28 February 2009

John Frederick Nims

[from John Frederick Nims's The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems, New Directions, 1990]

The Shape of Leaves

A premonition in the leaves,
     old words the forest spoke:
For poplar leaf, read shield of kinds,
     read testy rogue for oak.
Catalpa leaf's a perfect heart;
     your linden leaf, baroque.

Here linden and catalpa drape
     arcades where the entwined
Young hopefuls, dazzled with themselves,
     see all through haloes. Blind,
Good souls, they cannot read the leaves
     or puzzle to construe
Why linden leaf's a crooked heart
     and why catalpa's true,
Or why in fall both turn alike
     to show of goldsmith's art,
Compounding treason in the woods
     -- the true, the crooked heart --
Then fallen, mould the earth we know,
     root, humus, tufty growth.

Look, lover: on our weathered jeans
     how rich a stain of both.

[non-formatted excerpt from "The Six-Cornered Snowflake" -- "K." is Kepler]

. . .

a juggler's
way with words, as:
in swank of scholastic Latin nix is snow;
but, in his burlier German, nichts is nothing.
Ergo: this snow, like all the world, is
only a pale chemise on nothingness.
You doubt? He'll quote you Persius:
"O curas hominem, O quantum est in
rebus inane." Hollow hopes of men!
One solace though: "A living death
is life without philosophy." Or life
without its drollery: he'll wink at snow's
raunch role in folklore. "A snowflake
got me with child,"

so, totes the tad
south to dispose of, miming in mock woe,
"Your snowflake baby melted in the sun."
Feet shuffle in the decencies of nature.
Meanwhile K. rakes among six-angled
sorts for a clue. In pomegranate?
honecomb? Prime diamonds mined in
wash of gravel favor octahedrons,
compacted to six peaks -- to six, eureka!
Here's earth and sky attuned, a same
sign from each, extruded from blue flues of
long extinct volcanoes; from blue choirs
of heaven, the two

The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems (New Directions Paperbook, 700)

27 February 2009

Walter Benjamin

[from Charles Rosen's "The Ruins of Walter Benjamin, originally published in The New York Review of Books, 1977; reissued in Charles Rosen's Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen, Harvard, 1998]

For [Walter] Benjamin, the significance of the work is not exhausted by the meaning given to it by the author and his contemporaries, and is often not even adequately realized by them. The work is "timeless" in that it is not limited to the moment of its appearance. It transcends history, but this transcendence is only revealed by its projection through history. The transcendence is double: on the one hand the work gradually reveals a meaning accessible without a knowledge of the time in which it arose, and on the other it preserves for posterity some aspect of that time. A symphony of Haydn is meaningful and moving even to those who know little or nothing of Haydn's contemporaries and of his age, and yet it appears to embody that age for us today. The work detaches itself both from the life that produced it and from the specific cultural milieu within which it was conceived; nevertheless, it keeps a sense of that past life as an effect of distance from us. Commentary and criticism are Benjamin's names for the two ways of approaching this double nature of literature. Commentary deals with the sense of the past life evoked by the work; criticism with the way the work detaches itself from that life. Commentary is philological in its method: criticism is philosophical. They are interdependent: without commentary, criticism is self-indulgent revery; without criticism, commentary is frivolous information.

In his essays on Proust, Kafka, and Baudelaire, we find that Benjamin never hesitates to refer from the literary work to the life and back again, but always with a tact that is a sign of his respect for the dignity and integrity of both life and work. Tracing the development of a work in the writer's life was as fascinating to Benjamin as to a professional biographer. What he protested in Gundolf was a form of interpretation which diminishes and restricts the meaning of the work by viewing it as a direct product of the author's life. Unlike an act, a work does not draw its immediate meaning from the life -- if it did the Elective Affinities would be unintelligible to a reader ignorant of Goethe's biography. The work is to be understood first of all in a more objective literary, historical, and even philosophical tradition. Underlying Gundolf's approach, Benjamin felt, was a process of sentimental mythmaking, which turned the life of Goethe into a work of art in order to place it into a correspondence with the novella.

Supporting the myth is a tenacious fallacy, which distorts the life even more than the work, the gratuitous hypothesis that what is most profound, most moving in a work must have a corresponding emotional experience of equal power in the author's life. For Benjamin, this inevitably and disastrously misrepresented the imaginative process. The artist transforms his experience, but the experience is not simply a source of emotions and motifs that the artist must accept, nor does the experience impost itself on the work. The artist does not sing his emotions, but actively seeks for "occasions" to make into song. By too simply identifying life and art, the biographer has failed to notice the most essential relationship: the artist shapes his life and his experience to make his art possible.

In Benjamin's essay on Proust, this relationship is given its full weight. A few sentences of Benjamin's mosaic style show the importance he attached to it:

The doctors were powerless in the face of this malady [asthma]; not so the writer, who very systematically placed it in his service. To begin with the most external aspect, he was a perfect stage director of his sickness. . . . This asthma became part of his art -- if indeed his art did not create it. Proust's syntax rhythmically and step by step reproduces his fear of suffocating. And his ironic, philosophical, didactic reflections invariably are the deep breath with which he shakes off the weight of memories. On a larger scale, however, the threatening, suffocating crisis was death, which he was constantly aware of, most of all while he was writing. . . .

