Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of 
Press 53
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 79, October  2015
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
by Susanna Lang

followed by q&a
First Place: Poetry

Our Judge, Alan Michael Parker, had this to say about Susanna Lang's poem, "Romance":

A complex, rigorously played meditation upon music and memory, this fine poem weaves together piano lessons, a childhood idyll, and the making of meaning—all in the shadow of the speaker’s relationship to Mom. I love it: what a subtle, well-turned work of art. Plus, there’s a rueful wisdom earned, the child-artist “stumbling / through my practices, hating the mistakes, / the need to do it over.” I also wholly admire the trust in the materials the poet demonstrates, how images are evinced and left to shine, a nuanced virtuosity. 
            Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

After all these years, the violin
is still in love with the piano,
the kind of love that shakes your hair
from its pins, insists on discord,
follows a weedy path
to the clotted pond at the end.
Water bugs and unseen mouths
dimpling its surface, and the piano
percussive as a woodpecker, somewhere 
among the trees, sure of itself
beneath the leaps and turns of the melody
until it reaches the last few notes, almost 
too low to be heard.
                       This summer
I find myself listening to the piano
the way the violin listens, reaching
to touch, my hands aching 
with memories that don’t belong to me.  
The composer hadn’t yet 
written her Romance when I took lessons 
from my mother, stumbling
through my practices, hating the mistakes, 
the need to do it over. 
                       I remember a pond
among the trees, green 
with what dropped in the water, 
a large flat stone at the edge where we sat 
in the sun, a boy from my class and me. And now, 
my fingers think they know, they can’t stop 

Susanna Lang’s most recent collection of poems, Tracing the Lines, was published in 2013 by the Brick Road Poetry Press. Her first collection, Even Now, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press, followed by a chapbook, Two by Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011). A two-time Hambidge fellow and a recipient of the Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French, in such journals as Little Star, New Letters, december, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Blue Lyra Review, Prime Number Magazine and Poetry East.  Book publications include translations of Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, both by Yves Bonnefoy. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.


Q: What inspired this poem?
A: The immediate trigger was a performance by the Chicago Chamber Musicians of Romance for violin and piano, which Ellen Taaffe Zwilich wrote in 1993. But the music also called up memories of a time when my mother was still trying to get me to play piano, which had been her first passion. 

Q: What writers or books do you consider influences?
A: There are so many! I spent this summer reading Mark Doty and Tracy K. Smith. But I have been in love with so many writers—Kefin Prufer, Lucille Clifton, Louise Glück, Maxine Kumin, Jane Kenyon, Deborah Digges, Pablo Neruda, W. B. Yeats, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson….

Q: What’s the most important writing advice you’ve received? Is it reflected in this poem?
A: Michael Dennis Browne is the one who made me set aside a period of time each day for writing, even if it’s not much time. I’m a public school teacher, so time is a vanishing commodity. I start work early and I’m up late reading student notebooks. But I get up even earlier and write for 20-30 minutes every morning. He also said that anything can audition for a poem. I remind my students of that all the time.

Q: Where do you write? 
A: The most generous gift I’ve ever received is my own study, which had been my son’s bedroom till he moved downstairs into what we call his cave. My husband painted the walls and refinished the floor and framed images and broadside poems to make it a special place for me to write.