30 April 2005

hyperbole a la Stevens

Tony Hoagland is one of my favorite poets and writes a wonderful essay, too. Here's Hoagland talking about a poem by Wallace Stevens in an essay called “On Disproportion." The essay appears in a highly-recommended volume called Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World,, edited by Gregory Orr and Ellen Bryant Voigt, published by (no surprise) The University of Michigan Press.

Hyperbole is a peculiar instance of disproportion in which perspective is warped, a language event in which the naming of a thing inappropriately exceeds the size of the thing named, therefore causing a lopsidedness that threatens to capsize the poem. Consider the hyperbole with which Stevens begins “Two Figures in a Dense Violet Light”:

I had as lief be embraced by the porter at the hotel
As to get no more from the moonlight
Than your moist hand.

Be the voice of night and Florida in my ear.
Use dusky words and dusky images.
Darken your speech.

Speak, even, as if I did not hear you speaking,
But spoke for you perfectly in my thoughts,
Conceiving words,

As the night conceives the sea-sounds in silence,
And out of the droning sibilants makes
A serenade.

Say, puerile, that the buzzards crouch on the ridge pole
And sleep with one eye watching the stars fall
Below Key West.

Say that the palms are clear in a total blue,
Are clear and are obscure; that it is night;
That the moon shines.

Reading this overture, we entertain again the fleeting chance that we will encounter an actual relationship between two characters in a Stevens poem. This turns out not to be the case. Ultimately, the “Other” here is a sort of stand-in for the muse. Notice, though, the complex kinds of distance made possible by multiple types of inflation in the first stanza:

I had as lief be embraced by the porter at the hotel
As to get no more from the moonlight
Than your moist hand.

In the elaborately delayed syntax, the archaic diction (“as lief”), the crabby overstatement of the speaker’s petty preference, and the fantastic alternative to reality proposed (embracing the porter at the hotel), we get what amounts to character description. The speaker is simultaneously capable of self-mockery and the insulting observation about the moistness of his companion’s palm. The courtly, archaic, gibing use of the adverb “as lief” likewise frees us from the obligation to identify with the situation. The exaggerated poeticalness underscores the petty spirit of the complaint, and does so at an early point in the sentence. This style could be said to be uneconomical—the marriage of a lot of fancy words to a little bit of situation—but the result of this inflation is that we feel protected. We are provoked to recognize that here the gap between words and things is large, and that we are living in the roomy language-half of the equation. The safety of that license frees us to admire and enjoy the poet’s ability to inflect reality in ways that an exclusively plain style never could.

From the linguistic vaudeville of this highly stylized beginning, the poem takes an unlikely direction, eventually arriving at a tone of grave sincerity. For though the hyperbole of the opening is mockery, it nonetheless establishes a high rhetoric, which enables the poet to segue into a boozy eloquence and then into a serious invocation. Logically, perhaps, such a transition should not be possible. But Stevens demonstrates an important truth: that our tolerance for inconsistency, our ability to change direction in an artwork, is greater than we commonly suppose.

28 April 2005

what a symbol can do

Gregory Orr from his book Poetry As Survival:

Story aspires to act through to resolution, and its details, gestures, and actions are revealing and also symbolic. But often the action of story arrives at a dead end and cannot deliver on its promise to resolve conflicts. It is then that symbol appears spontaneously to incarnate those contradictions or conflicts in a single object. A symbol allows an object to mean more than itself, to take on additional meanings, as a magnet might bristle with paperclips. The symbol’s unitary nature as an object acts as an embodiment of contraries and a reconciliation of thematic conflicts. Let me give an example from a poem by the African American poet Robert Hayden:

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

The poem’s two characters, father and son, exist in a state of tension. Each character’s actions develop a separate thematic thread: the father’s ceaseless labor, the son’s fearful and guilty avoidence of his father. These separate stories are brought together and embodied in the “good shoes,” which become the single point of contact between the two characters who move about the dark house avoiding each other. What sort of discordant or conflicting meanings are concentrated in these shoes? They are the “good shoes,” as opposed to the everyday shoes. They are intended to be worn to church. The father has polished them and left them, like an offering at a church altar, for the son to wear. In order to go to church, the son must put on the shoes and thus acknowledge the father and the father’s labor on his behalf—the shoes contain both the father’s thankless and dutiful labor and the son’s guilty anguish. The son, who cannot (he fears “the chronic angers of that house”) or will not confront the father, is forced to confront him indirectly in the shoes. Hayden’s poem starts as lyric story, narrows its focus to the intense tension of the symbol, and then breaks into an agonized and incantatory lament (“What did I know, what did I know?”) as a way of resolving the unresolvable misery of the poem.

