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Simone Muench

 02-16-2016

 
Simone Muench
 
Wolf Cento

I saw my life a wolf loping along the road--
a glint of bone, visible & then gone,
a landscape altered.
Ideas, hair, fingers
fall & come to naught.
A shirt blows across the field.
A shrug of stars as flowers go out on the sea.
Maybe the whole world is absentminded
or floating. The flower, the weather,
the room empties its mind of me,
the sea-pulse of my utterance.
I have stood for a long time
at the edge of a river, unknown, nameless,
hands groping for the shape of the animal.
Not knowing what all the music had been hiding.

 

Wolf Cento

Stunned by gold, we see coming
in full gallop, at vertiginous speed, the last sun,
frail orbits, green tries, games of stars.
We are looking for a way to live
as the she-wolf of these clouds tumbles
down through stricken dawn-dark, slanting
through the quadrant seasons, deep
between vineyards rows. With her teeth
the she-wolf reaches the blonde braid of a star,
a thing of gleaming: a radiant evanescence
the blue dogs paw.          Lick the dew
opening beautifully inside my brain
where everything is green like quetzal flowers
or the light in the skull of a bird
or a thousand tropics in an apple blossom--
What's there: the endless clear country road,
a cold drink before sunset & then a bed.
We are looking for a way to live.

 

Wolf Cento

Who will take the madness from the trees?
The petals of dead planets broken.
What do they matter now, the deprivations.

Your voice will never recover
what was said once, so when you hold
the hemisphere & once more take up the world,

I can see myself in you as though I were sitting
in a beautiful wound. I drink from your footprint
& see: a red wolf strangled by an angel

against the immeasurable sun. This terrifying
world is not devoid of charms--
the poppy that no girl's finger has opened,

farmhouses dark against a sublime blue,
an airplane whistling from the other world.
In the distance someone is singing. In the distance

a slow, sweet song crowded with floating animals
& small artifacts: bell jar, honeycomb, revolver.
Can we describe the world this way--

with stars & bullet holes? A presence or its contrary?
Like dizzy horses that dissolve into a dust of sheen,
I pass through them as they pass through me.

                               -from Wolf Centos

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Simone Muench is the author of five books, including Orange Crush (Sarabande, 2010) and Wolf Centos (Sarabande, 2014). Her chapbook Trace received the Black River Award in 2014. Some of her honors include an NEA fellowship, Illinois Arts Council fellowships, the Marianne Moore Prize for Poetry, the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry, the PSA's Bright Lights/Big Verse Contest, and residency fellowships to Yaddo, Artsmith, and the Vermont Studio Center. At Lewis University, she serves as professor of English and chief faculty advisor for Jet Fuel Review. Her collaborative sonnets, written with Dean Rader, are forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, New American Writing, Zyzzyva, Blackbird, and other journals.

______________________________________________________________________________

Poems - Bio - Reviews - Interviews

A Review of Simone Muench's Wolf Centos by Julie Swarstad Johnson, first published by Harvard Review

Few forms demand such submission from writers as do centos, a purely collaged form with a millennium and a half of history. Unsurprisingly, centos appear only rarely in contemporary poetry. Wolf Centos, Simone Muench’s fifth collection of poetry published by Sarabande Books, approaches the challenge of centos through absolute commitment—Muench can’t claim to have written a single word of Wolf Centos’ sixty pages. And yet every word becomes hers; the one hundred and eighty-seven source poets listed at the back of the book remain secondary to Muench’s project. In Wolf Centos, Muench presents a daring attempt to submit to formal constraints and create something lasting within them.

Muench, a professor of creative writing and film studies, titles each poem in the collection “Wolf Cento,” continually signaling that while the lines are borrowed, the poems are original acts of curation and arrangement. The title also draws attention to wolves or the wolf, here an enigmatic figure. “We wanted to be wolves,” Muench writes in “[We: spectators, always, everywhere],” “strange animal with its miraculous elusiveness— / a step toward luck & a step toward ruin.” Muench’s wolf has the allure of a fairytale villain, a danger standing in for something else. The collection’s opening poem concludes:

I have stood for a long time
at the edge of a river, unknown, nameless,
hands groping for the shape of the animal.
Not knowing what all the music had been hiding.
                            (“[I saw my life a wolf loping along the road]”)

The wolf, a menace both enticing and real, Muench tells us, has been just out of sight all along.