Work and life here interpret each other literally and metaphorically, and the work is seen more as creating the experiment than as helplessly dependent on it. Proust's life, unsentimentalized, retains its dignity, and his art is left free to seek meanings beyond the restricted range of the author's own biography, as the metaphorical cast of Benjamin's style avoids constraint.

Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen

Richard Eberhart

[from Richard Eberhart's Fields of Grace, Oxford, 1972]

Old Question

I should walk maniacal
In the diabolical
But that reason should
Hold me to the good.

Why down in hell
Do men feel well
And why in madness
Know gladness?

We dare to tear
Ourselves apart
To know the true, the rare,
For the sake of art.

We are so in love
With life, that only death
Is strife
To be worthy of.

Fields of Grace/Poems

26 February 2009

Ursula K. Le Guin

[from Ursula K. Le Guin's Sixty Odd, Shambala, 1999]

October 11, 1491

In a year and a day
they will be here.
          Do not go down to the seashore!
          Hide the food, the ornaments,
          hide with the children in the mountains!
In a year and a day
the wizards will arrive.
          Do not go forward to them!
          Give them nothing!
You will see three ships come sailing in.
Out of the east the kings will come.
And the world will grow old
that morning. It will begin to die
for the first time. It will die
of the sickness of pustules,
the sickness of coughing,
the sickness of money,
the sickness of landowning,
the sickness of the old god
of the old world, the rich people.

The young world,
the red clay world
of puma, jaguar, buffalo,
of hummingbird, gourd, and sequoia,
of corn, vicuña, sacred tobacco,
the center of the six directions,
the dawn-smelling world, the fern-stem world,
will live for a year and a day.

Then you will go forward with your empty hands,
timid and smiling, and give it to them.

Sixty Odd

25 February 2009

Richard Howard

[from Richard Howard's Without Saying, Turtle Point Press, 2008]

[excerpt from "Only Different," an exchange of letters, including this one from L. Frank Baum]

. . . I have long since
accepted Theosophy's doctrines, and
rejoice that my wife Maud and I had met
in Earlier Incarnations . . . And like
William James, I too attend séances
in the hope of obtaining objective
evidence of the reality of spirits
and the afterlife. Unfortunately
I could not find in Henry James's book
a trace of the spiritual. Such writing
                       supports literature
like the rope that holds
a hanged man, and this book What Maisie Knew,
seems merely an overheated hothouse,
perfumed but tainted, for in this James's
London society, transgressions of
the Few bear witness to depravities
of the Many.The novelist himself
has taken sick, and his toilsome language
creeps across the page, line after crapulous
line, like so many worms (though merely words!) . . .
Professor Porter, I have endeavored,
                       with my girls and boys,
to articulate
all that is healthy and, in every sense,
spirited in the Youth of our country;
had I taken poor Maisie as a sign
or (Lord help us!) a model, Dorothy
could never have survived a day in Oz,
for what is Oz but where we are, Magic
and all? . . . At the end, what Maisie knew is
what everyone else knows already: who
has money, who hasn't. It is William James
who tells the Truth: our American form
                       of fulfillment is
"worship of the bitch-
goddess success." That is our national
disease -- yet all I find in his brother's
novel, in which he chews so much more
than he can bite off, is bitching
about the bush. No goddess even . . .

Without Saying

24 February 2009

Sharon Olds

[from Sharon Olds's One Secret Thing, Borzoi, 2008]

Fly on the Wall in the Puritan Home

And then I become a fly on the wall
of that room, where the corporal punishment
was done. The humans who are in it mean little
to me -- not the offspring, nor the offsprung --
I turn my back and with maxillae and palps
clean my arms: in each of the hundred
eyes of both my compound eyes,
one wallpaper rose. And if I turn back,
and the two-legged insect is over the lap
of the punishing one, the Venus trap,
I watch, and thrust my narrow hairy
rear into a flower at the rhythm the big one is
onward-Christian-soldiering and
marching-off-to-warring -- as she's smoting,
I'm laying my eggs in the manure of a rose,
pumping to the beat. And my looking is a looking
primed, it is a looking to the power of itself,
and I see a sea folding inward,
200 little seas folding on themselves --
a mess of gene pool crushing down onto
its own shore. Then I turn back
to washing my hands of the chaff that flees off the
threshed onto the threshing floor.
Ho hum, I say, I'm just a flay --
fly light, fly bright, pieces of a species dashed
off onto a wall, chaff of wonder,
chaff of night.

One Secret Thing

23 February 2009

Yasunari Kawabata

[from Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country, tr. Edward G. Seidensticker, Vintage, 1956]

As it became clear to Shimamura that he had from the start wanted only this woman, and that he had taken his usual roundabout way of saying so, he began to see himself as rather repulsive and the woman as all the more beautiful. Something from that cool figure had swept through him after she called to him from under the cedars.

