29 December 2006

Stephen Spender

[from Stephen Spender's Poetry Since 1939, published in 1946]


First of all, it is necessary to note the conditions in which poets have worked during the war.

In principle, everyone in Britain was mobilised to take part in the war effort (this mobilisation is, in fact, likely to extend far beyond the war). Certain people were, however, exempt from mobilisation, on account of age, illness, or because they were in reserved occupations. Although some painters were reserved to paint war pictures, no poet was reserved for the purpose of writing war poetry or any other kind of poetry.

It would be impossible, of course, for a poet to enter into an undertaking to write poetry about war in the same way that a painter can paint scenes of war. It would also have been impossible for a government in conducting total war to give poets complete freedom without any obligation to write propaganda or, indeed, to write anything: for these are the conditions of freedom which most poets require. Therefore poets have no grievance that they were “called up” like everyone else. Yet a deplorable waste and misuse and destruction of poetic talent is inevitably part of the expense of modern warfare, and it is hardly compensated for by the fact that the war stimulated much indiscriminate writing and publishing of poetry.

An inevitable result of the call-up was that the best poems written were by older men and women whom the war effort almost passed over, if it did not entirely do so. (T. S. Eliot was a part-time Air Raid Warden, Edwin Muir an administrator in Edinburgh of the British Council.) Some of the best poems written in these years were by T. S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, Edwin Muir and Laurence Binyon.

W. H. Auden went to America in the autumn of 1938 and stayed there. His two books, New Year Letter and For the Time Being, show, if one compares them with the work of his contemporaries in England, that his American freedom enabled him to improve his technique enormously, so that he is now the most accomplished technician writing poetry in the English language.

The practical effect of the war on other English poets has been to turn them into administrators, government officials, soldiers, sailors, pilots; and to single out a few as pacifists and rebels.

The generation of poets who attracted much attention in the 1930’s, Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, William Empson, Spender and others, have tended to become officials: Day Lewis was employed in the Minsitry of Information; William Plomer in the Admiralty; Louis MacNeice was a script writer in the B. B. C.; William Empson worked in the Far Eastern section of the B. B. C.; Arthur Waley, the distinguished translator of Chinese poems, worked in the Far Eastern section of the Ministry of Information. Spender was for some years a fireman, and later became a small hack of a war-time branch of the Foreign Office. Dylan Thomas was employed in documentary films.

Then we come to the many poets in the Forces. Some of the most talented of these were killed, notably Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis. In quantity, the poets in the Forces produced far more work than anyone else, and, apart from the writing of distinguished poets such as Vernon Watkins, F. T. Prince, Roy Fuller, Henry Treece, Alan Rook, Keidrych Rhys, Francis Scarfe, this poetry is the most difficult to judge at the present time while we are so close to it.

Women poets fall into a rather special category. Apart from Miss Edith Sitwell, four outstanding women writers, Kathleen Raine, Anne Ridler, Ruth Pitter and E. J. Scovell, produced books during the war. When I come to review their work, it will be seen that their strength lies in their developing that peculiar branch of extremely sensitive and perceptive writing in which women can excel.

The pacifist poets have produced a small but vociferous literature which is too full of protest and self-justification to have much value. The most notable pacifist writer is Alex Comfort, who is one of the most striking young talents in Britain.

The paper shortage and the situation in publishing play an important part in the conditions of writers in war time. After June 1940 paper suddenly became very scarce, newspapers were cut down to one-eighth of their size before the war, and publishers were limited to a quota of paper based on a small percentage of their pre-war consumption. Paper rationing was a hardship, but its results were not altogether bad. Most publishers behaved with a sense of responsibility towards literature and produced books of high quality, denying themselves paper for more popular work. Despite paper rationing, the sales of poetry increased, and even less-known poets could reckon their sales as between 2,000 and 4,000 instead of in hundreds, as would have been their circulation before the war.

Hayden Carruth

[from Hayden Carruth's Collected Longer Poems, 1994]

excerpts from Contra Mortem, a poem in 30 parts

[The Wheel of Being I]

. . . A word is like an ant
dragging a dead spider the meant
and the unmeant     So upon ragged changing seas
the poem which is a ship
buoyed by its hollowness on the abstruse
coordinates of meaning carries the loop
of its horizon . . .

[The Stone]

Difficult to think of a stone’s gratitude
difficult for that matter to think of stone
essences so various . . . Birches
step forward and the stone rises like an earthspirit
snow dripping from its flanks
burnished and new but scarcely changed a merit
of the abiding between the banks
marking the upstream from down . . .

[The Water]

. . . snow had covered the ice serene
and cool as corpseflesh while quiet small sounds
came from the holes where the skein
of black water continued winding     But now
only the scraps and tatters of the snow
are left on the banks . . . In the shallows
where pebbles excite the current
the brook is shaken like the quivering lightandshadow
of aspenleaves or like the cadence
of hundreds of migrant wings . . .

[The Primavera]

. . . see the dog run     Light as a wish free
as a thought he runs with his nose to the ground
raising his bellvoice gone and returned
on his keen inquisitive course as swift as an echo
and the prints of his paws are flowers
and the shaking of his coat is soft rain and the glow
of his eyes is the making of nests his terror
is the scourging of somnolence for he is the dog of spring . . .

[The Child’s Being]

Extended and always uncentered which is why it scares
everyone but him     When an insistent finger
stabs him with a you he only stares
uncomprehendingly a stranger
to the pronomial itch and then pointing anywhere
to the tree the cloud the flower distant or near
expostulates in manic delight
me me me a spendthrift spate
of consciousness     And thus the child puts on
his being . . .

28 December 2006

Hayden Carruth

[from Hayden Carruth's Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays]

And luck has a good deal to do with virtue, and with self-control and independence, too. Any artist knows this. A poet or painter must work in exceptional and solitary diligence to sustain technique and the required pliancy of imagination, that is, to keep the artistic apparatus in a state of readiness for the stroke of luck that alone can materialize a genuine work of art when it comes; more than this, the artist must not only work but live in a state of devotion to things greater than himself. But no dereliction from hard work and devotion is implied in deferring to luck. Deference is a recognition of reality, what Wallace Stevens called “the necessary angel,” who must mediate the imaginative procedure. A work of art — a work of virtue — is luck welcomed and accepted, the success of chance. And happiness is the feeling that goes with it.

26 December 2006

Lynda Hull

Please go to Poetry Daily every day, and today (12/26/06) go there to read the Lynda Hull poem because it's a knockout.

22 December 2006

Laurence Lieberman

[from Laurence Lieberman, Carib’s Leap: new and selected poems of the Caribbean, 2005]

Skin Song

I cannot be a fish     sure of failure, I will try
no risk, no loss

the flippers tell my feet     flesh, be rubber
you must not bend or kick     to be
moved, lie still     to be held
let go

the mask instructs my face
mouth, stay shut     the Other
opens     be slow, nose
you will breathe
easy     eyes
do not be first, come
after     late, you will see more

Water commands:

body, be light     the will
is heaviness     ignorance
has no weight     know
nothing     give everything away     cast off
self to the deep     shed weight
lightness     grows
full     body, be light

be white, blood     be
without color     lose your red
grow lighter than water
thinner     blood, be white
skin, be empty     sleep
you will dream

a motion not your own     a motion
that is given     give
up, touch     be taken     emptiness
lifts     skin, be empty

Marianne Moore's Christmas poem

[from The Poems of Marianne Moore]

To Pierrot Returning to His Orchid

Spider, with the freckles of a clown
      And sumptuous contortions of a gnome,
           How came you by that one bright object in my room
           That you could fitly call your own — upon whose flame you
                                          seemed unconsciously to drift
And like a moth to settle down?
      The forest is your home.