Muench constructs her centos from nearly two hundred sources, including Anne Carson and Marianne Moore, Dino Campana and Tomas Tranströmer, Anna Akhmatova and Gwendolyn Brooks. From Wisława Szymborska’s “Reality Demands” (translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh), Muench takes the line, “This terrifying world is not devoid of charms.” Szymborska’s poem encompasses the globe as it grapples with destruction and the truth that “life goes on.” Muench, however, uses the line in a poem that lingers closer to home, narrowing Szymborska’s worldview to a single speaker’s intimate experience of her own life:

This terrifying
world is not devoid of charms—
the poppy that no girl’s finger has opened,

farmhouses dark against a sublime blue,
an airplane whistling from the other world.
                            (“[Who will take the madness from the trees?]”)

Throughout Wolf Centos, Muench employs potentially familiar lines but asks us to reconsider them in a new context. “I will name nothingness / the lightning which bore you,” she borrows from Yves Bonnefoy as translated by Galway Kinnell (“[A stranger’s coming past]”). She continues in the voice of Muriel Rukeyser: “I am working out / the vocabulary of my silence,” putting the poets in conversation with one another on the page.

Whether you know many or none of the lines culled to create Wolf Centos, Muench gives them new life. Readers familiar with Muench’s work will recognize her distinctive voice, simultaneously direct and surreal. “Hex,” from her 2010 collection Orange Crush, could easily fit into Wolf Centos, with its bizarre list of “poke root and bladderwrack, / chalklines in bloody bedrooms / and black reptilian bags.” A similar list of images piles up in “[There is a wolf in me, sound]”: “sound / of countries, red cassia flowers, / inheritance of gallows; something / in the mouth like feathers.” Even when collaging, Muench gravitates toward a diction and images all her own. We could consider this a defect: Muench dedicates herself to collaging and creates something that doesn’t sound remarkably different from her other work. Or we could call it accomplishment: from fragments, Muench creates a cohesive whole consistent with her own style.

Centos offer us two main avenues of assessment—do we appreciate them for their sources and for the effective use of those sources, or do we value their success as new poems regardless of their origins? To focus on either choice leaves something vital out of the equation. In Wolf Centos, Muench gathers a wide array of voices into dreamlike poems that circle through a dark world of snow and blood, trees and closed doors, wolves and women. “Which of us is writing this page I don’t know,” Muench quotes Jose Luis Borges as translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni (“[You hear things. I see them.]”). Wolf Centos presents an attention-worthy engagement with a demanding form.

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Click here to read a review of Wolf Centos at PANK

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Click here to read a review of Wolf Centos at The Rumpus

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An Interview with Simone Muench by Jarrett Neal, first published by Newcity Lit

Jarrett Neal: What was the inspiration for "Wolf Centos"?

Simone Muench: Brandi Homan led me to the form; Vasko Popa, Gabriela Mistral, and my childhood malamute Zach, helped guide me to the wolf.

JN: What was your process in writing these poems?

SM: I gleaned through numerous single-authored texts as well as many world anthologies and, in a similar manner to erasure, when a line would light my eye, I'd highlight it. I would go through texts and underline lines and phrases that sparked my attention. Once I was done underlining various lines that "called" to me, I would then transcribe them in a Word document, until I had hundreds of lines. From there I would start the act of stitching the lines together, tailoring something that made sense to me in terms of atmosphere, associative imagery and sonic latticework.

JN: This collection is replete with arresting images. Some of my favorite lines concern the (dis)connection between humans and animals. I love the line "you have become human, alien & hateful." These poems seem intent on preserving the animal within us, as if the speaker is compelling us to return to a primordial state of human existence. Do you agree?

SM: The poems are most interested in the idea that "every transformation is possible," so in that regard, yes, they are engaged by metamorphic acts of returning us to something embedded in ourselves, but also beyond ourselves. In addition to human and animals, they are also interested in textuality's connections and disconnections: the transformation of one text into another.

JN: There's something quite elegiac about these poems.

SM: I am interested in elegy and the three parts of elegy: grief, loss and desire. Humans are limited in their ability to express those three things, and this is one of the reasons we turn to poetry. Finding the wolf was my way to give voice to their unsayable experiences. Not all of the poems are elegiac but most of them have subterranean undercurrents of grief, loss and desire.

JN: Why the wolf?