The high, thin nose was a little lonely, a little sad, but the bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches. Even when she was silent her lips seemed always to be moving. Had they had wrinkles or cracks, or had their color been less fresh, they would have struck one as unwholesome, but they were never anything but smooth and shining. The line of her eyelids neither rose nor fell. As if for some special reason, it drew its way straight across her face. There was something faintly comical about the effect, but the short, thick hair of her eyebrows sloped gently down to enfold the line discreetly. There was nothing remarkable about the outlines of her round, slightly aquiling face. With her skin like white porcelain coated over a faint pink, and her through still girlish, not yet filled out, the impression she gave was above all one of cleanness, not quite one of real beauty.

. . .

Each time he relaxed his embrace even a little, she threatened to collapse. His arm was around her neck so tight that her hair was rumpled against his cheek. He thrust a hand inside the neck of her kimono.

He added coaxing words, but she did not answer. She folded her arms like a bar over the breast he was asking for.

"What's the matter with you." She bit savagely at her arm, as though angered by its refusal to serve her. "Damn you, damn you. Lazy, useless. What's the matter with you?"

Shimamura drew back startled. There were deep teeth-marks on her arms.

She no longer resisted, however. Giving herself up to his hands, she began writing something with the tip of her finger. She would tell him the people she liked, she said. After she had written the names of some twenty or thirty actors, she wrote "Shimamura, Shimamura," over and over again.

[Seidensticker and Kawabata]

“Do you not, my esteemed master, find this a rather impenetrable passage?” Mr. Seidensticker recalled asking him, ever so gently, during the translation of Snow Country.

“He would dutifully scrutinize the passage, and answer: ‘Yes,’” Mr. Seidensticker wrote. “Nothing more.”

Snow Country

Miller Williams

[from Miller Williams's Time and the Tilting Earth, Louisiana State University, 2008]

Separatio in Loco

He lives all alone now, in the home they bought,
and finally seems to be managing, more or less.
Not the way he was, of course, with her,
who lives alone now, too, at the same address.

Time and the Tilting Earth: Poems

22 February 2009

Allen Grossman

[from Allen Grossman and Mark Halliday's The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers, Johns Hopkins, 1992]

[excerpt from "Summa Lyrica: A Primer of the Commonplaces in Speculative Poetics"]


21. The didactic of lyric flows from the example of majesty.

Scholium on didacticism. Lyric is, like all poetry, didactic in nature. But its didactic is not normally the rational didactic of useful sentences, the didactic of prudence. The didactic of lyric is normally the didactic of eidetic exemplification, which is the contradiction of the didactic of prudence. The didactic of lyric teaches the possibility of surviving the labor of manifestation in the one world, the world of manifestational scarcity. In the lyric "space of appearance" all being is celebratory. (This is true in the same sense that all representation has about it the quality of celebration.) The speaker in lyric has mastered the process of manifestation, and endured the tragic losses which manifestation entails, without being destroyed. The speaker in lyric has not lost heart. To go on speaking, not to lose heart, is an occasion of celebration and an attribute of majesty.

But majesty also implies the privileges of dominance and the solitude of sovereignty. In the sense in which didacticism promises the transmissibility of usable knowledge, the example of majesty is antididactic, unreal, the origin of order as the king is the origin of order, but not itself the subject of law, as kings were not the subject of law. The didactic of the example of majesty includes the didactic of the counterexample. For the speaker in lyric is also mythic and the function of myth is to repel life, to generate by differentiation. The sentiment of majesty is an occasion of the consciousness of difference. From majesty there goes forth the consciousness of difference by which the natural person is measured and made whole. The encounter with the person in lyric shatters the homogeneity of the encounters of the natural person.

21.1 Majesty is the quality which mastery of contradictory natures (the animal, the citizen, and the god) confers upon the human voice.

21.2 An image cannot be reciprocated, and therefore cannot be loved. The person we really meet and not the image is the beneficiary.

21.3 When the voice across time is attended to, the human image is remembered. In the didactic of lyric there are no teachers; there are only rememberers.

21.4 There are no inhuman uses of the speaking person.

21.5 Bent on the unpacking of the skein, humanity deals less treacherously with itself.

The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers

Mary Oliver

[from Mary Oliver's The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays, Beacon Press, 2008]

This Too

There was the body of the fawn, in the leaves,
     under the tall oaks.
There was the face, the succulent mouth,
     the pink extruded tongue.
There were the eyes.
There was its dark dress, half pulled off.
There were its little hooves.
There was the smell of change, which was
There was my dog's nose, reading the silence
     like a book.
No one spoke, not the Creator, not the Preserver,
     not the Destroyer.
There was the sound of wind in the leaves,
     in the tall oaks.
There was the terrible excitement
     of the flies.