I shall not evict you, spider, no.
      You strayed exotic from the pantomime,
                Your dog-flower carried by the stream to drown yourself,
                Like inland seaweed, in a pond of tough-stemmed lilies:
                                          You are here; apparently
Content to be my guest — Say so.
      It is Christmastime.

21 December 2006

Marianne Moore's little engine that could

by Marianne Moore

If you will tell me why the fen
Appears impassable, I then
Will tell you why I think that I
Can get across it, if I try.

19 December 2006

Michael White

[from Michael White’s Island, 1992]

The Solving Memory of Things

Regardless how nonchalantly you walk
Through the flickering delicate interlock of shade,
You can never quite approach whatever it is
That disappears at the peripheries of leaves
And light — a memory like a bird slipped free
And flitting ahead as it might have done in life —
Across the concave of a phantom riverbed
Sunk in the trees, where the deep diluvial chill
Of March is strongest. And something tells you
You won’t catch sight of it again by looking
Directly for it. . . .
                            The branches on all sides
Grow eerily, impenetrably thick here,
So already you wonder what the idea was,
What inland-tidal pull, from long back, rose
Against the nature of your present self,
And plunked you down in a whorl of ravaged limbs?

(Stuck in an unnoticed corner of sky, forgotten,
Blotted by clouds, hangs the gray, flat disc of the sun.)

And where is the path you would follow (nervously jangling
The keys and change in your pocket) if the woods
It wove through are half washed away in flood
Each spring? And how will you ever find your way out,
With all sense of direction vanished; the passing of time
So strangely numbed; and the images you remembered
Turning to air as you grope through bloodroot and cobweb? —
Down the wrong roads of insomnia, into
The sycamores, the nightmare trees:
                                                       and beyond
Their caverned silence lies a heartbreaking vastness
Of wind-muscled fields; and then open marshes,
Looms of sumac where mosquitos rise
Like heat through the swampy and heron-haunted air:

For there is the empire of nostalgia, a smokefall
Of dusk lain over the riffling pewter skin
Of the river. And there is the lace-iron bridge,
The banks of driftwood and tires and rusted cans
Of adolescence, that echoing broken land.

So you find yourself looking up, far above, at the lapis
Gaps in the canopy, watching the clouds pass over
And over again in the northward current of sky;
And you think: they are not of us, those dramas of mansions
Falling in, catastrophes of towers
And terraces. . . .
                            And they are not written words,
Nor the drift of seraphic dreams, but water from over
The mountains, evolving its instants of dissolution. . . .

Until finally, even down here, there is something alive
Far back in the cotton woods, trapped in the densest meshes,
Straining its great clawed limbs down the long aisles
Of pillared shade:
                           and this, too, is the sun.

And the rounded, primordial outlines of limestone cliffs
Invent themselves, in a new hard brightness of air;
And the ivy’s dark green river of hands splashes over
The foot of them; as the sound of water faintly
Unlocks, in the mossy springs that drip down the cliffsides,
Commencing their implausibly intricate cursive
Through the dark distillations of woods. . . .
                                     And, in the motion of a moment,
Against an almost unconscious backcloth of grapevines
Let down out of the treetops;
                                           and in the slow burn
Of the muted and ghostly violets washing surflike
Around your ankles, covering what softly breaks
Beneath your weight,
                               you take another step.

18 December 2006

Hayden Carruth

[From Hayden Carruth’s Toward the Distant Islands: New and Selected Poems, 2006]

The Buddhist Painter Prepares to Paint

     First he must go where
Not even the birds will brave his solitude,
Alone to the sunburnt plain to try his mood
     In silence. Prayer

     Will help him to begin
Perhaps, or tell him if after all tomorrow
May not be better. But, alas, his sorrow
     Is genuine,

     The requisite of art.
He kneels, eyes bent in humble palms. To see
In perfect light is difficult; one must be
     Blind from the start.

     And then the sevenfold
Office, the changing of the hundred names,
The offering of flowers, none the sun shames,
     But marigold

     Of his imagination,
Jasmine of the pure mind, ghostly for the ghost
Of Buddha; he speaks the uttermost

     He whispers, he merely thinks,
Thinking the perfect flower of the universe.
And the primal vastness comes to intersperse
     His thoughts, he sinks

     Through the four phases
Of infinity to the abyss, crying, “Die,
O world. Sunburnt grasses, fade.” The sky
     Turns on its huge axis

     Under him; all is lost,
Fingers, heartbeat, the singing brain, gone,
Or glittering there in that resplendent one
     Who shimmers, posed

     In the wide abyss.
The holy impassivity of his goddess dances
Without motion. The painter sighs. Expanses
     Of unknown bliss

     Widen through death, through birth,
Acheless, moving the goddess, the one, the all,
Who dances in the void of the painter’s soul.
     But something of earth,

     Something of his old dolor,
Calls back the painter now from the reflected
Essence to the form of the goddess projected
     In line and color.

     His sadness is like the itch
That gives his fingers back: among the many
Loves that preceded his pure ceremony
     There is one which

     Denies the formless, paints
Something that might be the goddess dancing, dressed
In green flesh with four arms and three heads, lest
     The loveless saints

     Alone find rapture. Why
Must the painter paint? For love of forms so trite?
Or is it that love of minds and hearts finds sight
     Within his eye?

     The painter’s love is his
Great penalty, because to fashion even
This sham goddess, he must deny the heaven
     Where the goddess is.

16 December 2006

10 December 2006

Jody Shields

[from Jody Shields's novel, The Fig Eater, 2001]

Egon had told him how messages were sent in Paris during the war in 1871, when the Germans occupied the city. He once worked with the photographer who engineered the airborne postal system. Anyone who had a leter to post brought it to the photographer's studio. There, the letters -- secret, urgent, and even ordinary -- were glued end to end into a single huge sheet, which was then photographed. In the darkroom, the image was reduced to a print of several square centimeters, rolled up inside a quill, and attached to a homing pigeon.

After the bird delivered the miniature photograph, it was inserted in a magic lantern machine and projected on a white wall. At dusk, a crowd gathered in front of the luminous square to read the letters.

In those days, the photographer had explained to Egon, the skies were full of secrets.

08 December 2006

T'ao Ch'ien

[T’ao Ch’ien, lived 365-427; from David Hinton’s anthology Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, 2005]

Wandering at Oblique Creek

This new year makes it fifty suddenly
gone. Thinking of life’s steady return

to rest cuts deep, driving me to spend
all morning wandering. Skies clear,

air’s breath fresh, I sit with friends
beside this stream flowing far away.

Striped bream weave gentle currents;
calling gulls drift above idle valleys.

Eyes roaming distant waters, I find
ridge above ridge: it’s nothing like

majestic nine-fold immortality peaks,
but to reverent eyes it’s incomparable.

Taking the winejar, I pour a round,
and we start offering brimful toasts:

who knows where today might lead
or if all this will ever come true again.

After a few cups, my heart’s far away,
and I forget thousand-year sorrows:

ranging to the limit of this morning’s
joy, it isn’t tomorrow I’m looking for.

06 December 2006

04 December 2006

Sharon Sharp

Visit Sharp Handmade Books to see Sharon Sharp's gorgeous work.

