Juliet Patterson's "Draft of a Landscape"

I’ve spoken before on this podcast about literature as a kind of responsive impulse. It might even be fair to think of it as a grand call and response tradition. We read—the call—we absorb, we are changed, and then we write—the response. Another writer reads, absorbs, is changed. And so on. Once you start to see it, you see it everywhere.

Juliet Patterson’s poem, “Draft of a Landscape,” is a direct response to another poem by the same title by Paul Celan. Celan was a Romanian Jewish poet whose first language was German. A Holocaust survivor, Celan escaped a forced labor camp and fled to Paris, where he lived out his days, writing poetry, teaching, and translating the work of other poets, including Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, and Emily Dickinson.

Celan’s “Draft of a Landscape,” which you can read at www.poetryfoundation.org, describes a gravesite with such a concentrated intensity that the place becomes almost surreal. Juliet Patterson’s poem by the same name describes another kind of gravesite—this one unmarked, but no less lonely and mysterious.

Juliet Patterson lives in Minneapolis, where she writes and teaches and works as a community activist. Her new collection of poems, Threnody, was just published this fall by Nightboat Books.

Here it is, “Draft of a Landscape,” by Juliet Patterson:

after Paul Celan

              The hare’s
              dust pelt

against the juniper’s sky

in the eye uncovered
a question clear

in the wing
              of the day and the predator

that writes
the animal’s luck, too.

Where is tomorrow?
Will tomorrow be beautiful?

Someone will answer.
Someone will remember

that dustcolored
              tragedy, incidental, belonging

to no one, arriving before
as a flock of cranes

protracted in a long descent
winging blind

to field—the days
are beautiful.

You can find Juliet Patterson’ poem, “Draft of a Landscape” on poets.org, where it was published as part of the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day program.