadow over my adolescence: my father’s
role in the union, the strike itself, the poverty, the ostracism my family ultimately experienced as traitors of
the middle class. But of course, inwardly it was a source of great pride that my family belonged to this small union, this
tribe as I liked to think of it, of Americans whose sense of worth in the public life of the nation was such that
permitted us collectively to challenge the nation’s highest public office. As a twelve year-old black boy,
this was a powerful identification, because through it I was able to counter almost every stereotyped image of myself
I saw otherwise reflected in society. So I intend the poem to be more than an address to the father.
primary trope of the poem considers the condition of the individual voice in its negotiation with the realities
we find before us, the voice in its attempt to influence or alter a cultural and natural universe that resists acknowledging
us individually. Speech as protest, the simple act of articulation registering the opposition to silence. Perhaps
because of my ignorance of theology, I’ve always (mis)understood prayer as a form of protest. So the poem is
meant to celebrate the solitary individual occupying what I imagine to be a tradition of individuals at the mountaintop
vainly submitting demands to, in the case of this poem, a secular authority among various types of authority. The
poems is also self-consciously aware of the speaker’s own participation in that tradition as he performs the
very thing he describes.
Most of my poems begin as prose. I just try to communicate the idea first to
myself. Then I begin trying it in different verse forms. There’s a fine line between what feels "right"
or organic, and what just feels obvious. This poem is one whose form, the couplets, I’m more ambivalent about
in that regard. After finding a form, however, I try to find a voice or tone. Then I meticulously polish and explain
and revise. Finally, when I think I have something comprehensible, I take a hammer to the whole thing and start
over. That hammer might be a disrupting lyric or rhythmic pattern, an image or a secret rule I apply to the poem.
AMK: It seems that while most poems have a meaning or a number of meanings that operate
on various levels, most poets have a particular meaning or artifice they wish each of their poems to take on. Obviously,
"Winter After the Strike" is about your father, but what in particular (or not in particular) is it that
you hope readers take away from the poem?