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Monday, November 02, 2020

The Plague Papers at Poemeleon

"The Wife's Reply," originally at Autumn Sky Poetryis now part of poet Robbi Nester's anthology The Plague PapersThe online anthology is inviting and colorful, images that inspired its poems arranged in a lovely table-of-contents grid by Cati Porter of Poemeleon, where the online book is housed.

Clip from Robbi's introduction:  In this anthology, the only one of its kind to my knowledge, we have asked writers to choose individual items from [museum] collections, and to tell us about them in poetry or prose. The works are listed alphabetically by the names of the museums in which the objects are located. Like other forms of Ekphrasis, the resulting works may interpret the work in question, imagine its creation, comment on the difference between the work online and in person, or spin a narrative about it, but with the aid of the link included with each piece, readers can immediately visit the museums and see for themselves what all the fuss is about. This book will introduce them to institutions they may explore for themselves online and perhaps, after the danger has passed, in person.

Mine is a response to an Old English poem in The Exeter Book (circa 970), housed in the library collection belonging to the Exeter Cathedral. Traditionally known as "The Husband's Message," the somewhat-damaged lines convey an exiled man's call for his wife or his betrothed to cross the sea to meet him. In riddling style (The Exeter Book also holds riddles), the request is spoken by a tree that has learned to speak, its wood now holding a carved, runic, secret cry.

About Robbi: Robbi Nester is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent being Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She has also edited two other anthologies, one of which, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees, was also published as a special issue of Poemeleon.

A dim, gloomy Hallowmas...
Starting my mandated quarantine with All Saints Day...
Here's how the family welcomed me home...
Giant jack o' lanterns (minus one some mischievous Yankee stole)
and lady ghost and owl and noisy skull-knocker...

All Saints in the wee hours...
First snow of winter is on the giant pumpkins and chrysanthemums...
Snow plows scraping and jingling...
900 miles from Cullowhee...
Guess I'm really and truly back in Cooperstown.


  1. "The Wife's Lament" has beguiled me since I first read it in translation nearly 30 years ago. After I encountered it in the original in grad school, I read all of the available scholarship and attempted a series of translations that would capture what I saw in it. I always failed. You're a brave soul for taking it on!

    1. Ah, well, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, right?

  2. Here in the UK I'm better known as Robbie rather than Robin (by VR my wife), Rod (virtually the whole population of North America) and Roderick (all my French teacher who take advantage of the two rs). It was a relief that Robbi was able to justify dropping the terminal e on the grounds that she's a woman. Seeing the name made me feel undressed.

    1. Her mother was from South Africa, and I can still recall Robbi's imitation of her mother's high-pitched, rolling pronunciation...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.