SM: For me, the wolf has so many contradictions. We think of the cliché "the lone wolf" but wolves are actually social creatures that travel in packs. We think of them as mysterious, and I am definitely beholden to the mysterious in poetry. When I was a kid, I had a pet malamute, Zach. He disappeared one day. I don't know if he was shot or stolen, but I was so devastated. I used the window of wolf to sing through. The wolf is evolutionarily real, but ultimately imaginary in that it represents the mysterious, elusive other. In this manner, the wolf, which is both romanticized and demonized, with its multiple contradictions (e.g. the lone wolf versus the wolf pack) becomes the address in which these poems accrete their flesh.

What was the inspiration for “Wolf Centos”? 
Brandi Homan led me to the form; Vasko Popa, Gabriela Mistral, and my childhood malamute Zach, helped guide me to the wolf.

What was your process in writing these poems?
I gleaned through numerous single-authored texts as well as many world anthologies and, in a similar manner to erasure, when a line would light my eye, I’d highlight it. I would go through texts and underline lines and phrases that sparked my attention. Once I was done underlining various lines that “called” to me, I would then transcribe them in a Word document, until I had hundreds of lines. From there I would start the act of stitching the lines together, tailoring something that made sense to me in terms of atmosphere, associative imagery and sonic latticework.

This collection is replete with arresting images. Some of my favorite lines concern the (dis)connection between humans and animals. I love the line “you have become human, alien & hateful.” These poems seem intent on preserving the animal within us, as if the speaker is compelling us to return to a primordial state of human existence. Do you agree?
The poems are most interested in the idea that “every transformation is possible,” so in that regard, yes, they are engaged by metamorphic acts of returning us to something embedded in ourselves, but also beyond ourselves. In addition to human and animals, they are also interested in textuality’s connections and disconnections: the transformation of one text into another.

There’s something quite elegiac about these poems.
I am interested in elegy and the three parts of elegy: grief, loss and desire. Humans are limited in their ability to express those three things, and this is one of the reasons we turn to poetry. Finding the wolf was my way to give voice to their unsayable experiences. Not all of the poems are elegiac but most of them have subterranean undercurrents of grief, loss and desire.

Why the wolf?
For me, the wolf has so many contradictions. We think of the cliché “the lone wolf” but wolves are actually social creatures that travel in packs. We think of them as mysterious, and I am definitely beholden to the mysterious in poetry. When I was a kid, I had a pet malamute, Zach. He disappeared one day. I don’t know if he was shot or stolen, but I was so devastated. I used the window of wolf to sing through. The wolf is evolutionarily real, but ultimately imaginary in that it represents the mysterious, elusive other. In this manner, the wolf, which is both romanticized and demonized, with its multiple contradictions (e.g. the lone wolf versus the wolf pack) becomes the address in which these poems accrete their flesh.

- See more at: http://lit.newcity.com/2015/01/22/the-great-and-royal-animal-within-an-interview-with-simone-muench/#sthash.yoU7Te6L.dpuf

JN: You sourced phenomenal poets for "Wolf Centos." Charles Baudelaire, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bei Dao, Federico García Lorca, Czeslaw Milosz and Walt Whitman are just several of the poets you borrowed from to create these works. What do you seek when you read poetry?

SM: In reading all of these poets who had such a profundity to their work, I also wanted to become a reader again for a while. As I was reading across eras and geographical regions, I realized everyone had a wolf in their poems. I compiled hundreds and hundreds of lines with wolves in them. I seek sustenance, surprise, dialogue, frisson and translations of the unsayable.

JN: Preserving the inner life at all costs is one of the many ideas I take away from this book. Is the erosion of the inner life and self-reflection a concern for you?

SM: The erosion of imagination is definitely a concern, and in this manner, the wolf also becomes a conduit in which to explore anxieties concerning the taming of imagination and the domestication of the marvelous.

JN: Through the multiple encounters I have had with these poems, it is evident that you are enraptured with language and, like all poets, language is sacred to you. In your opinion, can language help return us to our primal selves or does it just get in the way?

SM: Well language, of course, is problematic. Humans are social creatures like wolves, yet there is within us the need for the solitary, and perhaps in that place, language does not exist.

JN: What are you reading now?

SM: Gillian Flynn's "Dark Places"; Claudia Rankine's "Citizen: An American Lyric"; Jill McDonough's "Habeas Corpus"; and Bruce Kawin's "Horror and the Horror Film."