This is an excellent book for anyone, not just poets. I wish I had read this back when I was desperately and fruitlessly trying to figure out how to find endings for short stories.

Carol Peters

giggle. of course you went
to catholic school. my aunts
would take me to mass. i loved it.
purple. latin. gold. i took latin in school
first chance i got. the teacher was the first
lesbian i ever knew—
hands on my shoulders. my terror. ah,
to intone. the singing sound
of a priest. incense. dimmed lighting.
it was the finest
most magnificent churchy thing,
so much more
than i imagined.
that they dressed to go—slithery belted smocks—
hats with fly-struck veils and shiny shoes
with heels, purses, red stripes
of lipstick, and that they believed.
that was beyond me. already,
at seven, i believed nothing.

27 April 2005

advice from poets

Roddy Lumsden has compiled a list of mistakes poets make. Thanks to my friend Susan Meyers for this treat.

26 April 2005


Some words have faded from the language, and eglantine is probably one of them, at least in the United States. You may remember my quoting it back in March from Wallace Stevens's poem "Floral Decorations for Bananas":

Well, nuncle, this plainly won't do.
These insolent, linear peels
And sullen, hurricane shapes
Won't do with your eglantine.
They require something serpentine.
Blunt yellow in such a room!

Today I found eglantine in William Wordsworth's The Prelude, a long poem divided into 14 books, this from the 8th, begin at line 230 in the 1850 edition:

. . . O'er paths and fields
In all that neighbourhood, through narrow lanes
Of eglantine, and through the shady woods
And o'er the Border Beacon, and the waste
Of naked pools, and common crags that lay
Exposed on the bare fell, were scattered love,
The spirit of pleasure, and youth's golden gleam.

What is eglantine? The Shorter OED says "Any of several hedge shrubs: spec. the sweet-brier, Rosa rubiginosa. Also occas. (chiefly dial.), the dogrose Rosa canina; the honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum."

And why did both Stevens and Wordsworth use the word in their poems? Aside from its elegant feel, its eglantine feel? Sound sound sound. What else rhymes with serpentine and swims with the sound of the letter "n" and has a Latin root that means thorny or prickly, like Stevens's poem is thorny and prickly. Wordsworth was also on an n-roll and an l-roll as he carried his sound from neighbourhood to narrow lanes through eglantine all the way to that gleam that slant-rhymes with -tine.

Or they did it for some other reason entirely having to do with roses and/or honeysuckle, whose Latin name, Lonicera periclymenum, is one of my all time favorite designants.

24 April 2005

Geof Huth

Spend some time visiting the world of Geof Huth. Scan down the right side of the page and visit his sub-blogs -- Mailartworks, for example.

Rumi, #82:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

23 April 2005

today's amusement

Your Linguistic Profile:

40% Yankee

35% General American English

15% Dixie

10% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

Thank you, Jilly.

22 April 2005

a sniff of Eliot

A moon sighting from T. S. Eliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night":

A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets
And female smells in shuttered rooms
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.

I picked this out of an essay called "Effects of Analogy" by Wallace Stevens, some of whose sound occupies a similar range. Listen to the beginning of "Sunday Morning":

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

Okay, not that similar. And, of course, Stevens likes to launch into things like this, from "The Comedian As the Letter C":

Portentous enunciation, syllable
To blessed syllable affined, and sound
Bubbling felicity in cantilene,
Prolific and tormenting tenderness
Of music, as it comes to unison,
Forgather and bell boldly Crispin's last
Deduction. Thrum with a proud douceur
His grand pronunciamento and devise.

