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The End Of Horses,
The End Of Our Planet…And Us

Karren Alenier

In the title poem of her new book, The End of Horses, Margo Stever begins "I write to you from the end/ of the time zone." This led the Steiny Road Poet to ask her in a Zoom interview conducted April 1, 2022, if she would call this poem an ars poetica, a poem that meditates on the art of writing poetry. As a follower of Gertrude Stein, a writer who was focused on shaking up writing so that readers would engage in the knowledge she had to impart—and her knowledge was substantial since she had studied with Harvard's philosopher-psychologist William James— Steiny is concerned with writing that shakes things up.

 

End-of-Horses-cr

 

Let's stop here and talk about the crossover between ars poetica and political action/call to arms poetry. Stever, for example, will tell you she is concerned with ecological wellbeing and The End of Horses is her plea to take action to save animals and environment before it is too late.

 

END OF HORSES

 

I write to you from the end

of the time zone. You must realize

that nothing survived after

 

the horses were slaughtered.

We sleep below the hollow

burned-out stars.

 

We look into dust bowls

searching for horses.

When you walk in the country,

 

you will be shocked to meet

substantial masses on the road.

We do not know whom to blame

 

or where the horses were driven,

who slaughtered them, or for what

purpose. Had the horses slept

 

under the linden trees? The generals

and engineers pucker

and snore on the veranda.

 

Stever was more willing to say that her poem "MIT Poetry Workshop, 1969" is an ars poetica because it discusses the writing philosophy of Denise Levertov for whom the poem is written and who led that 1969 poetry workshop at MIT. During that time, Stever was a student at Harvard protesting the Vietnam War and getting arrested for a sit-in there. "When poets possess the ability to write,/ you [Levertov] told me, they do not own their gifts any more than people/ own land or animals. Poets are vessels from which poems// emerge." For clarity, Stever is not dropping names. She and Mark (Pawlak, author of My Deniversity: Knowing Denise Levertov—MadHat Press, 2021) called Levertov to come protest San Francisco State University President S.I. Hayakawa as he spoke against student protest at Northeastern University. Despite being in the middle of giving a reading, Levertov rushed out with some of her audience following her so that she could confront the police trying to break up the demonstration.

 

URP…here Steiny pulls up short to observe that Stever is/was aligned with Levertov politically. While Levertov influenced Stever, Stever is most clearly presenting her ars poetica in her new collection of poetry. The whole book seems to be a meditation on how Stever writes and is integrally related to her call to action on behalf of animals and the environment.

 

What is especially surprising is that some of the poems in The End of Horses go back to writings from high school. Steiny asked Stever about the koan-like poems that appear on the section pages. For example, Section Two offers this prefatory poem:

 

The shade pulled down

like an eyelid near sleep

rocks back and forth.

 

Stever-Photo-cr

 

In Stever's notes at the end of the book, she states only that chapter-break poems were written by the author. In Steiny's interview, Steiny asked if Stever wrote the chapter-break poems before or after The End of Horses was organized into three sections? Stever said Levertov told her these minimalistic observations were valid poems but until Stever was working on The End of Horses, she never saw a way of publishing them in a book. Despite these poems having been published in the Harvard Advocate, Stever didn't think of these words as poems. Their value? Each chapter -break poem is unsettling, as in "The shade pulled down," we don't know what current of air is rocking that shade and is the shade a stand-in for something dead?

 

As with the chapter break poems, Stever has other poems that put the reader on notice that things in this world are not as they should be. Take "Locked Ward I," a poem that takes the reader inside an insane asylum where a "girl escapes somehow, leopard-/ print PJs silhouetted in riotous light" from "patients, straightjacketed,// slump[ed] in chairs" and the nightly distribution of pills that "smother them [the patients] into vacant sleep." Stever said we humans are watching a slow-motion spin into an apocalypse where life—not of animals, plants, or humans—cannot be sustained.

 

In The End of Horses, Margo Stever demonstrates her mastery of writing in a collection of poems that is both an ars poetica and a call to action to save our planet.

 

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Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier

Karren Alenier is a poet and writer. She writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. Read her blog.
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May 2022

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