The brain-twisting title of how do you spell the sound of crickets, the new poetry collection by Paola Bruni and the late Jory Post, invites us to enter a playful call and response between two literary colleagues. Devised during a writing retreat in the summer of 2019, the poetic letters that form the heart of “crickets” began life as a workshop assignment. Written during that last year before Post’s death in 2020, the gathered exchanges represent an extraordinary openness, openness to each other’s ideas and more courageously to each other’s fears. Lively confessions and candid pleas fill this book, beautifully designed and wisely edited to underscore gravitas without overwhelming the reader’s appetite.
Once devoured, the 46 pages cry out to be reread, at once, from the beginning. Each reading refreshes the palate rather than weighing it down with the too-often familiar menu of narcissistic laments that turn up so predictably in contemporary poetry. Skillfully curated to whet the appetite, this suite of poems dives deeply into the cares, dreams, peculiarities, and inmost unknowables of the two minds (two spirits) giving so generously to each other as they work, and write, and think together, back and forth.
“Let’s write fifty poems before I’m gone,” the dying Post told Bruni when they were paired as correspondents in Dorianne Laux’s workshop session on epistles—letter writing in poetic form. “Twenty-five each. We can do this,” Post challenged Bruni. He was undergoing a slow and agonizing decline from cancer. She was wading deep in the grief of her parents’ recent deaths. “We had a timer ticking,” Bruni recalls, “and I knew he wanted us to finish those poems before he was gone. I’ve never been a fast writer, and there was a constant pressure to write a response, to get it back to him as quickly as possible. If he didn’t write back to me within a week or two, I’d know he was feeling worse.” Bruni had no idea how intimate the exchange would become.
And so, they began. Exploring each other’s names, working and reworking the metaphor of hand sewing, waiting for the end of consciousness.
Even if they hadn’t been conceived during such harrowing conditions, these poems would resound, each line hammered into sparks by the poets’ mission to lengthen time, to beat the clock, to work against grim odds. The goal, Bruni has confessed, was “to be vulnerable on the page. Hold nothing back.” And what emerged, ultimately compiled after Post’s death, and published just this year, is an improbably joyful journey through the urgency of their ideas and their deepening affection as literary comrades. The pages of this book are compiled of poetic prompts and responses that read and feel like a living conversation. The reader can hear their voices, unmistakably distinct yet joined in a simpatico that is both robust and graceful.
Paola explores dreams that point toward her epistolary dance with Post. He explores worlds discovered in her dream imagery, bringing them across vast expanses of ocean, onto a sandy shore without a name. She tells him of the Capri resonating in her heritage. He asks, “Do they have crickets in Capri?” He wants to know about those crickets of Capri. Exploring their sound in words, Post asks her an unthinkably original question, “How do you spell the sound of crickets?” he asks in the poem that gives this volume its name. Bruni’s following response/poem is equally disarming. “With only months to live, life distilled into simple acts of genius,”
she begins, sculpting the biography of crickets.
Jory Post asked his poetic correspondent, “Expand me, please. Keep me alive. One more poem added to the next.” His words live on, greatly thanks to this beautiful book and the compelling responses of his colleague Paola Bruni, who helped to shepherd this volume to publication.
“I won’t learn to say goodbye,” she wrote to him in her poetic response. And she’s kept that vow.
Paola Bruni and Paul Skenazy will read from ‘how do you spell the sound of crickets’ on Friday, Sept. 30 at 5pm, on a special Zoom Forward! presentation. mailchi.mp/santacruzwrites/zoomforward91.