Such a refined turn scintillates after one's been with Crispin and his creator for a while, once the poem, as Stevens says, "comes to possess the reader and . . . naturalizes him in his own imagination and liberates him there."

love poetry

from Michael Ondaatje's Handwriting:

The Siyabaslakara

In the 10th century, the young princess
entered a rock pool like the moon

within a blue cloud

Her sisters
who dove, lit by flares,
were lightning

Water and erotics

The path from the king to rainmaking

—his dark shoulders a platform
against the youngest instep

waving her head above him
this way
this way

Later the art of aqueducts,

the banning of monks
from water events

so they would not be caught
within the melodious sounds

or in the noon heat
under the rain of her hair

21 April 2005

poetry submissions

Visit Beverly Jackson's blog for many fine things, including this link to a thoroughly useful article about how to submit poetry for publication.

20 April 2005

Carol Peters

Years pass when death and safety suffice
like hibernation
until the air warms and shatters, again,
the fissure of tussle, feint of slash, fiery gouts—
that struggle with the bear.

19 April 2005

Stevens feeling his way

From "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction":


Fat girl, terrestrial, my summer, my night,
How is it I find you in difference, see you there
In a moving contour, a change not quite completed?

You are familiar yet an aberration.
Civil, madam, I am, but underneath
A tree, this unprovoked sensation requires

That I should name you flatly, waste no words,
Check your evasions, hold you to yourself.
Even so when I think of you as strong or tired,

Bent over work, anxious, content, alone,
You remain the more than natural figure. You
Become the soft-footed phantom, the irrational

Distortion, however fragrant, however dear.
That's it: the more than rational distortion,
The fiction that results from feeling. Yes, that.

They will get it straight one day at the Sorbonne.
We shall return at twilight from the lecture
Pleased that the irrational is rational,

Until flicked by feeling, in a gildered street,
I call you by name, my green, my fluent mundo.
You will have stopped revolving except in crystal.

He does seem a dandy, yet so loving, so attuned to mysteries.

my green, my fluent mundo

Imagine being able to do that.

Thoughts on Frost

Remarks by Ezra Pound in 1931:

As a matter of history it should be stated that since 1912 Robert Frost had been producing New England Eclogues. Sincere, very dull, without tragedy, without emotion, without metrical interest, a faithful record of life without intellectual interest or any desire for anything not in it. The work, inferior to Crabbe, but infinitely better than fake. A great deal of New England life is presumably as Frost records it. It is difficult to see how such life differs greatly from that of horses and sheep.

I understand now why Randall Jarrell felt obliged to defend:

Back in the days when "serious readers of modern poetry" were most patronizing to Frost's poems, one was often moved to argument . . . In these days it's better . . . not much: the lips are pursed that ought to be parted, and they still pay lip-service, or little more. But Frost's best poetry . . . deserves the attention, submission, and astonished awe that real art always requires of us

I've never been wild about Frost, but I attribute that to my ignorance. Maybe all I object to is the adulation.

16 April 2005

Carole Maso

Months ago my friend Bev loaned me a novel called Defiance by Carole Maso, in which Bernadette, a Harvard professor, is three months from being electrocuted by the state of Georgia for murdering two of her male students. The text is her Death diary. She is not repentent. She intended her crimes, but they did not succeed at annulling her losses. She dies enraptured by the grief of her childhood.

There is no way, I suppose you know, to atone for the theft of childhood.

That is her theme, and here is a writing sample:

The dream is green and I am fetus clinging. Clinging to your emerald bones in that time, that time before . . . Clovered to you. The last free place. Verdant, rich. The shining pelvis bone to which I clung. I flare at your waist. Unwilling to live outside. My first bit of real intelligence. A forcepped birth. In the year of our weariness, 1960. Taking the tongs. Traumatically. How the scene now stubbornly asserts itself again and again. Extracted. The patient etherized. Mother.

Before I disappoint you or let you down. Before you disappoint or let me down. Before you disappoint or let me down. Before numbers or stars, before language, before notions of beginnings or endings. Before a hand was raised. Before a hand existed at all. Before the brain. Sensing the body forming, quickly and slowly. There are miracles. Here come the fingers. Small toes. Frog heart. Amphibious in the watery dark. In the time before the world had anything against us yet. In the time of reprieve—suspended, lingering. Last forever. Never end.

The novel is brutal, mesmerizing, and superb. Maso fractures the storytelling into thousands of small pieces and completes the story of the deepest hurt only moments before the protagonist's execution. The reader has understood for a long time what happened, and therefore the final details only tattoo the truth.

I've already ordered another of her books, and I can imagine reading everything she's written. She teaches at Brown.

