27 February 2006

Carl Phillips

[from The Tether by Carl Phillips]

The Point of the Lambs

“The good lambs
in the yellow barn—the rest
housed in blue.” By

“the rest,” meaning those who
—the guide explained—inevitably
arrive suffering. “For

some do,” he added.
Serious. This—like

a new lesson. As to
some among us, it was,
it seemed. The usual

stammer of heart the naïve
tend to, in the face of what finally
is only the world. What

must it be, to pass
thus—clean, stripped—
through a life? What

reluctance the mind
shows on recognizing
that what it approaches

is, at last, the answer
to the very question it knows
now, but

too late,
oh better to never to have never
put forward. What I

mean is we moved

to the blue barn’s

weakness. We
looked in.
Three days, four days

old. Few expected to
finish the evening it was beginning to
be already. And the small

crowd of us
shifting forward, and—
in our shifting uniformly—it

being possible to see how between
us and any
field rendered by a sudden wind

single gesture—kowtow,
upheaval—there was
little difference. Some

took photographs; most
did a stranger thing; touched
briefly, without

distinction, whichever
person stood immediately in
front of, next to. Less

for support than
as remedy or proof or
maybe—given the lambs who

besides dying, were as well
filthy (disease,
waste and, negotiating

the dwindling contract
between the two,
the flies everywhere)—

maybe the touching
concerned curbing the hand’s instinct
to follow the eye, to

confirm vision. Who can
say? I was there—yes—but
I myself touched no one.

23 February 2006

conversation with Jane Hirshfield

from The Well

memes semem

tagged by Ana for the 4x4 Meme Project:

Four jobs I've had (in chronological order):
- radio disk jockey
- waitress at Club 47
- thesis typist
- keypunch clerk

Four movies I can watch over and over:
- don't have any
- I'm not movie-literate
- I've seen two Mel Brooks' movies twice
- I have Netflix now

Four places I've lived:
- Corfu, Greece
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Sterling, MA
- Montara, CA

Four TV shows I like:
- none
- never turn it on
- would rather be dead
- ?

Four places I've vacationed:
- Hong Kong
- Belize
- New Zealand
- Cape Cod

Four of my favorite dishes:
- poached shrimp
- sauteed shrimp
- grilled shrimp
- Chinese dumplings stuffed with shrimp

Four sites I visit daily:
- tribe.net
- wompo listserve
- noaa.gov
- Amazon

Four books I've read this year:
- Wislawa Szymborska's View with a Grain of Sand
- Jack Gilbert's Refusing Heaven
- Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters
- Ashley Warlick's Seek the Living

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
- you, and if three more of you are not bloggers, begin at once

Gertrude Stein

"Instead of giving what I was realizing at any and every moment of them and of me until I was empty of them I made them contained within the thing I wrote that was them. The thing in itself folding itself up inside itself like you might fold a thing up to be another thing which is that thing. . . . If you think how you fold things or make a boat or anything else out of paper or getting anything to be inside anything, the hole in the doughnut or the apple in the dumpling perhaps you will see what I mean."

22 February 2006

a letter from John Keats

People say, “Read Keats’s letters.” Here’s an example of why:

I made up my Mind to stop in doors, and catch a sight flying between the showers; and behold I saw a pretty valley—pretty cliffs, pretty Brooks, pretty Meadows, pretty trees, both standing as they were created, and blown down as they are uncreated—The green is beautiful, as they say, and pity it is that it is amphibious—mais! but alas! the flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the Muscles do for the Tide. . . . I’ll cavern you, and grotto you, and waterfall you, and wood you, and water you, and immense-rock you, and tremendous sound you, and solitude you. Ill make a lodgment on your glacis by a row of Pines, and storm your covered way with bramble Bushes. Ill have at you with hip and haw smallshot, and cannonade you with Shingles—Ill be witty upon salt fish, and impede your cavalry with clotted cream. But ah Coward! to talk at this rate to a sick man, or I hope to one that was sick—for I hope by this you stand on your right foot.—If you are not—that’s all,—I intend to cut all sick people if they do not make up their minds to cut sickness—a fellow to whom I have a complete aversion, and who strange to say is harboured and countenanced in several houses where I visit—he is sitting now quite impudent between me and Tom—He insults me at poor Jem Rice’s—and you have seated him before now between us at the Theatre—where I thought he look’d with a longing eye at poor Kean. I shall say, once for all, to my friends generally and severally, cut that fellow, or I cut you—I went to the Theatre here the other night, which I forgot to tell George, and got insulted, which I ought to remember to forget to tell any body; for I did not fight, and as yet have had no redress—‘Lie thou there, sweetheart!’ damme who’s afraid—for I had owed him so long; however, he shall see I will be better in future. Is he in Town yet? I have directed to Oxford as the better chance. I have copied my fourth Book, and shall write the preface soon. I wish it was all done; for I want to forget it and make my mind free for something new—Atkins the Coachman, Bartlet the Surgeon, Simmons the Barber, and the Girls over at the Bonnet shop say we shall now have a Month of seasonable Weather. warm, witty, and full of invention—Write to me and tell me you are well or thereabouts, or by the holy Beaucoeur,—which I suppose is the virgin Mary, or the repented Magdalen, (beautiful name, that Magdalen) Ill take to my Wings and fly away to any where but old or Nova Scotia—I wish I had a little innocent bit of Metaphysic in my head, to criss-cross this letter: but you know a favorite tune is hardest to be remembered when one wants it most and you, I know, have long ere this taken it for granted that I never have any speculations without associating you in them, where they are of a pleasant nature and you know enough to me to tell the places where I haunt most, so that if you think for five minutes after you have read this you will find it a long letter and see written in the Air above you,

