A look back to Passager’s beginnings back in 1990, with poems by former US Poet Laureate Josephine Jacobsen and Judson Jerome.
Passager started this Burning Bright podcast almost exactly a year ago, and we’ve produced 50 episodes. So it seems like an opportunity to look back and celebrate. But rather than looking back over this past year that so many of us would rather forget, I thought it might be fun to look back to Passager’s beginnings back in 1990.
In her letter to readers of that first issue, editor Kendra Kopelke introduced Passager this way:
“Passager is a collection of personal voices that evoke the common experience of the passage of time: that express the strangeness and the challenge of human mortality. Our writers are, like ourselves, survivors — people who may have begun to write at age 5 or 40 or 75 and who are startled by what they have to say. We want you to wish you had written what you read in Passager — and we want Passager to make you want to write. We’re eager to hear from you.”
Editor Kendra Kopelke reading her letter to the readers of Passager’s first issue in 1990.
One of the writers in that first issue was former US Poet Laureate Josephine Jacobsen. About writing, she said, “I work better the more I am confined and the less I am distracted. My ultimate place would be a closet.” Here’s her poem “Woods.”
I came out at 11 P.M. from light and voices
and saw my right front tire mush on the ground
No moon, no flashlight. I knew the far path well
though the high sprinkle of stars failed to show it:
those shining nails scattered over space
could not penetrate. There was no sight at all.
I went blind, missed a turn, bumped a black tree
in blackness: struck a root, tripped:
stood still. Had no sense of the orient. It was 30°
and I shook a little just from cold and blackness
and the great height of the trees around me.
No gleam or call, only the small sounds.
This went on, I think in circles. Dark came into me
till, cold in my lungs and heart, it sank me.
If my ankle snapped like a stick, another shape
would crowd that dark of root and rock and bole.
I put my invisible hands before my blind
wide eyes and put one foot, one foot, toward something
that silently receded. Then in dark blown
by leaves somewhere a light winked and shivered.
When I opened my cabin door, when the lamp sprang
under my finger and warmth came up and over me
I thought I had left those trees to watch the dark
but found later I had brought a little inside.
It must have been durable, because I have it.
And look at certain things and people differently.
Josephine Jacobsen’s poem “Woods” from Passager’s first issue.
Here’s another poem from that issue, a sonnet, “For the Ages,” by Judson Jerome.
You snap me writing verses at my desk,
my cursor dancing on a chip of quartz,
though I am not exactly picturesque —
decked out in naught but glasses and my shorts.
Or I snap you out hoeing lima beans,
catching you sweaty, soiled, with tousled hair,
bent to your work in floppy, paint-stained jeans
while I immortalize your derriere.
We bought the camera for we thought we should
have one to take to China, and, besides,
at our age we believe it would be good
to let grandchildren see how youth abides
when love makes all the biosphere Edenic, and we,
like them, are cute — and photogenic.
“For the Ages,” part one of a three-part poem “The Grandparents” by Judson Jerome from Passager’s first issue back in 1990. Judson Jerome wrote a Writer’s Digest’s poetry column for 30 years. When he was teaching, his students included Mark Strand and Gregory Orr.
This episode featured work from Passager Issue One, published in 1990. 31 years later, Passager is still going strong: Issue 71, featuring the 2021 Poetry Contest winners, will be coming out later this summer.
To subscribe to, or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
Photo of Josephine Jacobsen by William L. Klender.