19th century transport

Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book II:

I deem not profitless those fleeting moods
Of shadowy exultation: not for this,
That they are kindred to our purer mind
And intellectual life; but that the soul,
Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
Of possible sublimity, to which,
With growing faculties she doth aspire,
With faculties still growing, feeling still
That whatsoever point they gain, they still
have something to pursue.

                   . . . that universal power
And fitness in the latent qualities
And essences of things, by which the mind
Is moved by feelings of delight . . .

Oft in those moments such a holy calm
Did overspread my soul, that I forgot
That I had bodily eyes, and what I saw
Appeared like something in myself, a dream,
A prospect in my mind.

                   . . . Wonder not
If such my transports were, for in all things
I saw one life, and felt that it was joy.

14 April 2005

silly book quiz

Avoiding the Muse said check out this Book Quiz.

You're Animal Farm!

by George Orwell

You are living proof that power corrupts and whoever leads you will
become just as bad as the past leaders. You're quite conflicted about this emotionally
and waver from hopelessly idealistic to tragically jaded. Ultimately, you know you can't
trust pigs. Your best moments are when you're down on all fours.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Countering with this pig extravaganza.

13 April 2005

Carol Peters

Face it. I don’t like dogs.
I fear them. In our culture
you can’t always dislike something you fear,
but you can if it’s a dog.

Silly, but I was bitten,
by a St. Bernard, no less.
Well, I was almost bitten.
A dog with a head bigger than mine
took my leg in his mouth
before his owner caught and beat him.
I wasn’t hurt, not physically, but
now people protect me.

Three houses down a little dog barks at night.
Everything startles him
so he bleats, he cries out for help,
and then someone beats him.
The cry turns to a yelp,
sometimes two, and then silence.

I don’t know who does it. I don’t
know those people, my neighbors,
but when I heard the man shouting
at his son, maybe beating him,
I called the police.
Three burly blues: “Which house, ma’am?”
I tried to tell them
but the houses are three deep here,
one driveway serves many.
It might be someone else’s dog.

I went to see it once—
a young black dog barking
behind a chainlink fence.
No one walks the dog.
I know because I walk.
The dog never leaves the property.

Today I’m driving down a city street
next to a young woman draped in black.
Every few seconds, she stops
and raises her arms, snarls and shouts,
makes faces at no one, at me.
She’s afraid, too, and I’m afraid of her.
We’re all afraid.

The three blues talked to the angry man,
but the dog is still there barking
at night, crying out,
and then he is beaten.
I am not, yet.

12 April 2005

fighting the good fight

If you're hoping to find a publisher for your fiction, take the time to read Sue O'Neill's saga over at The Cusp of Something.

authors I've always meant to read

This week it's Jung and Wordsworth.

From Book I of The Prelude:

But speedily a longing in me rose
To brace myself to some determined aim,
Reading or thinking, either to lay up
New stores, or rescue from decay the old
By timely interference. I had hopes . . .
But I have been discouraged: gleams of light
Flash often from the East, then disappear
And mock me with a sky that ripens not
Into a steady morning . . .

The Poet, gentle creature as he is,
Hath, like the Lover, his unruly times,
His fits when he is neither sick nor well,
Though no distress be near him but his own
Unmanageable thoughts.

11 April 2005


From the April issue of Poetry, an report from Aleksandar Hemon on Semezdin Mehmedinovic’s Sarajevo Blues:

"The precision of the detail, coupled with the awareness of what it all means, is everywhere in Sarajevo Blues. In 'Animals,' Semezdin writes:

I do not know how much longer I can bear a life like this. I get thrills every time, when at the thundering [of the artillery] outside, the cat snaps out of sleep and then, on my chest, I feel the slow unsheathing of her claws.