27 November 2006

Richard Wilbur

[from Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems: 1943-2004]

Trolling for Blues

for John and Barbara

As with the dapper terns, or that sole cloud
Which like a slow-evolving embryo
Moils in the sky, we make of this keen fish
Whom fight and beauty have endeared to us
A mirror of our kind. Setting aside

His unreflectiveness, his flings in air,
The aberration of his flocking swerve
To spawning grounds a hundred miles at sea,
How clearly, musing to the engine’s thrum,
Do we conceive him as he waits below:

Blue in the water’s blue, which is the shade
Of thought, and in that scintillating flux
Poised weightless, all attention, yet on edge
To lunge and seize with sure incisiveness,
He is a type of coolest intellect,

Or is so to the mind’s blue eye until
He strikes and runs unseen beneath the rip,
Yanking imagination back and down
Past recognition to the unlit deep
Of the glass sponges, of chiasmodon,

Of the old darkness of Devonian dream,
Phase of a meditation not our own,
That long mêlêe where selves were not, that life
Merciless, painless, sleepless, unaware,
From which, in time, unthinkably we rose.

Deborah Tall

[Poetry Daily reports that Deborah Tall has died and features this poem from her book, Summons, 2000]

Children's Beach Museum

Just beyond the beach
where sea turtles
lay their eggs by moonlight
this time of year

a few maimed specimens
are kept for children
to look at -- one baby
loggerhead, its left front leg

a jellied fin, another
flowering papillomas,
ocean water pumping
through a buried pipe.

They surface and stare,
bald heads fixed,
would snap a baby's fist off

Inside, under glass, stuffed
snappers and box turtles poise,
and this owl, removed from a wire,
one leg burned off, feathers on end.

Grimly my daughter
surveys their fates,
glares speechless at the cheerful
volunteer guide, retracing the steps

she took just last month
with her patient grandfather,
his death still hidden in him
like her fist tight in a pocket.

25 November 2006

Frank Bidart

[from Frank Bidart's Golden State, 1973]

Self-Portrait, 1969

He’s still young —; thirty, but looks younger —
or does he? . . . In the eyes and cheeks tonight,
turning in the mirror, he saw his mother, —
puffy; angry; bewildered . . . Many nights
now, when he stares there, he gets angry: —
something unfulfilled there, something dead
to what he once thought he surely could be —
Now, just the glamour of habits . . .
                                                      Once, instead,
he thought insight would remake him, he’d reach
— what? The thrill, the exhilaration
unraveling disaster, that seemed to teach
necessary knowledge . . . became just jargon.

Sick of being decent, he craves another
crash. What reaches him except disaster?

24 November 2006

Carol Frost

[from Carol Frost's I Will Say Beauty, 2003]

Eel Spearing

Just before dawn a woman and boy have come
to the river, water all stir, boat bobbing
and softly slapping, and soon she is leaning forward

while he holds steady the boat. Where prickling brown
meets smooth shining brown in eddies, they watch
for the sinuous shadow of the eel beside a sunken rock.

The boy’s face suffuses with a quiet glow,
and soon the breaking day will catch him, and us,
whose imaginations strain after the shape in the water,

in its purples and yellows — in a time made simple
by the motion of the waves rocking, filling in
the small depressions in the riverbank, smoothing,

mixing, and dissolving clots of earth. If any
are thirsty, they can cup hands and drink. For now
we are looking into the dark stream and the darker

pools — under a spell, so when darning needles
and water walkers hop, then are flying, whichever
of them falling first falling to the frog who stirred

them up, we only see eel. The boat rocks,
the water almost opaque but for sun through alders
glancing off the crumpled surface in one breath

of wind, then sinking a foot or more, and it is
promise, tone, direction, regret, and love.
This is the power of their bodies, the woman’s

and the boy’s, and of the eyes, jars spilled
back into the river. She holds the spear.
Something moves and piles up.

22 November 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Great Pink

A flamingo, a gone goose —
darken to gray

as the marsh she sips
dissolves, her legs

and her wings lengthen —
she’s weightless, wisping,

chalk-dusting away.
She leaves behind

a string of silver fish
for the full moon,

that chaste, sad face.

         -> return to beginning

16 November 2006

where has she been?

I moved to Charleston this week. We're in the house. It's a mess but splendid. I'll soon be back to work in this study overlooking this tidal marsh.

08 November 2006

Susan Mitchell

[from Susan Mitchell’s The Water Inside the Water, 1983]

The Bear

Tonight the bear
comes to the orchard and, balancing
on her hind legs, dances under the apple trees,
hanging onto their boughs,
dragging their branches down to earth.
Look again. It is not the bear
but some afterimage of her
like the car I once saw in the driveway
after the last guest had gone.
Snow pulls the apple boughs to the ground.
Whatever moves in the orchard —
heavy, lumbering — is clear as wind.

The bear is long gone.
Drunk on apples,
she banged over the trash cans that fall night,
then skidded downstream. By now
she must be logged in for the winter.
Unless she is choosy.
I imagine her as very choosy,
sniffing at the huge logs, pawing them, trying
each one on for size,
but always coming out again.

Until tonight.
Tonight sap freezes under her skin.
Her breath leaves white apples in the air.
As she walks she dozes,
listening to the sound of axes chopping wood.
Somewhere she can never catch up to
trees are falling. Chips pile up like snow.
When she does find it finally,
the log draws her in as easily as a forest,
and for a while she continues to see,
just ahead of her, the moon
trapped like a salmon in the ice.

07 November 2006

Malena Morling

[from Malena Morling's Astoria, 2006]


Tonight, because all matter crumbles, your father sits drunker than usual in the red armchair. His back is to the window, level with the yellow sheen of the street lamp that falls on his left shoulder and down his chest. From the other side of the living room, he is an icon in a white undershirt. Now he applies his concentration to balancing the highball on the armrest. Successful, he looks up exalted and tells you how you must carry the tables and chairs, the beds and bookcases, everything you own out into the yard and burn it.

My thanks for Bev Jackson for this one.

Cherryl Floyd-Miller

If you're searching for a writing prompt today, try this one.

06 November 2006

William Logan

Last week William Logan was poet-blogger of the week at poetryfoundation.org. His grim view of publishing poetry seems another good reason to post one's poems on one's blog.

05 November 2006

Simone Weil

[from Phillips Lopate’s essay “Against Joie de Vivre,” he is quoting Simone Weil]

The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. It goes on crying just the same. The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.

02 November 2006

Robert Graves

[from Robert Graves's Collected Poems]

The Death Room

Look forward, truant, to your second childhood.
The crystal sphere discloses
Wall-paper roses mazily repeated
In pink and bronze, their bunches harbouring
Elusive faces, under an inconclusive
Circling, spidery, ceiling craquelure,
And, by the window-frame, the well-loathed, lame,
Damp-patch, cross-patch, sleepless L-for-Lemur
Who, puffed to giant size,
Waits jealously till children close their eyes.

01 November 2006


Find five minutes, watch this video.

Susan Grimm

[from Susan Grimm’s Lake Erie Blue, 2004]

Magic Beans
      — Eugenie and Stefan, grandparents


Old woman with thin white braids. She has shut
the back gate. She is not wise. She has one
golden earring, the hole for the other long closed.
For each rose planted in the yard, a child
goes into the world and brings back love.
Her legs are stretched out before her. This dying
takes so long. This dying does not matter.
She waits for the absence of breath to make her new.