The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays

21 February 2009

Charlie Smith

[from Charlie Smith's Word Comix, Norton, 2009]


Flattened, sprawled out, snuffling like a dog,
I sniff the expectorate and the feculent lost phenomena,
the shavings and culls, the drifted apart discards
and answers become complications heaved into the grass.
I slide on my belly over the damp places
where old men lay down to try the earth on for size.
In misused areaways behind buildings, among the grassy footings
and slippery spots where disgusting practices ended up, I find
a kind of happiness. My body's covered with what's down there.
Mottled and stained, I've become one with the particulate, the crumb,
the soiled and ineradicable section, the sulcated and unattended spot.
I follow the hog trail of longing. The lowdown is my fortune.
The fundament, the footing, the radicle, the rhizoid, the parquet.
Mouth stuffed with dirt, I chew the bulletins of governance and desire
and take comfort in the filth, in the place
of failure and exudation. I am at home among fistulas
and burned patches, down there with the stems, the shrieks that
to arouse pity, the exogenous hopes tossed out with the trash.
What I gather about me was there before I came.
It is often slick and pulpy like a mango,
hot like the scrap of cat hide the sun shines on,
and in its capacity to represent the likelihood of a life beyond
integrity and consummation, I am solaced.
I make small flapping motions, I scurry
my feet and spirate, dragging myself forward,
paying a manifest attention to the tiny voices of ant wings and drying
and I repeat what they say. In the faint resettlings
of dust and endlessly reducible fractions
I recognize my own voice. Like them I am not saying anything
Like them -- like the torn-off bee abdomens and locust petals,
the crusts -- I have left behind the designs
and purposes I was built for. I am free to inch along,
without meaning. Among the lost
I'm found. I present to myself the unoccupied remainders and
disarranged failed circumstances, the painted tin receptacles
and scuffed flooring of transcience: among the discarded, discarded:
among the deserted, the marooned, forsook, I am part of things.
Now the casual elimination is acceptable to me,
the object hurled down in fury or bitterly tossed aside,
the letter torn to pieces,
the wedding ring in feckless ceremony placed
between two slightly larger stones and covered with moss,
the torn away excess
and deliveries that failed to reach their destinations --
all are acceptable, as are the messy discharges and the exuviation.
Relinquishments, the scattering of pieces, erasures and jettisons,
the fatally incomplete, are equal in my sight.
I flutter and scramble, I drag myself overhand,
leaving a trail, abreast of the trash,
keeping up with dereliction, equal with the failed repairs,
the designs growing more marginal as we speak.
It is here I find the endings that in their perfections of absolute loss
have become beginnings again, the bitten-off phrases and
inconspicuous wadding of spoiled opportunity about to start over.
I see the lost revamped. The mortified recast.
The crapped out recombined with the useless to make the futile.
All the old possibilities -- corrigendious, bone-headed and radiant -- are here.

Word Comix: Poems

20 February 2009

Lisel Mueller

"Monet Refuses the Operation"

Donna Masini

[from Donna Masini's That Kind of Danger, Beacon Press, 1994]

At the Bandshell by the River

This place, too, has its own integrity:
split, ruined, abandoned
walls of chipped blue cursed
with black names, red dates, green rage
it stands here quiet in the cool salt taste of the morning.
Today the iron gates are open --
no need to belly under the rusted bars
pressing myself into dirt and weed
after a night of a thousand mirrors, taunting, humorless,
my mother in my hipbones shrieking, father my knees,
tomorrows of a grandfather who sailed out of humped Italian caves,
coarse inland dreams
to a country where he fathered twelve children and died
far from the streets he called home.

How have I used his rough, stocky hands?
Where have I carried the few loose strands of his hair?
The fig trees he planted still ripen within me.

This morning I am loose as a river.
I laugh -- at nothing -- the way a baby laughs at wallpaper.
I follow the run of squirrels down curved wood benches in descending arcs
through the open theater once filled
with music, crowds, lovers sharing fruits from net bags,
restless children pressing bubble gum under bench slats,
performers stretching, sweating in the wings;
and the plane trees, the oaks, maples, lindens
the sap smell of their sex sticky.
The sun tongues its way out of the morning fog.
Through the gash at the back of the bandshell
the glint and twist of the river draws me forward,
up the cracked stairs across the bare proscenium.

Backstage the sun cuts through crumbling walls, falls
through the open ceiling, over collapsed
rafters and fallen staircases, falls
on brick and rubble, broken track, lights, cigarette packs,
pill bottles, wine bottles, old needles, a rusted washtub.
A nervous music fills the space: birdcall, squirrel-run,
mosquito, fly, pigeon, rat, sparrow,
the quick, particular movements whizzing over beams, whistling, calling.
I stand and listen at the brink of myself,
certain only of this, of this,
and the steady lisp of the river lapping.

That Kind of Danger (Barnard New Women Poets Series)

19 February 2009

Mark Halliday

[from Mark Halliday's Little Star, William Morrow, 1987]

Venus Pandemos [excerpt]

. . .

Breasts: why should they matter?
How dumb am I? Do I belong with
Hugh Hefner's legions of Total Assholes?
The word "breast" makes me queasy;
I wish it were spelled without the "a";
somehow the way it looks like a rhyme for "yeast"
is unsettling, and the way it somehow
reminds me of "roast". . . . Roast breast of turkey . . .
In my fantasies they are indeed a kind of food --
oh this is embarrassing. They don't have to be big:
if other aspects are fabulous, they can even be
quite small; but on strangers they do have to be
definite. Why?
To help make her manifestly Other.
Why? Hey, I don't know! Do I have to explain
everything? . . . Maybe the more Other she is
the less I feel obliged to treat her as a
fellow human. There, I said it, okay?