The sensory exactness of moments like this brought the siege home for me, quite literally, and made me comprehend what it was like to exist in Sarajevo. But Sarajevo Blues was not just bearing witness—although that would be admirably sufficient—it was also exposing the flimsy ways in which “our” reality (“we” being the unbesieged) is assembled to be comforting and bearable. For in the end, the central fact of every life is death, a fact that “we” choose to ignore for as long as possible. The purpose of “our” reality is to cover up the fact of death, and one of the things writers and poets can—and should—do is to unpack the lies of reality, beginning with the lie of life eternal in the present. What Semezdin did in Sarajevo Blues, with the heart and mind of a superb poet, was to recognize that the collapse of reality in Sarajevo was directly related to the ubiquity of death, which makes the city different from any other place on earth only in degree but not in kind. Nowhere is that more clear than in the poem called 'Corpse':

We slowed down at the bridge
to watch dogs by the Miljacka
tearing apart a human corpse
then we went on

nothing in me has changed

I listened to the snow bursting under the tires
like teeth crunching an apple
and I felt a wild desire to laugh
at you
because you call this place hell
and you flee from here convinced
that death beyond Sarajevo does not exist

Reading Sarajevo Blues, I not only understood what it meant to live in Sarajevo under siege—I understood what it meant to live."

Poetry is well worth reading. If the poetry sometimes disappoints (why is this?), the essays are often thrilling, and sometimes a review causes me to buy a new collection, e.g., Sarajevo Blues by Semezdin Mehmedinovic.

like bog oak . . . like a basalt egg

The Grauballe Man
by Seamus Heaney

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel

like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan's foot
or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.

The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat

that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.

Who will say 'corpse'
to his vivid cast?
Who will say 'body'
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus's.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

09 April 2005

music for Saturday

From Hart Crane. Sing this aloud.

Voyages I

Above the fresh ruffles of the surf
Bright striped urchins flay each other with sand.
They have contrived a conquest for shell shucks,
And their fingers crumble fragments of baked weed
Gaily digging and scattering.

And in answer to their treble interjections
The sun beats lightning on the waves,
The waves fold thunder on the sand;
And could they hear me I would tell them:

O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,
Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached
By time and the elements; but there is a line
You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it
Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses
Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.
The bottom of the sea is cruel.

Voyages II

—And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
Samite sheeted and processioned where
Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,
Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

Take this Sea, whose diapason knells
On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends
As her demeanors motion well or ill,
All but the pieties of lovers’ hands.

And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the house,
And hasten while her penniless rich palms
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—
Hasten, while they are true,—sleep, death, desire,
Close round one instant in one floating flower.

Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.

. . . This just in . . .

Stevens to Frost, "The trouble with you is you write about things."

Frost to Stevens, "The trouble with you is you write about bric-a-brac."

channeling Wright Morris

Wright Morris in About Fiction via my friend Madge:

Good fiction especially would seem to be at the mercy of the reader’s vulnerability. If he is en garde he is off target. He must be open to fiction at precisely those points where he has been closed to life.

Which I read as this:

The writer must be open to writing fiction at precisely those points where she has been closed to life.

08 April 2005

Ho, Wallace!

My dear friend Caroline sent me Parts of a World: Wallace Stevens Remembered, an oral biography by Peter Brazeau. I cannot put it down. For one thing, it brings back the old life, the life of my parents back in the 30's, 40's, 50's, a life that is truly lost. And it explains in a non-directive fashion who this man was, Wallace Stevens, the bond-claims lawyer who wrote such poetry, his frequently devastating sense of humor, devastating in the sense that other people often didn't get the jokes, took offense even. How did I grow so old without knowing that Stevens and Hemingway had a fist fight in which Stevens broke his hand? So musical, this Wallace:

Snow and Stars

The grackles sing avant the spring
Most spiss—oh! Yes, most spissantly.
They sing right puissantly.

This robe of snow and winter stars,
The devil take it, wear it, too.
It might become his hole of blue.

Let him remove it to his regions,
White and star-furred for his legions,
And make much bing, high bing.

It would be ransom for the willow
And fill the hill and fill it full
Of ding, ding, dong.

Brazeau has done a similar book about Elizabeth Bishop, which I've purchased to read this summer. I plan to turn into Bishop during the month of June.

how it feels, learning to write

From Seamus Heaney's "The Mud Vision":

                         We sleepwalked
The line between panic and formulae, . . .
Watching ourselves at a distance, advantaged
And airy as a man on a springboard
Who keeps limbering up because the man cannot dive.

06 April 2005

staying here

I live in a house surrounded by a concrete pad. Eight concrete steps lead from the pad up to the driveway and the carport.

Yesterday the painters painted the pad and the steps, and as they finished, it began to rain. It's been raining for sixteen hours, and the paint is still sticky. The only way to exit the house is through the slider onto the deck. From there I can walk down the stairs and down the path to the cottage, below which is impenetrable tropical vegetation.

