Arts & CulturePoetlandia

Poet Laura Solomon Is Looking for ‘the Jeff Mangum’

When poet and translator Laura Solomon was getting her MFA in Amherst, MA, she would ask only one question of a book to determine its quality: Did it have “the Jeff Mangum”?

Solomon first started writing in Athens when she was an undergrad at UGA in the ‘90s, and the art of this town has shaped her aesthetics ever since. She later recognized this Mangum-esque quality as what Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca calls the duende: art with a deep soul, passionate emotions and devilish spirit.

Solomon considers herself an “almost” Athens native. A Southerner by birth, she has been in and out of Athens for almost two decades. She’s written three books—The Hermit, Blue and Red Things and Bivouac—read at Slovenia’s international literary festival Days of Poetry and Wine and released the album After the Dream You Are Awake with the band pacificUV, among many other artistic endeavors.

After living in Italy, she never thought she would return to Athens, but a teaching opportunity and later a job at the Georgia Review, where she is the marketing and circulation manager, have brought her back. She is currently working on a new manuscript and two translation projects. One is translating Natalia Ginzburg’s novella Famiglia into English, which I am especially excited about.

Solomon is deeply rooted in place, the people she loves and her belief in art. She loves the “neighborliness among artists/writers/musicians here that you don’t get in a larger city,” though the small-town quality can feel “stifling.” Even in this she finds a flip side: In Athens, “you can’t avoid your community, which means you also can’t avoid yourself, or not perpetually.”

In the poems from The Hermit (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) that follow, she mixes traditional poetic imagery with the language of daily speech and repetitive thoughts, reworking tradition in the process.

“Masculine / Feminine”

“I realize we can control our ideas which are nothing
but not our feelings which are everything”Jean-Luc Godard

I dreamt of a poem in which I mastered all my feelings
love was a perfect violet
in an immense meadow of shadow and light
or else it was a lion or terrifying stallion
whatever it was it was the center of the universe
only I too was the center and selfish enough to believe myself to be
the most selfish of all
who among us has not suffered for want of tenderness?

my friend says it is only a ripple
and that I have a very very
strong strong
my love says I must be both a woman and a man
long ago I planted him like a seed in my head
now I am visited by fickle breezes

my love says I must be both a man and a woman
I am trying to learn his language
he is a great artist
he needs to be understood without having to understand
he believes love is comprehension and I believe him
what is wrong with this picture?
I am still looking for the violet

I go back to my love and tell him that I am a terrifying stallion
and that I am in love with a lion
and that together we will find the violet
he thinks me jealous and desperate
immense is the meadow of shadow and light
I tell my friend she is right
that I have a very very strong strong something

“The Hermit”

and there is little that has not been said before about a cotton blossom
and little that has not been said before about a copper pheasant
and little that has not been said before about a mirror
how the cotton blossom blooms how the copper pheasant cries
inconsolably it cries for a mate it cannot find
and how all of the town and its environs could hear the creature crying
and how all grew morose at the sight of a cotton blossom blooming
as accompanied by the sound of a copper pheasant crying
how none could admire the blossom as they were wont to do
how none could sleep for the pheasant’s incessant selfish crying
and how the town tried many tricks
how the elders tried talking sense to the bird
how the men and women tried first to comfort with their mouths before covering up their ears
how the kids threw rocks (they had been instructed)
and how when so near to death the bird had come and cried all the more for this
down from the mountain came a hermit
who alone consoled the bird by putting before it a mirror

Upcoming Events: Jodi Byrd, “Something Native This Way Comes,” 4:15–6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, Miller Learning Center room 214. Roy Scranton, Learning To Die In The Anthropocene, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, Avid Bookshop. C. Alexander London, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, Avid. Word of Mouth Open Mic, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, The Globe. Poet, essayist and translator Jennifer Moxley, 7–9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, Ciné.

Send your literary events and brief prose or poetry (along with a brief bio) to