30 January 2006

Denise Levertov

[from O Taste and See by Denise Levertov]

Song for Ishtar

The moon is a sow
and grunts in my throat
Her great shining shines through me
so the mud of my hollow gleams
and breaks in silver bubbles

She is a sow
And I a pig and a poet

When she opens her white
lips to devour me I bite back
and laughter rocks the moon

In the black of desire
we rock and grunt, grunt and

Jack Gilbert

[from Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert]

Put Her in the Fields for Kindness

The door was in the whitewashed eight-foot walls
of the narrow back street common to Greek islands.
Beautiful light and shade in the clear air.
The big iron bolt was on the outside locking
something in. Some days the pounding inside
made the heavy wooden door shudder. Often a voice
screaming. The crazy old woman, people said.
She would hurt the children if they let her out.
Pinch them or scare them, they said.
Sometimes everything was still and I would delay
until I heard the tiny whimper that meant she knew
I was there. Late one afternoon on my way for oil,
the door was broken. She was in the lot opposite
in weeds by the wall, her dress pulled up, pissing.
Like a cow. Able to manage, quiet in the last light.

29 January 2006

Marie Ponsot

[from Springing: New and Selected Poems by Marie Ponsot]



For openers
any wall has doors in it.

Openers who want
a door (not for air
but for passing through)

open & shut it
forcefully, under
heavy pressure
from the atmosphere

The ideal opener investigates
those osmotic waterfalls
which infiltrate
doorless walls.


To enter the enclosure
of the garden
or the citadel

be door, be son
or daughter

to the dearness
of pleasure.

Exits are disclosure.
Making an exit
can unlock you—
the way entrances do—

to being

In verse & reverse
word and worm
both turn.

27 January 2006

Emily Dickinson to her sister-in-law

[from Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith]


             We both are
Women, and there
is a Will of God –
Could the Dying
confide Death,
there would be no
Dead – Wedlock
is shyer than Death,
Thank you for
Tenderness –
I find it is the only
food that the Will
takes, nor that
from general fingers.
I am glad you go –
It does not remove
you. I seek you
first in Amherst,
then turn my
thoughts without
a Whip – so well
they follow you –
An Hour is a Sea
Between a few, and me –
With them would Harbor
be –


Title divine, is mine.
The Wife without
the Sign –
Acute Degree
Conferred on Me –
Empress of Cavalry –
Royal, all but the
Crown –
Betrothed, without
the Swoon
God gives us Women –
When You hold
Garnet to Garnet –
Gold – to Gold –
Born – Bridalled –
Shrouded –
In a Day –
Tri Victory –
“My Husband” –
Women say
Stroking the Melody –
Is this the Way –

             Emily –

both letter-poems from the mid-1860s

Subjectivity and Style

Fence excerpt from Fall/Winter 2000-2001 on these topics

Gjertrud Schnackenberg

[from Supernatural Love by Gjertrud Schnackenberg]

Snow Melting

Snow melting when I left you, and I took
This fragile bone we'd found in melting snow
Before I left, exposed beside a brook
Where raccoons washed their hands. And this, I know,

Is that raccoon we'd watched for every day.
Though at the time her wild human hand
Had gestured inexplicably, I say
Her meaning now is more than I can stand.

We've reasons, we have reasons, so we say,
For giving love, and for withholding it.
I who would love must marvel at the way
I know aloneness when I'm holding it,

Know near and far as words for live and die,
Know distance, as I'm trying to draw near,
Growing immense, and know, but don't know why,
Things seen up close enlarge, then disappear.

Tonight this small room seems too huge to cross.
And my life is that looming kind of place.
Here, left with this alone, and at a loss
I hold an alien and vacant face

Which shrinks away, and yet is magnified—
More so than I seem able to explain.
Tonight the giant galaxies outside
Are tiny, tiny on my windowpane.

26 January 2006

Can you ID author and date?