Letters she’s received:
      Our Mother is dead — across the sea
like a star winking out — that far away —
but the night is darker, hence the black border.
      I’ll send for you and the children
no note on the table when he left, but two months
later a postcard of Squirrel Hill stuck
in an envelope, the flap not quite reaching.
      We’ve found work, Mother. Come
to Cleveland as soon as you can.


She is walking the straight mown lane cut
from a tangle of saplings, sumac, pigweed,
morning glory vine. The whole weight of her
strikes firm on her two small feet. At the top,
if she turns, the woods will be at her back,
like the Carpathian forests where her father
disappeared each Monday bearing an axe. Now,
on her right — the easily observed space,
the hay bound up, the undulating backs of the hills.


How in the night he lay down, variable as dusk.
Later the good pain of the child tearing out,
her screams, the slick and bloody sheets.
Not necessarily acts of love, more like magic
beans — husband as peddler — making someone
who stays; pillar to the roof of family, wheel
to the wagon of home. Promise her birds
to peck out his eyes, elves that slice off
his tongue, gods who root him like a tree, hands
jerked up — fluttering — away from her skin.

26 October 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

A Natural History of Balloons

Flown scraps,
foiled swells,
so much sampled
tide-scrim. This was
once a bright
clown singing
to a child ducking

         -> next

25 October 2006

Robert Graves

[from Robert Graves's Collected Poems]

The Face in the Mirror

Grey haunted eyes, absent-mindedly glaring
From wide, uneven orbits; one brow drooping
Somewhat over the eye
Because of a missile fragment still inhering,
Skin-deep, as a foolish record of old-world fighting.

Crookedly broken nose — low tackling caused it;
Cheeks, furrowed; coarse grey hair, flying frenetic;
Forehead, wrinkled and high;
Jowls, prominent; ears, large; jaw, pugilistic;
Teeth, few; lips, full and ruddy; mouth, ascetic.

I pause with razor poised, scowling derision
At the mirrored man whose beard needs my attention,
And once more ask him why
He still stands ready, with a boy’s presumption,
To court the queen in her high silk pavilion.

24 October 2006

James Merrill

[from James Merrill's Water Street, 1962]

The Midnight Snack

When I was little and he was riled
It never entered my father’s head
Not to flare up, roar and turn red.
Mother kept cool and smiled.

Now every night I tiptoe straight
Through my darkened kitchen for
The refrigerator door —
It opens, the inviolate!

Illumined as in dreams I take
A glass of milk, a piece of cake,
Then stealthily retire,

Mindful of how the gas-stove’s black-
Browed pilot eye’s blue fire
Burns into my turned back.

James Merrill

[from On “Yánnina”: An Interview with David Kalstone from Collected Prose by James Merrill]

You hardly ever need to state your feelings. The point is to feel and keep the eyes open. Then what you feel is expressed, is mimed back at you by the scene. A room, a landscape. I'd go a step further. We don’t know what we feel until we see it distanced by this kind of translation.

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


Next to a Carolina highway,
face ringed like an owl’s in white feathers,
the northern harrier stands in the gusts of September.
Dark wings, down-turned beak, staring eyes,
a folded tail, speckled thighs.

The drivers are blind
to the pale bib concealing
the span of muscles tied to a breastbone’s keel,
muscles quiet, resting toward the moment
when the bird flies.

         -> next

23 October 2006

D. A. Powell

[from Kevin Prufer's The New Young American Poets]

[darling can you kill me: with your mickeymouse pillows]

darling can you kill me: with your mickeymouse pillows
when I'm a meager man. with your exhaust and hose

could you put me out: when I'm a mite a splinter a grain
a tatter a snip a sliver a whit a tittle. habited by pain

would you bop me on the noggin: with a two by four
the trifle of me pissing myself. slobbering infantile: or

wheezing in an oxygen tent. won't you shut off the tank
mightn't you disconnect the plug: give the cord a proper yank

when I lose the feeling in my legs. when my hands won't grip
and I'm a thread a reed a wrack a ruin: of clap and flux and grippe

with your smack connections could you dose me. as I start my decline
would you put a bullet through me. angel: no light left that is mine

22 October 2006

Timothy Liu

[from Kevin Prufer's The New Young American Poets]

Ariel Singing

It is not happiness. Not the man standing
in line waiting to show me his poppies
and doves. Not a vase or an empty cage
he leaves when the magic act is over.
It is sleeping for a long time, the rest
of the world standing in a broken line.
Or waking without new flowers flaming
into this world. It is a world without song
I flew right into. In the glass I saw
one soul, not two colliding into one.
Nothing shattered. What is fragile came after,
time to kill. We love badly. Do you see
how we lie awake, always hungry in bed?
The priests continue to hold out their fast
offerings to the weak. Amen. Teach me
how to sing in a grove of olive trees,
to fall like a sparrow. It is all I want.

21 October 2006

Joy Katz

[from Kevin Prufer's The New Young American Poets]

Women Must Put Off Their Rich Apparel

Women must put off their rich apparel;
at midday they must disrobe.

Apart from men are the folds of sleep,
daylight's frank remarks: the skin

of the eye, softening, softening.
Women must put on plainness,

the sweet set of the mouth's line;
the body must surface, the light,

the muscled indifference of deer.
A woman must let love recede,

the carved-out ribs sleep,
the vessel marked in bird lines

empty, as the sea empties her.
Say the sea, sound of leaves, the old

devotion, the call and response.
Reeds, caves, shoulders of cypress,

the woman who at this moment
does not need the world.

20 October 2006

Sean Lysaght

I've been in Ireland for a week -- Moate, Athlone, Galway, Sligo, New Grange, Westport, Clonmacnoise -- the green and ruminants, water and birds and sky of it.

[from Sean Lysaght's The Clare Island Survey, 1991]


Took my eye into the air of himself
and threaded it,

sewing me to the sky
with his looped cycle of flight

up the gully,
then traced a noose

around a lowland belfry
and now, in the suburbs,

can needle a spot
above the apex of a gable,

draw the skein
in circles widening out,

and glide back
to the eye of his obsession.

Immanuel Mifsud

[from Poetry Ireland Review #85]

The Mad People

In the electronic age every nutcase
with a laptop is writing a masterpiece.
They spend their nights locked up in chat rooms
and emerge with red eyes and love poems.

    Confidential Reports, Southword Editions, 2005,
    translated from the Maltese by Maurice Riordan

10 October 2006

Martha Collins

[from Martha Collins’s Blue Front, 2006]

keep your day bright
by thinking right


sheets napkins bleached bread keep
your day bright by thinking pure
thought no body in it back before
bodies mouths and after all is clean
again fountains washed as snow brides
before or angels out of time who have
no bodies under if a lie intended not
to mean without words or print making
no mistake must be kept clean but color
crept into their cheeks were never free
from absent could be seen as blanched
deficient weakly colored bloodless blank
needing contrast to be seen at all against

Kwame Dawes

[from Kwame Dawes’s Wisteria, 2006]

God Don’t Like Ugly

They say God don’t like ugly,
and those who make ugly pretty,
they are the angels of God.
Those who can take a shack,

a low down hole with a roof,
and make you want to cry
for the smell of Mama’s cooking
the love of days following days

like a sweet-loved baby girl
not fretting about nothing at all,
they are the angels of God.
Those who make ugly pretty.

So I ride through the low country,
day in day out, to the coast, holding
back the waves of sleeping creeping up
my legs, like how death comes,

just to learn to make something
prettier than what it was.
Around here, in Sumter County,
we’ve got two kinds of angels:

them that make the dead smile
with powders, creams, lotions,
resting in peace there, prettier than
they ever was when walking this earth;

and them that take complaining hair,
dry back of the hand, facial skin,
and make that pretty as morning,
pretty as a poem there in the salon.