If a woman is walking toward me
and she gets a good rating for face and breasts
I turn, after she has passed,
to estimate the buttocks.
"Ass" seems such a nasty word,
perhaps antagonistic, certainly crass --
I never use it in conversation --
yet it is the word in my mind when
I turn on the sidewalk to glance back
and judge.

I wonder if any intelligent feminists
will ever read this poem.

. . .

Little Star: Poems (National Poetry Series Books)

18 February 2009

Stuart Dybek

[from Stuart Dybek's Streets in Their Own Ink, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004]

The Volcano

It rose from an industrial wasteland
at the end of the block
and loomed over the neighborhood,
but only at night were its true dimensions
visible: a mountain of darkness,
its cone consumed from within
like a coal, porous with seismic tunnels
leaking searchlights, magma stoked
behind blackened, vandalized windows,
the night shift in the caldera
burning off spirit in updrafts
of sparks, the smudged moon a cinder
adrift in plumes of chimney smaze.
To those below, born in its shadow,
ash was the natural smell of air.
They thought its tremors were their own
suppressed emotions, its molten
eruptions the lust night drew
from their bodies. They never noticed,
come morning, how they'd been recast
going about their daily routines:
a butcher, his cleaver hacked
into igneous lamb; an old babushka
who'd stooped to pick fairy rings
on her way to mass. There,
a woman hanging stone sheets;
here, a man caught in the flow
just as he'd raised a hand
to strike his son
or brush the hair from his eyes.

Streets in Their Own Ink: Poems

17 February 2009

Rosanna Warren

[from Rosanna Warren's Stained Glass, Norton, 1993]

Science Lessons

The human body is superfluous.
Rochester knew it: lurching home
from a night of swiving and sluicing,
ballocks crumpled, loins wrung out,
fingers dripping and pungent, he was consumed

by knowledge. Having caressed
the soft slippage of flesh from rib and hip,
foreknew rack, gibbet, kettle, all the precise
instruments of quest including
the final eloquent shudder; knew

pond scum to grow gooseflesh, to be
a freakishly aroused; knew Spanish moss
to dangle as lace, black mud to suck
and ooze with a confession of pleasure;
knew truth a prisoner

begging to be shucked free.
So over and over the glossy girl,
the sleek-limbed boy, must pose
while Love the scientist stutters, repeats himself,
staggers through his garbled litanies

husking pure form from the body of this death.

Stained Glass (Warren)

16 February 2009

Adam Zagajewski

[from Adam Zagajewski's Eternal Enemies, translated by Clare Cavanagh, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008]

The Greeks

I would have liked to live among the Greeks,
talk with Sophocles' disciples,
learn the rites of secret mysteries,

but when I was born the pockmarked
Georgian still lived and reigned,
with his grim henchmen and theories.

Those were years of memory and grief,
of sober talks and silence;
there was little joy --

although a few birds didn't know this,
a few children and trees.
To wit, the apple tree on our street

blithely opened its white blooms
each April and burst
into ecstatic laughter.

Eternal Enemies: Poems

15 February 2009

Allen Grossman

"Poetry is . . . the postponement of the end of the world."

Michael Ryan

[from Michael Ryan's In Winter, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974]

Poem at Thirty [excerpt]

. . . most mornings I ease awake:
also a falling,
but delicate as an agile wing
no one may touch with hands,
a transparent wing like a distant moan
arriving disembodied of pleasure or pain,
a wing that dissolves on the tongue,
a wing that has never flown.

. . .

No one can tell you how to be alone.
Some fine people I've known swirl to me
in airy forms like just so much hot dust.
They have all moved through in dreams.
A lover's smell, the gut laugh of a friend,
become hard to recall as a particular wind.

No one can tell you how to be alone.
Like the deep vacuum in sleep, nothing
holds you up or knocks you down, only
it doesn't end in waking but goes on and on.
The tangles of place, the floating in time,
you must accept gently like a favorite dream.

If you can't, and you don't, the mind
unlocks the mind. Madness, with his lewd grin,
always waits outside the window, always
wanting to come in. I've gone out before,
both to slit his throat and kiss his hand:
No one can tell you how to be alone

. . .

IN WINTER. National Poetry Series

14 February 2009

Linda Bierds

[from Linda Bierds's Flight: New and Selected Poems, G. P. Putnam, 2008]


When the cow died by the green sapling,
her limp udder splayed on the grass
like something from the sea, we offered
our words in their low calibrations --
which was our fashion -- then severed
her horns with a pug-toothed blade
and pounded them out to an amber
transparency, two sheets that became,
in their moth-wing haze, our parlor windows.
They softened our guests with the gauze-light
of the Scriptures, and rendered to us,
on our merriest days, the sensation
of gazing through the feet of a gander.
In time we moved up to the status
of glass -- one pane, then two -- each
cupping in proof of its purity
a dimple of fault, a form of distortion
enhancing our image. We took the panes
with us from cottage to cottage,
moth-horn and glass, and wedged up
the misfitted gaps with a poultice
of gunny and wax. When woodsmoke
darkened our bricks, we gave
to the windowsills a lacquer
of color -- clear blue with a lattice
of yellow: a primary entrance and exit
for light. And often, walking home
from the river and small cheese shop,
we would squint their colors to a sapling
green, and remember the hull
of that early body, the slap of fear
we suffered there, then the little wash
of recovery that is our fashion -- how
we stroked to her bones a cadenced droning,
and took back from her absence, our
amber, half-literal method of sight.