 

You sourced phenomenal poets for “Wolf Centos.” Charles Baudelaire, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bei Dao, Federico García Lorca, Czeslaw Milosz and Walt Whitman are just several of the poets you borrowed from to create these works. What do you seek when you read poetry?
In reading all of these poets who had such a profundity to their work, I also wanted to become a reader again for a while. As I was reading across eras and geographical regions, I realized everyone had a wolf in their poems. I compiled hundreds and hundreds of lines with wolves in them. I seek sustenance, surprise, dialogue, frisson and translations of the unsayable.

Preserving the inner life at all costs is one of the many ideas I take away from this book. Is the erosion of the inner life and self-reflection a concern for you?
The erosion of imagination is definitely a concern, and in this manner, the wolf also becomes a conduit in which to explore anxieties concerning the taming of imagination and the domestication of the marvelous.

Through the multiple encounters I have had with these poems, it is evident that you are enraptured with language and, like all poets, language is sacred to you. In your opinion, can language help return us to our primal selves or does it just get in the way?
Well language, of course, is problematic. Humans are social creatures like wolves, yet there is within us the need for the solitary, and perhaps in that place, language does not exist.

What are you reading now?
Gillian Flynn’s “Dark Places”; Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric”; Jill McDonough’s “Habeas Corpus”; and Bruce Kawin’s “Horror and the Horror Film.”

- See more at: http://lit.newcity.com/2015/01/22/the-great-and-royal-animal-within-an-interview-with-simone-muench/#sthash.yoU7Te6L.dpuf

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Click here to read an interview with SImone Muench at The Cloudy House

 Poems - Bio - Reviews - Interviews

You sourced phenomenal poets for “Wolf Centos.” Charles Baudelaire, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bei Dao, Federico García Lorca, Czeslaw Milosz and Walt Whitman are just several of the poets you borrowed from to create these works. What do you seek when you read poetry?
In reading all of these poets who had such a profundity to their work, I also wanted to become a reader again for a while. As I was reading across eras and geographical regions, I realized everyone had a wolf in their poems. I compiled hundreds and hundreds of lines with wolves in them. I seek sustenance, surprise, dialogue, frisson and translations of the unsayable.

Preserving the inner life at all costs is one of the many ideas I take away from this book. Is the erosion of the inner life and self-reflection a concern for you?
The erosion of imagination is definitely a concern, and in this manner, the wolf also becomes a conduit in which to explore anxieties concerning the taming of imagination and the domestication of the marvelous.

Through the multiple encounters I have had with these poems, it is evident that you are enraptured with language and, like all poets, language is sacred to you. In your opinion, can language help return us to our primal selves or does it just get in the way?
Well language, of course, is problematic. Humans are social creatures like wolves, yet there is within us the need for the solitary, and perhaps in that place, language does not exist.

What are you reading now?
Gillian Flynn’s “Dark Places”; Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric”; Jill McDonough’s “Habeas Corpus”; and Bruce Kawin’s “Horror and the Horror Film.”

- See more at: http://lit.newcity.com/2015/01/22/the-great-and-royal-animal-within-an-interview-with-simone-muench/#sthash.yoU7Te6L.dpuf

You sourced phenomenal poets for “Wolf Centos.” Charles Baudelaire, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bei Dao, Federico García Lorca, Czeslaw Milosz and Walt Whitman are just several of the poets you borrowed from to create these works. What do you seek when you read poetry?
In reading all of these poets who had such a profundity to their work, I also wanted to become a reader again for a while. As I was reading across eras and geographical regions, I realized everyone had a wolf in their poems. I compiled hundreds and hundreds of lines with wolves in them. I seek sustenance, surprise, dialogue, frisson and translations of the unsayable.

Preserving the inner life at all costs is one of the many ideas I take away from this book. Is the erosion of the inner life and self-reflection a concern for you?
The erosion of imagination is definitely a concern, and in this manner, the wolf also becomes a conduit in which to explore anxieties concerning the taming of imagination and the domestication of the marvelous.

Through the multiple encounters I have had with these poems, it is evident that you are enraptured with language and, like all poets, language is sacred to you. In your opinion, can language help return us to our primal selves or does it just get in the way?
Well language, of course, is problematic. Humans are social creatures like wolves, yet there is within us the need for the solitary, and perhaps in that place, language does not exist.

What are you reading now?
Gillian Flynn’s “Dark Places”; Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric”; Jill McDonough’s “Habeas Corpus”; and Bruce Kawin’s “Horror and the Horror Film.”

- See more at: http://lit.newcity.com/2015/01/22/the-great-and-royal-animal-within-an-interview-with-simone-muench/#sthash.yoU7Te6L.dpuf




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Simone Muench



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