They are the angels of God,
for God don’t like ugly at all.
Here in Sumter County, two things are sure,
folks will die their ugly deaths

and women lapping up the magazines
won’t ever feel pretty enough for love.
Me, I am too scared of the cold flesh
that don’t give back, don’t move,

so I caress the women’s jowls,
till all they can do is smile
call me angel of the Lord
’cause God don’t like ugly.

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


The hermit crab
is wearing
a snail’s shell.

legs flank
the pincers,

antennae weaving,
eye stalks,
domed medallion.

A pen forages
inside the shell,
frees a tail

that coils
around the ballpoint tip
— is inked.

Emptied shell.
Spilled being.

         -> next

09 October 2006

John Haines

[from John Haines’s For the Century’s End: Poems 1990-1999]

excerpted from “In the House of Wax”


In all these wax memorials
only appearance changes.

Crowned heads and axes fall,
thugs and jailors rise
and displace each other
in this long, uneasy walk
we have littered
with claims and captions.

The heroes are always welcomed,
are propped and shaven,
their ruddy male composure
is sleeker than ever,
though the great sleeves
and brutal collars
give way to softer buttons.

The paper in official hands
rustles as before,
though it is only paper,
paper in cheap supply,
and not the bleached fell
of a difficult sheep.

And yet the neat persuasions
are seen to tighten,
and each new litigation
is a running noose . . .

All that increases,
all that gluts and fattens,
matures its option here:
Honor to thieves and merchants,
long life to the butcher.

And for the just petitioner —
sweeper of hallways, scapegoat
and discard — no reply
but the rote of legal fictions;

to which he listens, now
as in the days of Pontius,
stricken with understanding.

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


I asked for a photo of fetuses
inside the uterus
of the pig you shot.

A rabbit uterus is shaped like a Y,
pink ribbons that rinse from the body’s trough
along with the rest of the workings.
Inside an old breeder,
knots along the Y-arms
record the history of fetuses.

Nose to tail, first one, then the next
slack kit pulses through Y-stem to air;
the doe bites the cord, licks the ribcage
to kickstart breath. I’ve stroked spasm
into lungs for a kit that needed it.

Those not quite piglets you tossed
to compost’s stink and flies,
I wanted to trace the shape (pear
or Y), to measure the heat
and ebb of colors, to slow
the pace of their hearts leaving.

         -> next

08 October 2006

John Clare

[untitled poem from John Clare's bird poems]

In the hedge I pass a little nest
Green morning after morning
Where the old ones scared at every guest
Cheeped loud a danger warning
But the young ones cree’d at every tread
Nor knew of danger near
They quivering hold up many a head
At all that passes near

The awbush round their dwelling hings
Which morn with dropples strinkles
That wets the old birds eager wings
While the brook at bottom tinkles
A constant guardian running past
Sweet youngs cease your cheeping
For many a clown goes whistling past
When ye’re unconscious sleeping

The old ones on a distant bough
With victuals in her bill
Waits back to see me passing now
And tweets in fear of ill
But soon as bye she hurrys in
They twitter caw and cree
The laughing brook won’t let me win
A peep to reach and see

Right pleasant brook Im glad ye lie
Between them and the road
They’re not all friends that wander bye
And faith is ill bestowed
Hid from the world their green retreat
The worlds ways never knew
But much I fear they’d quickly meet
Its cares if in its view

I’ve past the nest so often bye
They seem my neighbours now
And I’d be glad to see ’em flye
And cheep upon the bough
The worlds way is a cheating way
And it would not be long
Before they met a cloudy day
And some to do em wrong

Though I have not gone half the ways
That many have to go
Nor met with half the swaily days
That many troubles know
Yet chuse not haunts that many know
Though many much pretend
For ye are sure to find a foe
Where many pass for friends

a final solution

[from an unsigned essay titled "Conservation" in the November, 1939 issue of Nature Magazine]

We belive that if we could take the leaders of this present world conflict to a high alpine meadow in Glacier National Park, for example, far from the highways and all the other refinements of our vaunted civilization, and there talk and climb, watch the mountain goat on his crag and the bear in his wanderings, the story might well be different. If there, together, they could breathe the pure air of the outdoors and not the fetid atmosphere of pub, bistro or beer hall, and sleep beneath stars undimmed by city lights, we believe that hatreds might be dissolved, and not intensified in defiance of all that is natural.

07 October 2006

Carol Peters

I spent part of the day in an excellent haiku workshop with Dave Russo. We walked in light rain through San-Lee Park in search of material. I found this:

The gray squirrel
burying his acorn
stops to eat it

Carol Peters

Protected Species

The bird's a cuckoo, yellow-billed, and dead.
Your first sight of a rare breed. Why leave it behind?
Why not preserve the specimen instead?

The migratory legislation you’ve read
deems it unlawful to take a bird of this kind:
no yellow-billed cuckoos, even if dead.

You bring it home to freeze with wings spread,
study taxidermy, are startled to find
specimens aren’t preserved but plaster instead.

Skinning is hard, especially the wings and head
until you chop them off. It doesn't mind,
this illegal cuckoo, yellow-billed, and dead.

You dip the parts in slurry, bake them like bread,
fill the castings with foam before you bind
feathers to this incriminating specimen instead

of preserving it. These rips repaired with thread,
these wings in flight, eyes no longer blind.
This bird's a cuckoo, yellow-billed, not dead:
you’ve sung the specimen to life instead.

06 October 2006

more on Gwendolyn Brooks

Poet Jilly Dybka has linked to my earlier post and offers a link to Annette Debo's thoughtful reading of Brooks's work, e.g.:

Too often Brooks's poetry is divided into discrete sections rather than considered a continually developing, cohesive body of work. Most frequently, her early poetry, with its intense experimentation in traditional poetic forms, is the material anthologized and critically explored, and her poetry written after 1967, a line Brooks herself drew and critics reinforced, is neglected. However, there are also critics who prefer her later poetry and who call the early poetry "traditional," "accommodationist," or "white" (Clark 85). In contrast, as I read Brooks's early poetry, I find that it, like her later poetry, responds to what she sees happening in the arts and in politics--it is all politically informed. (4) Like the poems of Langston Hughes, Brooks's work evolves, and her interest in the connection between race and violence is clear both before and after 1967, as is her continual experimentation with form. Her poetry develops; it does not suddenly become "black" after the Fisk Conference, nor does the latter half of her work lack integrity by becoming too simplistic in its form.

05 October 2006

Gwendolyn Brooks

This quote from Danielle Chapman's essay about Gwendolyn Brooks in the October, 2006 issue of Poetry:

The most striking difference from the early work is not the politics, but how simultaneously personal and public Brooks's work became. She was writing poems that were meant to be heard, felt, and loved immediately. Often it feels as if the self—that vain, pandering child-star that lives inside every poet, whom Brooks admirably repressed for most of her career—has risen up with a vengeance, demanding to be heard and adored. Too often these poems are padded with the applause-ready line; too often they wallow in sentimentality; too often they sound like Keziah's daughter—a woman who'd once called herself "impossibly prim"—basking in the admiration of cats cooler than she. To hear a poet as temperamentally prone to rigor and precision as Brooks adopting the hip languor used by Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez screams mid-life crisis.