Flight: New and Selected Poems

Etheridge Knight

[from Etheridge Knight's Belly Song and Other Poems, Broadside, 1973]

Prison Graveyard

The dying sun
slides over the tiger teeth
lying row on row
beneath the high and western wall.

And tonight as the keepers
march in the moonlight
the spirits will rise and fret

And fight because no hymns
were sung to soothe
their journey to eternity,
no mourners stood in solemn stance
and wept;

So the spirits dance
the devil's step, and are kept
from riding the winds to the sea.

For Black Poets
Who Think of Suicide

Black Poets should live -- not leap
From steel bridges (Like the white boys do.
Black poets should live -- not lay
Their necks on railroad tracks (like the white boys do.
Black Poets should seek -- but not search too much
In sweet dark caves, not hunt for snipe
Down psychic trails (like the white boys do.

For Black Poets belong to Black People. Are
The Flutes of Black Lovers. Are
The Organs of Black Sorrows. Are
The Trumpets of Black Warriors.
Let All Black Poets die as trumpets,
And be buried in the dust of marching feet.

Belly Song and Other Poems

12 February 2009

David Yezzi

[from David Yezzi's Azores, Swallow Press, 2008]

Tritina for Susannah

The water off these rocks is green and cold.
The sandless coast takes the tide in its mouth,
as a wolf brings down a deer or lifts its child.

I walked this bay before you were my child.
Your fingers stinging brightly in the cold,
I take each one and warm it in my mouth.

Though I've known this shore for years, my mouth
holds no charms of use to you, my child.
You will have to learn the words to ward off cold

and know them cold, child, in your open mouth.

Azores: Poems

11 February 2009

Charles Wright

[from Charles Wright's Appalachia, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998]

Half February

St. Valentine's. Winter is in us.
Hard to be faithful to summer's bulge and buzz
                                                                  in such a medicine.

Hard to be heart-wrung
And sappy in what's unworkable and world-weary.
Hard to be halt and half-strung.

All of us, more or less, are unfaithful to something.
Solitude bears us away,
Approaches us in the form of a crescent, like love,
And bears us away
Into its icy comforting, our pain and our happiness.

I saw my soul like a little silkworm, diligently fed,
Spinning a thread with its little snout,
Anna Garcias wrote in the sixteenth century.
And who can doubt her,
Little silkworm in its nonbeing and nothingness.

Nothing like that in these parts these days --
The subject for today, down here, is the verb "to be,"
Snow falling, then sleet, then freezing rain,
St. Catherine nowhere in evidence, her left side opened, her heart removed,
All the world's noise, all its hubbub and din,
                                                       now chill and a glaze.


10 February 2009

Allen Grossman & Mark Halliday

[from Allen Grossman and Mark Halliday's The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers, Johns Hopkins, 1992]

Mark Halliday:

If I'm sitting with a student who has written a poem that I think is not good enough, whether I reveal it directly and candidly to that student or not, what I'm really doing as I try to coach that student toward what I claim is a better version of that poem is trying to help the student find the most mature and healthy version of himself or herself that is compatible with the subject or scope of the poem that he or she has written.

Allen Grossman:

In my view, the student and the teacher of poetry come together because of a common requirement that there be more access to the world that ordinary language, and discourse of another kind than poetry, affords. Consequently, the student and the teacher have a common and reciprocal agreement that two things are the case. One, that our capacity to make statements about the world requires a supplement; and two, that the poetic means for facilitating such statements is available to be searched, and inquired of by everyone.

In the doing of teaching of this kind my authority derives, as I understand it, from the nature of the poetic text, and not from any accumulated experience on my part, or for that matter on the student's part, of any other reality as such. My conception of the poem is that it is required of the poet. . . . Hence, my conception of the poem itself is as an artifact which is the result of a supplement to human powers . . . And what I regard students and teachers as investigating, and as intending to gather among their personal resources, is precisely those aspects of the poem which intervene, interpellate, hail, call to, summon, from the "outsideness" of the poem to both parties, teacher and student, reader and reader, by calling from outside, constitute a difference as between the experience of either party and the new knowledge which the poem supplies.

Consequently, I am not, together with the student, checking the reality that is supplied by the poem against my experience or the student's experience of reality. I am checking the poem as an act against its own hypothesis of origins.

. . . I am convinced that the authority of the teacher as a teacher of poetry derives solely from his or her practice of the art or craft which is the subject matter that brings teacher and student together, and which in my view is the same for all persons.

