Conversation: A.E. Stallings, Poet and Translator Inspired by the Classics


The MacArthur Awards were recently announced, and one of the winners this year was the poet and translator A.E. Stallings. She grew up in Georgia, attended the University of Georgia and then Oxford. She studied classical languages and literature — training that has greatly informed her work as a poet. She’s lived in Athens, Greece for the last 12 years.

Alicia Stallings joined me by phone from Athens:

[We’ll post a transcript soon.]

Stallings also read some of her poems. After the jump, hear her read two:

Austerity Measures

Tear gas fills the city,
Police in riot gear,
Burning trash is pretty,
Tear gas fills the city,
Acrid as self-pity,
Peppery as fear.
Tear gas fills the city,
Police in riot gear.

It makes sense that tears,
Being fluid, could also
Be frozen solid

Or sublimated
Into a gas: in this form
visible like smoke,

they choke the throat, dis-
persing the demonstration
that looked so like rage.


which you know as a
rhetorical device, the not
uncommon understatement, like a fatalistic
shrug at the forecast, in one of those languages where one word means both “weather” and “time.”
The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons

I hate you,
How the children plead
At first sight—

I want, I need,
I hate how nearly
Always I

At first say no,
And then comply.
(Soon, soon

They will grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord)—

Over the moon,
Should you come home,

They’d cease to care—
Who tugs you through
The front door

On a leash, won’t want you
And will forget you

On the ceiling—
A giddy feeling—

Later to find you
Puckered, small,
Crouching low

Against the wall.
O thin-of-skin
And fit to burst,

You break for her
Who wants you worst.
Your forebear was

The sack of the winds,
The boon that gives
And then rescinds,

Containing nothing
But the force
That blows everyone

Off course.
Once possessed,
Your one chore done,

You float like happiness
To the sun,
Untethered afternoon,

Marooning all
You’ve left behind:

Their tinfoil tears,
Their plastic cries,
Their wheedling

And moot goodbyes,
You shrug them off—
You do not heed—

O loose bloom
With no root
No seed.

First appeared in Poetry magazine and forthcoming in OLIVES from Northwestern University Press.