"I am sure of one sweet shelter, one covert from the storm! The bells are ringing, S—, north, and east, and south, and your own village bell, and the people who love God, are expecting to go to meeting; don't you go S—, not to their meeting, but come with me this morning to the church within in our hearts, where the bells are always ringing, and the Preacher whose name is Love—shall intercede there for us!"

23 January 2006

Wislawa Szymborska

[from View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh]

A Moment in Troy

Little girls—
skinny, resigned
to freckles that won’t go away,

not turning any heads
as they walk across the eyelids of the world,

looking just like Mom or Dad,
and sincerely horrified by it—

in the middle of dinner,
in the middle of a book,
while studying the mirror,
may suddenly be taken off to Troy.

In the grand boudoir of a wink
they all turn into beautiful Helens.

They ascend the royal staircase
in the rustling of silk and admiration.
They feel light. They all know
that beauty equals rest,
that lips mold the speech’s meaning,
and gestures sculpt themselves
in inspired nonchalance.

Their small faces
worth dismissing envoys for
extend proudly on necks
that merit countless sieges.

Those tall, dark movie stars,
their girlfriends’ older brothers,
the teacher from art class,
alas, they must all be slain.

Little girls
observe disaster
from a tower of smiles.

Little girls
wring their hands
in intoxicating mock despair.

Little girls
against a backdrop of destruction,
with flaming towns for tiaras,
in earrings of pandemic lamentation.

Pale and tearless.
Triumphant. Sated with the view.
Dreading only the inevitable
moment of return.

Little girls

20 January 2006

Chris Forhan

[from The Actual Moon, the Actual Stars by Chris Forhan]

The Coast of Oklahoma

Oh to stroll the Oklahoma coast
now that the hollyhock is in bloom and my love has returned
and her hair’s in my tub
and her smudged socks clutter the bedroom floor
and her Subaru leaks its indiscreet spot
of oil in the driveway. All my ripe desire
is plucked—I’m left to think
of what cannot be had and feel its lack
like an intoxicant. Oh to pack
a big picnic and explore
the brackish shallow tidepools
of the Tulsa Gulf, where the skittery sandpiper
makes his earnest rounds, and gulls
wheel and pivot overhead, where after a rain
the waves are grayish-blue
and the jagged Alps of Iowa rise
in the north like a kept promise. I miss
already that pebbled stretch of sand
I’ve yet to see, my love
hunched against some salty gust
as she tests the water with a naked foot. O
Oklahoma shore, the mere thought of you
is enough to render charmless
the Hanging Gardens of Utah
and shame Orlando’s grand canals.

19 January 2006

The Quintus Horatius Flaccus MFA

[from Book Two, Epistle III, To the Pisos]

The Art of Poetry:
Notes for Aspiring Poets and Playwrights

. . . "Poets and painters," you say,
"Have the right to do whatever they dare to do."
Well, yes.

. . . whatever the work is supposed to be,
Let it be true to itself, essentially simple.

. . . Aspiring writer, be sure to be careful to pick
Material that you're strong enough to handle . . .
The man who does this will find he doesn't have trouble
Thinking of what to say and in what order.
Order's important: the virtue and beauty
. . . often
Depends on the author having judiciously chosen
To say the thing that ought to be said right now,
And keeping other things back for later on,
Favoring one thing over against another.

. . . And do it very carefully, you can work it
So that the context makes a word that's worn
From being too familiar seem brand-new

. . . don't attempt to overdo it

. . . He does much better who doesn't
Try so hard . . .
His aim is light from smoke, not smoke from fire

. . . He goes right to the point and carries the reader
Into the midst of things, as if known already;
And if there's material that he despairs of presenting
So as to shine for us, he leaves it out . . .
Beginning, middle, and end, all fit together.