In human terms, Brooks's sudden abandon, her ability to love her community and to fight for it, feels like a triumph. No one should begrudge her the affection and popularity she enjoyed late in life, and no one should dismiss the effect of her activism on real-life events. Yet there was a trade-off: Brooks abandoned her discipline in order to be beloved and successful; as a result, very little of that love or success found its way into her own distinctive idiom. One can't help but rue the portraits of fiery clarity that Brooks might have created if she'd expressed her newly radicalized beliefs in the clear, conversational form that she'd spent her whole life mastering.

These paragraphs disturb me.

Is the self by definition a vain, pandering child-star that lives inside every poet? Must a poet repress that self in order to write good poetry?

Are Madhubuti and Sanchez to be dismissed so lightly?

Did Brooks change her poetry in order to be beloved and successful or because she changed politically and artistically? Does Chapman believe that Brooks's distinctive idiom should have stalled instead of changing as Brooks changed?

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Night Wakes Me

I hear the stream’s
dark roar.

Every window wide
and still no rain.

The breeze blows chill
across my limbs.

Inside, the beating
of my same old heart.

I look for a star,
see two more.

         -> next

04 October 2006

Jon Anderson

[from Jon Anderson's The Milky Way: Poems 1967-1982]

John Clare

I know there is a worm in the human heart,
In its wake such emptiness as sleep should require.

Toward dawn, there was an undirected light the color of steel;
The aspens, thin, vaguely parallel strips of slate,
Blew across each other in that light.
                                                      I went out
Having all night suffered in my confusion, &
Was quieted by this.
                                         But the earth
Vegetable rock or water that had been our salvation
Is mostly passed now, into the keeping of John Clare,
           whose poetry simplified us—we owe the world ourselves—
Who, dead or sleeping, now reads the detail leaf & stone
Passing, until it will finally be memorized & done.

I know that the heart can be hard, & from this
Misgiving about itself, will make a man merciless.
I know that John Clare’s madness nature could not straighten.

If there is a worm in the heart, & chamber it has bitten out,
I will protect that emptiness until it is large enough.
In it will be a light the color of steel
& landscape, into which the traveler might set out.

02 October 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

The Hose

Coupled lengths of yellow hose
run from a bleeder valve through the rainforest
across meadows into the emptying duck pond
where guppies and rainbow speartails swarm
to breathe in oxygen routed from a mountain stream.
Whoever rides the mower stays to one side
or the other of the cobbled-together drip feed.
Bright colors, then a weedy stripe remind
the mower where the hose lies. After the rains come
we dismantle the plumbing, the pond floods
the low patches, grass grows high, ducks sit nests
in bogs — we rescue three hatchlings. Finally one day
the mowing resumes in the old circular pattern
skirting the edge of the woods where yellow snakes
rise in coils, multiply, stream
between the blades.

         -> next

01 October 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]


The child first sees his great-grandmother
hunched in a kitchen chair, her head balding,
a black patch covering one eye.
She turns toward him, opens the other eye
and makes a sound like a bird whistling.

At dinnertime she wears black sunglasses,
drags a spoon across a plate without looking,
raises the mush to her cheek where the food spills
and makes her laugh — a high bleating sound —
until everyone at the table is laughing.

After he brushes his teeth he stands at her chair
for the one eye to open out of the lizard skin
and he kisses her cheek and hears a sound
from her mouth like rocks making a landslide.

         -> next

29 September 2006

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Old English Game Bantam

Strut the yard, cock, jut your head,
sway your bruiser’s body, snub
my fingers (wanting to trail your wingspread,
slalom your short back’s slope).

Parade, vainglorious red-scalloped one,
gold and black emperor of pullets,
the arch plume of your high-swept tail,
your dove-hued ruffles hiding secrets.

Tango toward me, Romeo, elongate your nape,
let my hands cup your belly,
graze the length of your birdscape.

Roll up your eyelids,
rock on toothpick pins, neck slack and beak unslung —
daft bird! You’re dazzled by a fool’s attention.

         -> next

Li-Young Lee

[from Li-Young Lee's Book of My Nights, 2001]

Praise Them

The birds don’t alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They equal their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We’re the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn’t hear
what singing completes us?

26 September 2006

Christine Garren

[from Christine Garren's Afterworld, 1993]

The Romantics

Save them from dreaming
though already, I can see, their diaries have been opened.
Already they carry lutes into the mandolin fields.
How can they not hear the ferrying beneath them,
Charon’s keel in the sand, the oar lifted?
I know the fields are too beautiful to stop them:
it is true, come to them once, the gold, the hot rushes,
and you are ruined. Look how the silos, the white dairy
vanish before them—the blacksmith stops hammering—
and still they believe.
What are they thinking, what are they waiting for
when they lean back, like gods in the grass,
with wine on their tongues,
their fingers drowsy with the fields’ bright clay?

Li-Young Lee

[from a Poetry Daily Prose Feature]

I think the narrative-lyric mode is basically one in which the audience is behind a curtain so the dialogue is with your own divinity, and the audience overhears it. When you're reading a poem, the feeling is always that you're overhearing somebody speak to himself, which is some bigger part of himself, or to some totality of himself, or herself, or to God. So what we're actually witnessing, for instance, in Lorca is his wrestling with duende and Emily Dickinson is wrestling with God and mortality, with Whitman it's God and America, but it's always an other thing – America, God, mortality, duende. It's always some demon, daimon, divine figure. It's a triaxial state of affairs: you have the poet, the poet's demon, and the audience as witness. I think it's only seldom that they're actually addressed. I think it's very seldom that I'm actually writing to an audience. I'm usually enacting my own demon.

25 September 2006

Pebble Lake Review

A poem of mine appears in the current issue of Pebble Lake Review.

Tess Gallagher

[from Tess Gallagher’s Dear Ghosts, 2006]

The Women of Auschwitz

were not treated so well as I.
I am haunted by their shorn heads,
their bodies more naked for this
as they stumble against each other
in those last black-and-white
moments of live footage.

Before she cuts the braid
Teresa twines the red ribbon
bordered with gold into my hair.
The scissors stutter against the thick
black hank of it, though for its part,
the hair is mute.

When it was done
to them they stood next to each other.
Maybe they leaned
into each other’s necks afterwards. Or
simply gazed back with the incredulity
of their night-blooming souls.

Something silences us.
Even the scissors, yawing at
the anchor rope, can’t find their sound.
They slip against years as if they were bone.
I recall an arm-thick rope I saw in China
made entirely of women’s hair, used to anchor
a ship during some ancient war
when hemp was scarce.

At last the blades come together
like the beak of a metallic stork,
delivering me into my new form.
The braid-end fresh and bloodless.
Preempting the inevitable,
Teresa uses the clippers to buzz off
the rest. Breath by plover-breath, hair
falls to my shoulders, onto the floor, onto
my feet, left bare for this occasion.

As the skull comes forward,
as the ghost ship
of the cranium, floating
in its newborn ferocity, forces through,
we are in no doubt: the helm
of death and the helm of life
are the same, each craving light.

She sweeps the clippings onto the dust pan
and casts them from the deck
into the forest. Then, as if startled awake,
scrambles down the bank
to retrieve them, for something live
attaches to her sense of hair, after
a lifetime cutting it.

I am holding nothing back.
Besides hair, I will lose toenails, fingernails,
eyelashes and a breast to the ministrations
of medicine. First you must make
the form,
Setouchi-san tells me, explaining
why the heads of Buddhist nuns are shaved.
The shape is choosing me, simplifying,
shaving me down to essentials,
and I go with it. Those women
of Auschwitz who couldn’t choose—
Meanwhile the war plays out
in desert cities, the news shorn of images
of death and dismemberment.