. . . Look, what we are seeking when we revise a poem is the fullest possible realization of the text as a poem.

. . . God help us if the wisdom of poets as persons becomes the criterion for the goodness of poetry. But in fact, it cannot. I argue for the specificity of the instrument and the inherent danger of invoking it. We wish as teachers to make an apprentice to the sorcerer who knows the spells which regulate the art.

. . . I write with the intention of discovering new knowledge about the system of representation itself.

The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers

Valerie Martinez

[from Valerie Martinéz’s Absence, Luminescent, Four Way Books, 1999]

And Seeing It

Orange, orange. And the hand arching up
to hold it. The woman’s hand. The arching.
Up. And the star exploding, seeing it
where it wasn’t, a telescope on the night sky.
The thermonuclear flash.
The explosion.

She had her hand out; it fell
like an explosion into her fingers.
It wasn’t the scope and the eye,
was hand, fruit. It was what I saw.
It was what I imagine I somehow saw.

Out on the horizon of stars beyond the gigantic sun.
Beyond the measure of the sun the star bursting.

And it was autumn. The shadows of oleanders
made colors of bodies on the lawn.
The girls’ dresses were red on the green lawn,
smelling of fruit.
Making shapes of fruit in their hands.

With the sky all opaque, and the one star.

There, at the top of her fingers, the orange.
At the tip like God and Adam touching.
Like the ceiling of the Sistine where the stars might be.

And knowing about hydrogen, carbon.
A collapsing in. The water drunk by girls,
the breath given out. Breath, out.

The table of elements, the elements served up.
Iron in the spinach in the aqua bowl.
Green explosion in the aqua bowl.

Clusters of grape stems without grapes.
Molecular models like grape stems.
To what we address, link.
To what we speak.

Not in our lifetime will we see it.
Not in our sky like this: supernova.
Not ever again they say.
Drops. The orange.

Absence, Luminescent (Levis Poetry Prize)

08 February 2009

Louise Gluck

[from Louise Gluck's Averno, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006]



You die when your spirit dies.
Otherwise, you live.
You may not do a good job of it, but you go on --
something you have no choice about.

When I tell this to my children
they pay no attention.
The old people, they think --
this is what they always do:
talk about things no one can see
to cover up all the brain cells they're losing.
They wink at each other;
listen to the old one, talking about the spirit
because he can't remember anymore the word for chair.

It is terrible to be alone.
I don't mean to live alone --
to be alone, where no one hears you.

I remember the word for chair.
I want to say -- I'm just not interested anymore.

I wake up thinking
you have to prepare.
Soon the spirit will give up --
all the chairs in the world won't help you.

I know what they say when I'm out of the room.
Should I be seeing someone, should I be taking
one of the new drugs for depression.
I can hear them, in whispers, planning how to divide the cost.

And I want to scream out
you're all of you living in a dream.

Bad enough, they think, to watch me falling apart.
Bad enough without this lecturing they get these days
as thought I had any right to this new information.

Well, they have the same right.

They're living in a dream, and I'm preparing
to be a ghost. I want to shout out

the mist has cleared --
It's like some new life:
you have no stake in the outcome;
you know the outcome.

Think of it: sixty years sitting in chairs. And now the mortal spirit
seeking so openly, so fearlessly --

To raise the veil.
To see what you're saying goodbye to.

Averno: Poems

07 February 2009

Sherod Santos

[from Sherod Santos's The Pilot Star Elegies, Norton, 1999]

The Dream of Exile

          wafted away to the end of the known world
          -- Ovid at Tomis

Each weekend, midsummer, alone and with a knapsack
I would set out right around daybreak

from the factory ramp at Merchants Yard,
push off from the shore of my elected home,

and dream above the ugly stream for hours until,
as from a space dilated through my ear-

marked copy of the Tristia, one by one the walled
estates would wedge up into that alien air,

their Pompeian glitter raying out like a million
far-flung mercuried coins through the hickory woods,

where I'd drift on my derelict raft, swept along
as if by History past a world perfumed with nard;

then drift some more; then tie up just before
a spill that emptied on the Cumberland

and listen to the water fall, the towrope groaning
with a sound like iron gateposts closing,

and out behind the belt-lashed oar, the light, new-
minted, carried off somewhere, where things

were never whta they seemed, and crowds awaited
a glimpse of my black-flagged quinquereme.

The Pilot Star Elegies: Poems

06 February 2009

Carol Frost

[from Carol Frost's Love and Scorn: New and Selected Poems, Triquarterly, 2000]

Egon Schiele's Wife

More since her illness he tried to think of her not purely as a wife --
as someone who finds herself trying to please, to
be of his mind.
                               The spread legs and bunched up slip,
                               the reddened labia, and an almost compulsive
they were his wishes.

                                                   As for her --
sprawled like a goose sideways down the wind whenever he drew
             her sex --
what was enfevered began slowly to fade
and she was lost to him (you know how that feels?).