. . . As for instruction, make it succinct, so the mind
Can quickly seize on what's being taught and hold it;
Every superfluous word spills out of a full mind

. . . in what you invent stay close
To actuality . . .
Produce no human babies from monsters' bellies

15 January 2006

Chase Twichell

[from Dog Language, 2005]

The Myths
by Chase Twichell

Italy and Greece lay in ruins,
inhabited by beasts: the Minotaur
in his labyrinth, the scrush of his hide
against its walls; the blinded Cyclops
groping for Ulysses among the sheep.
Dad taught us all the myths.

Up on Mount Olympus
people disguised themselves
as animals. It was like that then.
It's not like that now.
Back then you were half animal
if your father was a god.

Denise Levertov

[from Candles in Babylon, 1982]

She and the Muse
by Denise Levertov

Away he goes, the hour’s delightful hero,
arrivederci: and his horse clatters
out of the courtyard, raising
a flurry of straw and scattering hens.

He turns in the saddle saving a plumed hat,
his saddlebags are filled with talismans,
mirrors, parchment histories, gifts and stones,
indecipherable clues to destiny.

He rides off in the dustcloud of his own
story, and when he has vanished she
who had stood firm to wave and watch
from the top step, goes in to the cool

flagstoned kitchen, clears honey and milk and bread
off the table, sweeps from the hearth
ashes of last night’s fire, and climbs the stairs
to strip tumbled sheets from her wide bed.

                     Now the long-desired
visit is over. The heroine
is a scribe. Returned to solitude,
eagerly she re-enters the third room,

the room hung with tapestries, scenes that change
whenever she looks away. Here is her lectern,
here her writing desk. She picks a quill,
dips it, begins to write. But not of him.

06 January 2006

Ted Kooser

[from Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser]

The Necktie

His hands fluttered like birds,
each with a fancy silk ribbon
to weave into their nest,
as he stood at the mirror
dressing for work, waving hello
to himself with his hands.

05 January 2006

I dedicate this poem to my many friends about to take away a newly-minted MFA

[Maurice Manning from A Companion for Owls]

Advice to Rovers

The service of a hunting shirt, a knife
whose heft is rightly balanced, a tinderbox
that fits the hand—necessities, besides
a horse and difficult geography
for anyone who seeks deliverance
from the measures of the world, the social weave.
Resolve to think in terms more loose. Make plans
to reach Missouri country by the fall,
for instance; and maintain your plan despite
impunity which surely will occur,
likely, in the form of rain or wavering.
The very crudeness of your scheme bespeaks
its strength. You will acquire the look of one
whose enterprise does not depend on gold,
which may include no shoes, long hair, and soot.
You can make salt; you can make peace among
the Indians. Do not disdain your lack
of native lights: you have the moon and stars
and fireflies dancing bright against the dark.

04 January 2006

Maurice Manning

[from A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone Long Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c. by Maurice Manning]


Arriving, we walked down as if we were hill-born
and bred to know only hills, so that the end of hills
was surprising, rolling out before us like a woman's
skirts gathered and fanned across her lap, like loosely
folded fabric, like calico: spotted and patchworked
as if some big-fingered god had gently smudged
the world he made. Our horses and our dogs paused.
We had not expected glory and it stopped us dead,
which is not altogether uncommon: Moses spying
Canaan, for example, must have first stood silent
before waving his people ahead, the land smothered
in half shadow, half-light like velvet, and steadied
himself, one hand firm on his staff, the other reaching
to his brow, wiping his gray hair back. So I walked
into Kentucky barefooted and clumsy as if I had
sneaked out of school to cheat my lessons and come
upon a girl waiting for me behind a beech tree,
wondering where on earth I'd been. I stood still
on the invisible line and spit across it onto the new
map, making my first mark, wondering if I could
keep such a dark and bloody secret to myself.

01 January 2006

Bernard Berenson via Forrest Gander

[from A Faithful Existence by Forrest Gander]

Modern art is something with which to think. Bernard Berenson once noted, "A complete life may be one ending in so full an identification with the non-self that there is no self to die."