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Segue 11: Fall 2013  ||  Jeff Schiff


about the author


In addition to That hum to go by (Mammoth books, 2012), Jeff Schiff is the author of Mixed Diction, Burro Heart, The Rats of Patzcuaro, The Homily of Infinitude, Anywhere in this Country, and Resources for Writing About Literature. His work has appeared internationally in more than eighty periodicals, including The Alembic, Grand Street, The Ohio Review, Poet & Critic, The Louisville Review, Tendril, Pembroke Magazine, Carolina Review, Chicago Review, Hawaii Review, Southern Humanities Review, River City, Indiana Review, Willow Springs, and The Southwest Review.He has been a member of the English faculty at Columbia College Chicago since 1987.


about the work


Although they are all informed by the same tensioned combination of showing + telling that has animated my poetry for the past four decades, the three poems in this issue of Segue were born in very different places and occasioned by very different confluences.

I wrote “Withdrawal” in El Paso, Texas, when I was house-sitting for a friend. His lawn was small, and precious in the high desert. Today you’d say that it was a politically incorrect garden, sucking water as it did. But it havened birds and insects and flowers and called to me, particularly at softening dusk. Like so many of my poems, it considers—but does not, I hope, manhandle—binaries. Here those binaries form an ego continuum—positioning speaker-as-self-charged-judge on one side (“expertly adjudicating between x and y”) and speaker-as-enlightened-newly-mute-observer on the other (“I have learned to nod/ and in such/ am done…”)

I wrote “Revival” years later about my Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago. While it may not have been prudent, I often walked those streets and alleys at night. Again, the poem is full of binaries and near collisions, about a flipped world—where flora and fauna still keep the urban grit at bay. It’s also very much an optimistic song, a narrow breath strung from the beginning “And” to the double entendre “stalked.” I hope I captured that in my audio recording.

Finally, I wrote “Dear Wife” in Valparaiso, Chile, days before one of the worst recorded earthquakes in history. I had not been communicating with my then wife (for personal, not seismic reasons). No phone calls. No emails. I was keeping my head down, ducked out of sight. Looking back on it now, I see the poem was a guilt offering. It could have been addressed to anyone, though. Small as that sounds, I did try to consider the world broadly within its delicate frame. The fraught occasion aside, I must admit I’m pleased to have written those lines about tea seeping on the table “under a sun/ which matters in a way/ art can// to even those/ who fortify against it.” That’ll ring true to me, I think, for a long while yet to come.


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