I make visible the bare altar
of the skull.
Time is deepened. Space
more intimate than
I guessed. I run my hand over
the birth-moment I attend sixty years
after. I didn’t know the women
would be so tender. Teresa takes my
photograph in Buddha Alcove, as if to prove
the passage has been safe. Holly, Jill, Dorothy,
Alice, Suzie, Chana, Debra, Molly and Hiromi offer flowers
and a hummingbird pendant, letting me know
they are with me. My sister
is there and Rijl.

I feel strangely gentled, glimpsing
myself in the mirror, the artifact
of a country’s lost humility.
My moon-smile, strange and far,
refuses to belong to the cruelties
of ongoing war. I am like a madwoman
who has been caught eating pearls—softly radiant,
about to illuminate a vast savanna, ready
to work a miracle with everything left to her.

24 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, 1985]

Belief is the act of imagining. It is what the act of imagining is called when the object created is credited with more reality (and all that is entailed in greater “realness,” more power, more authority) than oneself. It is when the object created is in fact described as though it instead created you. It ceases to be the “offspring” of the human being and becomes the thing from which the human being himself sprung forth. It is in this act that Isaac yields against all phenomenal assessment to Abraham, that Abraham yields to God, and that the reader yields to the narrative: it is not simply the willingness to give one’s interior to something outside oneself but the willingness to become the created offspring of the thing in whose presence one now stands, as Isaac at that moment is not the many things Isaac is but only Isaac-son-of-Abraham, as again Abraham the patriarch, Abraham the husband, Abraham the father of Isaac, Abraham the father of the twelve tribes of Israel all now converge into Abraham-the-created-offspring-of-God, and as the reader in his or her many capacities ceases to be the many things that he or she is and becomes in the stunned and exhausted silence of Genesis 22:1-19 the created offspring of the text, and of this text and of the many stories through which the framework of belief is set in place.

22 September 2006

Elizabeth Bishop via Alice Quinn

I resisted Alice Quinn's new book of previously unpublished Bishop, frowned and shoved it up on the shelf next to the rest of the Bishop, refused to take it down, until yesterday when I opened it and found it actually contains more Bishop. (Imagine having more Bishop!( (If you love Bishop as I do.) Much facsimile. Poetry and prose.

This from the appendix:

Writing poetry is an unnatural act. It takes great skill to make it seem natural. Most of the poet’s energies are really directed towards this goal: to convince himself (perhaps, with luck, eventually some readers) that what he’s up to and what he’s saying is really an inevitable, only natural way of behaving under the circumstances.

21 September 2006

Elizabeth Bishop

[from Elizabeth Bishop’s Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments, edited and annotated by Alice Quinn, 2006]

Key West, Washington, D.C., Yaddo, Nova Scotia

Prose = land transportation
Music = sea transportation
Poetry = air transportation (in its present state)

It is hard to get heavy objects up into the air; a strong desire to do so is necessary, and a strong driving force to keep them aloft.

Some poets sit in airplanes on the ground, raising their arms, sure that they’re flying.

Some poems ascend for a period of time, then come down again; we have a great many stranded planes.

20 September 2006

palindromic consonance

I'm not to first to notice this technique; I think Kenneth Burke named it in an essay somewhere.

The word stifle has four consonants: s, t, f, and l, and they appear in that order.

A poet might write stifle and shortly thereafter write lifts or lofts, words that use stifle's consonants in reverse order: l, f, t, and s.

A poet might shuffle the consonants: floats; or leave one out: futile.

Sometimes words do it internally: turret goes round and round.

Can you hear the echoes made?

19 September 2006

Louise Bogan

[from Louise Bogan’s Body of This Death, 1923]


I had come to the house, in a cave of trees,
Facing a sheer sky.
Everything moved, — a bell hung ready to strike,
Sun and reflection wheeled by.

When the bare eyes were before me
And the hissing hair,
Held up at a window, seen through a door.
The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead
Formed in the air.

This is a dead scene forever now.
Nothing will ever stir.
The end will never brighten it more than this,
Nor the rain blur.

The water will always fall, and will not fall,
And the tipped bell make no sound.
The grass will always be growing for hay
Deep on the ground.

And I shall stand here like a shadow
Under the great balanced day,
My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,
And does not drift away.

18 September 2006

17 September 2006

Sarah Orne Jewett

[from Sarah Orne Jewett's story, "William's Wedding," from The Country of Pointed Firs and Other Stories]

. . . the first salt wind from the east, the first sight of a lighthouse set boldly on its outer rock, the flash of a gull, the waiting processing of seaward-bound firs on an island, made me feel solid and definite again, instead of a poor, incoherent being. Life was resumed, and anxious living blew away as if it had not been. I could not breathe deep enough or long enough. It was a return to happiness.

14 September 2006

Galway Kinnell

[from Czeslaw Milosz’s A Book of Luminous Things, 1996.


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

13 September 2006

W. S. Merwin

[from W. S. Merwin’s Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment, 1973]

The Current

For a long time some of us
lie in the marshes like dark coats
forgetting that we are water

dust gathers all day on our closed lids
weeds grow up through us

but the eels keep trying to tell us
writing over and over in our mud
our heavenly names

and through us a thin cold current
never sleeps

its glassy feet move on until they find stones

then cloud fish call to it again
your heart is safe with us

bright fish flock to it again touch it
with their mouths say yes
have vanished

yes and black flukes wave to it
from the Lethe of the whales

A Door

This is a place where a door might be
here where I am standing
in the light outside all of the walls

there would be a shadow here
all day long
and a door into it
where now there is me

and somebody would come and knock
on this air
long after I have gone
and there in front of me a life
would open

12 September 2006

Pattiann Rogers

[from Pattiann Rogers's Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems, 1994]

Without Violence

That cat who comes during sleep, quiet
On his cushioned claws, without violence,
Who enters the house with a low warm rattle
In his throat; that cat who has been said
To crawl into a baby’s crib without brushing
The bars, to knit his paws on the pale
Flannel of the infant’s nightdress, to settle
In sleep chin to chin with the dear one
And softly steal the child’s breath
Without malice, as easily as pulling
A silk scarf completely through a gold ring;

The same cat who has been known to nudge
Through castle doors, to part tent flaps,
To creep to the breasts of brave men,
Ease between their blankets, to stretch
Full length on the satin bodices of lovely
Women, to nuzzle their cheeks with his great
Feline mane; it was that cat who leaped last night
Through the west window of father’s bedroom,
Who chose to knead his night’s rest on my father’s
Shoulder, who slept well, breathing deeply,
Leaving just before dawn to saunter toward
The north, his magnificent tail and rump
Swaying with a listless and gorgeous grace.

11 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, 1985.