I didn't think about the consequences of painting the concrete pad and steps. That I can't leave the property except by clambering across to a neighbor's yard. I don't know the neighbors. That means I can't easily reach my car. I should have gone grocery shopping because I'm down to a few eggs and a half a package of fake crab. Even the bread is gone.

I'm claustrophobic. My thesis is due in nineteen days. Did I mention it's raining?

This, too, shall pass.


from James Tata via Superfluities:

A new book meme circulating around the sphere is going by the name “123.5,” and its rules are these:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

Here's mine:

This part of the poem closes with the nineteenth-century gold rush:

      Then came the white man: tossed up trees and
         boulders with big hoses,
         going after that old gravel and the gold,
      horses, apple-orchards, card-games,
         pistol-shooting, churches, county jail.

This from Helen Vendler's Soul Says: On Recent Poetry. She's discussing Gary Snyder's poem "What Happened Here Before."

Ellen Dudley

Good interview with Ellen Dudley of the Marlboro Review.

04 April 2005

a Rilke sonnet

The Sonnets to Orpheus, Part II, Number 12:

Will transformation. Be inspired by the flame
where a thing made of Change conceals itself;
this informing spirit, master of all that’s earthly,
loves nothing more than the moment of turning.
What’s heartset on survival is already stony;
how safe is it, hid in its innocuous gray?
Look out, from afar a far harder hardness warns it:
feel the approach of a hammer held high.

Whoever flows forth from himself like a freshet, Knowledge
        will acknowledge,
and lead him, entranced, through her wondrous world,
where endings are often beginnings and beginnings ends.

Every fortune-favored space you wander through, astonished,
is the child or the grandchild of Change. Even Daphne,
as she leafs into laurel, wants to feel you become wind.

[from Reading Rilke by William H. Gass; his translation]

02 April 2005

From The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke:

I am lying in my bed five flights up, and my day, which nothing interrupts, is like a clock-face without hands. As something that has been lost for a long time reappears one morning in its old place, safe and sound, almost newer than when it vanished, just as if someone had been taking care of it—: so, here and there on my blanket, lost feelings out of my childhood lie and are like new. All the lost fears are here again.

The fear that a small woolen thread sticking out of the hem of my blanket may be hard, hard and sharp as a steel needle; the fear that this little button on my night-shirt may be bigger than my head, bigger and heavier; the fear that the breadcrumb which just dropped off my bed may turn into glass, and shatter when it hits the floor, and the sickening worry that when it does, everything will be broken, for ever; the fear that the ragged edge of a letter which was torn open may be something forbidden, which no one ought to see, something indescribably precious, for which no place in the room is safe enough; the fear that if I fell asleep I might swallow the piece of coal lying in front of the stove; the fear that some number may begin to grow in my brain until there is no more room for it inside me; the fear that I may be lying on granite, on gray granite; the fear that I may start screaming, and people will come running to my door and finally force it open, the fear that I might betray myself and tell everything I dread, and the fear that I might not be able to say anything, because everything is unsayable,—and the other fears . . . the fears.

I prayed to rediscover my childhood, and it has come back, and I feel that it is just as difficult as it used to be, and that growing older has served no purpose at all.

01 April 2005

from the days when we knew about death

Mary Rowlandson was captured in a Narragansett Indian raid back in the seventeenth century. This excerpt is from The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson:

Thus nine dayes I sat upon my knees, with my Babe in my lap, all my flesh was raw again; my Child being even ready to depart this Sorrowfull world, they bade me carry it out to another Wigwam (I suppose because they would not be troubled with such spectacles) Whither I went with a very heavy heart, and down I sat with the picture of death in my lap. About two houres in the night, my Sweet Babe, like a Lambe departed this life, on Feb.18.1675. It being six yeares, and five months old. It was nine dayes from the first wounding, in this miserable condition, without any refreshing of one nature or another, except a little cold water. I cannot but take notice, how at another time I could not bear to be in a room where any dead person was, but now the case is changed; I must and could ly down by my dead Babe, side by side all the night after.

[quoted in Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson, a remarkable book; in my opinion, Howe gets Dickinson, whereas nearly everyone else I've read doesn't.]