He drew her face, then gave her pen and paper
so that she might leave behind for him
love's avowals. In the weirdly devastated eyes
of the earlier self-portraits, where aloneness exaggerates everything,

he hadn't yet mourned yet almost seemed to know. . . .
                               Ah, she'd have gladly lingered
                               in that yellow and ocher room that willed and
                                              willed and willed her,
for just a bit longer,
                                              but found Death determined
and went with him, whose whispered secrets and stale fragrance
mingled with decay excited her. The artist stepped to the morning

window and looked at the quieted-down square. -- A clearer
feeling now: the nude heart in ecclesiastical colors
above the city's grayness. Their erotic life.
And something more, exhaustion,
like halos in an unexpected gust of wind surrounding a tree's last

Love and Scorn: New and Selected Poems

05 February 2009

Dana Levin

[from Dana Levin's Wedding Day, Copper Canyon, 2005]

American Poet

For weeks every Friday I went to see films at the School of Theology.

Every Friday I would get there half an hour early so I could buy candy
         at the store that closed at seven.

I would walk out around the building and lean against a wall
         facing Foothill Boulevard,
watching the blood and pearl of cars as they sped in opposite directions.

And every Friday there would be a cricket trilling endlessly
         against the din of traffic.

Inaudible, unless you stood right at the spot where it lodged itself
         in the little crack between the walk and the wall --

It legged the air ceaselessly where no one could hear it.

I would stand right next to it and watch the traffic stream.

Thinking it was like an American poet.

The moon pooled. The cars wheeled and wheeled.

Also read "Quelquechose" at From the Fishouse.

Wedding Day

04 February 2009

Lola Haskins

[from Lola Haskins's Forty-four Ambitions for the Piano, University of Central Florida, 1990]


Rock your hand
as though gentling a jar
where dark-chopped fruits have slept
among the lemon peels.

My wrists turn easily in air,
yet when I bring them to the keys,
they stiffen.
Of course.
Such freedom takes a life
of long and daily exercise

until finally
every muscle moves the hand
and your boat begins to slide
along the river
red with years of leaves.

Around a bend there is a tin-roofed house
on algaed piers
in whose one room
a woman's wrist shines

as her hand moves across
the page. If you beached now
you could walk there in an hour.
But you will not,
having chosen to go by water.

Forty-Four Ambitions for the Piano (Contemporary Poetry Series)

Seamus Heaney

[from Seamus Heaney's District and Circle, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006]

Polish Sleepers

Once they'd been block-built criss-cross and four-squared
We lived with them and breathed pure creosote
Until they were laid and landscaped in a kerb,
A moulded verge, half-skirting, half-stockade,
Soon fringed with hardy ground-cover and grass,
But as that bulwark bleached in sun and rain
And the washed gravel pathway showed no stain,
Under its parched riverbed
Flinch and crunch I imagined tarry pus
Accruing, bearing forward to the garden
Wafts of what conspired when I'd lie
Listening for the goods from Castledawson . . .
Each languid, clanking waggon,
And afterwards, rust, thistles, silence, sky.

District And Circle

02 February 2009

Edward Field

[from Edward Field's After the Fall: poems old and new, University of Pittsburgh, 2007]

Giant Pacific Octopus

I live with a Giant Pacific Octopus:
he settles himself down beside me on the couch in the evening.
With two arms he holds a book
that he reads with his single eye:
he wears a pair of glasses over it for reading.

Two more arms go walking over to the sideboard across the room
where the crackers and cheese spread he loves are,
and they send back endless canapés, like a conveyor belt.

While his mouth is drooling and chomping,
another arm comes over and gropes me lightly:
it is like a breeze on my balls, that sweet tentacle.

Other arms start slipping around my body under my clothes,
they wiggle right in, one around my waist,
and all over, and down the crack of my ass.

I am drawn into his midst where his hot mouth waits for kisses,
and I kiss him and make him into a boy
as all Giant Pacific Octopuses are really
when you take them into your arms.

All their arms fluttering around you
become everywhere sensations of pleasure.
So, his sweet eye looks at me and his little mouth kisses me
and I swear he has the body of a Greek god,
my Giant Pacific Octopus boychik.

So this was what was in store
when I first saw him in the aquarium
huddled miserably on the rock
ignoring the feast of live crabs
they put in his windowed swimming pool.

You take a creature like that, who needs love,
who is a mess when you meet
but who can open up like a flower with petal arms waving around --
      a beauty --
and it is a total pleasure to have him around,
even collapsible as he is like a big toy,
for as long as he will stay, one night or a lifetime,
for as long as god will let you have him.

After the Fall: Poems Old and New (Pitt Poetry Series)

Gary Snyder

[from Gary Snyder's Turtle Island, New Directions, 1974]


                          -- Hsiang-yen

A gray fox, female, nine pounds three ounces.
39 5/8" long with tail.
Peeling skin back (Kai
reminded us to chant the Shingyo first)
cold pelt. crinkle; and musky smell
mixed with dead-body odor starting.

Stomach content: a whole ground squirrel well chewed
plus one lizard foot
and somewhere from inside the ground squirrel
a bit of aluminum foil.

The secret.
and the secret hidden deep in that.

Turtle Island (A New Directions Book)