When war is described as turning in its final stage on the element of morale (separable from injuring), what is drawn is a model of war constructed along the lines in the following narrative. A dispute arises between two populations. In order to determine a winner, they agree to have a contest. They could have either an extravagant three-year-long song contest or instead a three-year-long war. They choose the second because, though each would allow the designation of a winner and a loser, injuring—unlike singing—will carry the power of its own enforcement. But after moving through three autumns, three winters, three springs, and two summers during which they butcher one another (if the word is ugly, the acts it represents are far uglier) they begin to approach the third summer, and they realize that not only will injuring not carry the power of its own enforcement but it will not even make possible the distinction between the winner and the loser: despite fluctuations, the body count on each side tends to approximate that on the other side, and thus to continually re-establish the equality of the two sides rather than to expose their inequality. Thus here, at the end of war, at the very place where the exceptional virtue or the exceptional contribution of injuring was to have occurred (and for the sake of which injuring was chosen over any alternative), it is suddenly necessary to make arrangements for the insertion of the song contest into the overarching frame of war. Like an architectural detail from one period appropriated into the building of another period, it becomes the portal through which the final exit out of war will occur. This is the equivalent of the morale argument: the acceptance of the brutalities of war with the eleventh-hour insertion of the chess match or tennis match or talent contest contracted down into the period immediately preceding its ending; the abbreviated contest does not displace or provide a subsititute for the injuries, for thousands of injuries have by this time already occurred and will continue to occur in the final weeks; it instead substitutes for the single element that was thought to necessitate and hence justify the injuring. The fragile song contest (which no one precisely saw, though everywhere here and there it is said voices were heard) is like a small jewel placed down in the midst of a three-year massacre and relied on to perform the very work for the sake of which its own activity had been originally rejected.

Frank Huyler

[Frank Huyler, published by The Atlantic Monthly, 08/95]

Moving the Hive

The queens sleeps in my palm
through the forest.

Her workers are dark ribbons
that follow us

asking one thing.

They are black wool
covering my hands.

I wear them as a field
wears dust in the dry summer.

I wear them as the river
wears its speed.

Their wings—
I hear them as a house

closed for the season
hears its last voice.

When I release her
and she stumbles

to the new cells
it is the future

I lock her in, another
meadow where again

bees fall like fire
on the exposed flowers.

10 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, 1985]

There is no advantage to settling an international dispute by means of war rather than by a song contest or a chess game except that in the moment when the contestants step out of the song contest, it is immediately apparent that the outcome was arrived at by a series of rules that were agreed to and that can now be disagreed to, a series of rules whose force of reality cannot survive the end of the contest because that reality was brought about by human acts of participation and is dispelled when the participation ceases. The rules of war are equally arbitrary and again depend on convention, agreement, and participation; but the legitimacy of the outcome outlives the end of the contest because so many of its participants are frozen in a permanent act of participation: that is, the winning issue or ideology achieves for a time the force and status of material “fact” by the sheer material weight of the multitudes of damaged and opened human bodies.

09 September 2006

my poems on my blog

Two years ago I decided to start a blog because I wanted somewhere to publish my poems — my brand-new imitation poems that would never be published because they were workbook exercises. Soon I began blogging poems I’d written without training wheels. My best days were days I wrote poems. Soon I stopped writing fiction. Now I’m a poet.

But I mostly blog poems written by other poets. I’ve been afraid that if I blogged my own poems, I couldn’t submit my poems to literary journals — some journals say they won’t publish work that has already appeared online.

After a year of submitting poems to journals, I’ve seen 2 of my poems published online, 2 in a print anthology, and 5 more are forthcoming. Many more “finished” poems languish in my notebooks and in various editors’ in-baskets. The delays I’m experiencing between acceptance and print publication are six months to more than a year.

I’m not willing to wait that long. Next year I'll be 60. I have a few faithful readers, and I would like to find more.

So, I’m going to start blogging my poems again. If my decision keeps my poems out of journals, so be it.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Charles Olson

I'm reading "The Kingfishers" -- if you haven't, I recommend it, it's a multi-day read.

06 September 2006

John Berryman

[from John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs, 1964]


He lay in the middle of the world, and twitcht.
More Sparine for Pelides,
human (half) & down here as he is,
with probably insulting mail to open
and certainly unworthy words to hear
and his unforgivable memory.

—I seldom go to films. They are too exciting,
said the Honourable Possum.
—It takes me so long to read the ’paper,
said to me one day a novelist hot as a firecracker,
because I have to identify myself with everyone in it,
including the corpses, pal.’

Kierkegaard wanted a society, to refuse to read ’papers,
and that was not, friends, his worst idea.
Tiny Hardy, toward the end, refused to say anything,
a programme adopted early on by long Housman,
and Gottfried Benn
said:—We are using our own skins for wallpaper and we cannot win.

05 September 2006

Marianne Boruch

[from Marianne Boruch's essay "Heavy Lifting," featured this week by Poetry Daily and published in The American Poetry Review, September/October 2006]

Leonardo's notion that "the heaviest part will become the guide of the movement" . . . we feel for that weight as we write . . . After all, gravity is one of the three basic forces on earch, earth itself its center because . . . "the more mass a body has—the more particles of matter it contains—the stronger its aggregate attractive force would be. That's why," [chemist Robert Wolke] points out, "when you jump off a ladder, earth doesn't fall upward to meet you." This is maybe the best argument I've seen for work whose center of gravity, its focus, is the world and not the self. We know that ladder, after all. We've fallen off many a time. Because it's the mysterious huge other out there that pulls us to itself.

04 September 2006

William Butler Yeats

[from William Butler Yeats's The Wild Swans at Coole, 1919]

The Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

31 August 2006

Kirk Varnedoe

[from Kirk Varnedoe’s A Fine Disregard, 1990]

To recover a truer sense of the secular miracle in modern art, we have to replace its conventional genesis accounts with a genuinely Darwinian notion of evolutionary origins and growth. The record of its history so far—the succession of fault lines and fissures, the mix of extinctions and expansions of new family trees—doesn’t present just a roster of forms developed to fit changing conditions, any more than it reveals the playing out of some predestined design. It is a powerful demonstration of the creative force of contingency—the interaction of multiple mutations with special environments that started with a few basic reshufflings of the existing gene pool, and has yielded an amazing, diverse world of thriving new forms of life.

The signal difference, of course, is that this evolution has nothing to do with universal, natural law. Its unfolding depends on (though its results are not determined by) the conditions of specific cultures at a distinctive moment in history. The shaping “environment” is a shifting cast of people who have decided, for a panoply of reasons noble and ignoble, to tolerate, pay attention to, or actively support, an unprecendented expansion of artists’ prerogatives to create what a biologist might call “hopeful monsters”—variations, hybrids, and mutations that altered inherited definitions of what could be. The profligacy modern art needed in order to grow—the seemingly gratuitous attempts to adapt familiar things to unexpected purposes, the promiscuous couplings of disparate worlds of convention—could not survive outside this climate. And the raw material here is not random change, but personal initiative; the individual decisions to be an outsider within one’s own world, to try new meanings for old forms, and attack old tasks with new means, to accept the strange as useful and to reconsider the familiar as fraught with possibility. . . .

a seemingly gratuitous rearrangement within a fluid set of established conventions, that finds its possibilities and purposes as its ripples spread. The act focuses our attention on the indispensable role of personal will and initiative, certainly. But precisely because this act was so simple, human, and willfully contrary, it illuminates the creative power that lay around it, in the interplay between the possibilities a culture offered, and those it proved willing to accept. . . . individual acts of conviction deflect known but neglected potentials to meet a field of latent but undefined opportunities, and thereby empower whole new systems of unpredictable complexity

29 August 2006

more Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just]

At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering. Beauty, according to [Simone] Weil, requires us “to give up our imaginary position at the center. . . . A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility, in our immediate reception of sense impressions and psychological impressions.” . . . Her account is always deeply somatic: what happens, happens to our bodies. When we come upon beautiful things . . . they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space; or they form “ladders reaching toward the beauty of the world,” or they lift us (as though by the air currents of someone else’s sweeping), letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. It is not that we cease to stand at the center of the world, for we never stood there. It is that we cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us.