About the Poems
by Hugh Steinberg
Shy Green Fields is a series of 100 seven-line poems, each poem consisting of three couplets and a single last line, forming a kind of half-sonnet. I started working in this particular form in 2001, finishing the series in 2003.
I had suffered from writers block for about a year prior. Up to that point my poems had become increasingly dark and baroque until finally I wasn't able to write anything at all: I felt like I had lost touch with the ability to just say things, and that I was using dark, depressing language as a sort of crutch.
Then I got super-lucky and won an NEA grant, and it was like, "The Feds are giving me all this money, I better write something."
So I started playing with the very short poem, with shortish lines, in a shape that left a lot of surface area exposed. I also started work on a very long, booklength poem about Las Vegas (I went to high school there) very sprawly, very collagey. The other rule was no darkness —no shadows, or dead people, or ghosts. I wanted to write in a very tactile, direct, physical manner. After 9/11, I let darkness into the Vegas poem, which has become a poem about the war, embodiment, building and unbuilding.
So there's this shape, and sometimes the shape fills itself, but my life started changing radically for the better as I was writing these poems. I met the woman who'd become my wife (her name is Mary and these poems are dedicated to her). I moved from San Francisco to Berkeley, to a small coach house with a garden (first time I've ever lived in a house that's had a garden). I wanted to place this new life I had into the words I wrote, I wanted to change what I wrote to reflect how I was living. So there's a lot of pastoral elements in these poems, as well as love.
Other poems from the series can be found in (or are forthcoming from) Boston Review, Can We Have Our Ball Back?, Fine Madness, Fence, Five Fingers Review, 5_Trope, Forklift, Ohio, Slope and Sonora Review.