Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Guest Blogger Zack Rogow: 5 Links re: The Cover of The Number Before Infinity

Zack Rogow is the only poet and literary translator I know who can make an entire auditorium erupt into howls of laughter over the word... embryo. Well, maybe you had to have been there. I was! It happened at an Associated Writing Association Conference panel on literary translation. We've also crossed paths in Montreal and most recently, his class on Latin American Literature in San Francisco's California College of the Arts. As he has just published a new book of poetry, The Number Before Infinity, (Scarlet Tanager Books), I invited him to contribute this week's guest-blog post. An honor indeed that he accepted: Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of seventeen books and plays, including six collections of poetry, three anthologies, four volumes of translation, and a children's book. He's the editor of an anthology of U.S. poetry, The Face of Poetry, published by University of California Press; and editor of two volumes of TWO LINES: World Writing in Translation. Over to you, Zack!

I know you can't tell a book by it's cover, but when Scarlet Tanager Books accepted my collection of love poems, The Number Before Infinity, my first thought was about the cover. I'd been admiring for a long time the work of Mona Caron, the artist who painted an amazing mural that stretches the entire length of the Safeway supermarket at the corner of Market Street and Church Street in San Francisco. The mural celebrates the creation of bike paths in San Francisco, and it decorates the length of one of those rights-of-way with a continuous ribbon of images that metamorphoses from a train to a road to a snake to the track of a bike at the beach looking out at the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

I enjoyed looking at that mural for years when my trolley home from work surfaced from its underground route right at the site of that mural. Then by chance I met Mona at the dedication of another mural she did right near where I was living, and found out she had also done the bike mural, as well as a poster for the Critical Mass bike rides that give us a monthly reminder that fossil fuels are not the future.

For the cover of my book Mona chose to illustrate a poem of mine called "A Map of You," a love poem that begins with the lines: You've become my map, my geography:the Black Forest of your hair, your alpine lake eyes, fathom after fathom, your mouth red as turned Carolina earth, those shoulders like Dover's chalk towers, your Sugarloaf breasts, by your peninsular arms

Mona's initial design faithfully reflected the lush descriptions of the poem. When Mona did the sketch for the cover, the publisher, Lucille Lang Day, who is also an excellent poet and prose writer, was concerned the cover might be too much of a cheesecake image, the usual woman as sex object. Mona modified it so it showed a woman literally sitting on top of the world, sensual but powerful as well.

I hope the book does leave you with that image of the beloved. It also has a number of poems that reflect on the difficulties of love, particularly when the lovers are already committed to others. Yes, it's that complicated a love story. Many people tell me they like poems but often find them dense or inaccessible. I try to write poetry in a way that reaches out to the reader. The book is like a novel or memoir in verse, where each poem is a chapter in the story.

--Zack Rogow

--->For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.
P.S. You can order Zack Rogow's new book from Small Press Distribution and also from amazon.