Your most affectionate friend
                                       John Keats

Charles Wright

[from Negative Blue by Charles Wright]

Poem Half in the Manner of Li Ho

All things aspire to weightlessness,
                             some place beyond the lip of language,
Some silence, some zone of grace,

Sky white as raw silk,
                               opening mirror cold-sprung in the west,
Sunset like dead grass.

If God hurt the way we hurt,
                                         he, too, would be heart-sore,
Disconsolate, unappeasable.

Li Ho, the story goes, would leave home
Each day at dawn, riding a colt, a servant boy
                                                                   walking behind him,
An antique tapestry bag
Strapped to his back.
                               When inspiration struck, Ho would write
The lines down and drop them in the bag.
At night he’d go home and work the lines up into a poem,
No matter how disconnected and loose-leafed they were.
His mother once said,
“He won’t stop until he has vomited out his heart.”

[lines omitted]

19 February 2006

Farm Life

I was discovering a duck sitting a nest in the high grass
when the missing dog burst out of the woods, raced down the hill
for Jamie who found the bleeding gash below her ribs. I followed
with hydrogen peroxide, but we could see she needed more:
we shaved around the wound, swabbed Blu-Kote in and out, and
while Jamie held, I managed two stitches with a curved needle
and the upholstery thread I earlier used on the canvas ottoman.
Mia's brave; we managed. She's resting in Jamie's bloodied lap.

15 February 2006

Richard Wilbur

[from Singular Voices edited by Stephen Berg]

by Richard Wilbur

To claim, at a dead party, to have spotted a grackle,
When in fact you haven’t of late, can do no harm.
Your reputation for saying things of interest
Will not be marred, if you hasten to other topics,
Nor will the delicate web of human trust
Be ruptured by that airy fabrication.
Later, however, talking with toxic zest
Of golf, or taxes, or the rest of it
Where the beaked ladle plies the chuckling ice,
You may enjoy a chill of severance, hearing
Above your head the shrug of unreal wings.
Not that the world is tiresome in itself:
We know what boredom is: it is a dull
Impatience or a fierce velleity,
A champing wish, stalled by our lassitude
To make or do. In the strict sense, of course,
We invent nothing, merely bearing witness
To what each morning brings again to light:
Gold crosses, cornices, astonishment
Of panes, the turbine-vent which natural law
Spins on the grill-end of the diner’s roof,
Then grass and grackles or, at the end of town
In sheen-swept pastureland, the horse’s neck
Clothed with its usual thunder, and the stones
Beginning now to tug their shadows in
And track the air with glitter. All these things
Are there before us; there before we look
Or fail to look; there to be seen or not
By us, as by the bee’s twelve thousand eyes,
According to our means and purposes.
So too with strangeness not to be ignored,
Total eclipse or snow upon the rose,
And so with that more rare conception, nothing.
What is it, after all, but something missed?
It is the water of a dried-up well
Gone to assail the cliffs of Labrador.
There is what galled the arch-negator, sprung
From Hell to probe with intellectual sight
The cells and heavens of a given world
Which he could take but as another prison:
Small wonder that, pretending not to be,
He drifted through the bar-like boles of Eden
In a black mist low creeping, dragging down
And darkening with moody self-absorption
What, when he left it, lifted and, if seen
From the sun’s vantage, seethed with vaulting hues.
Closer to making than the deftest fraud
Is seeing how the catbird’s tail was made
To counterpoise, on the mock-orange spray,
Its light, up-tilted spine; or, lighter still,
How the shucked tunic of an onion, brushed
To one side on a backlit chopping-board
And rocked by trifling currents, prints and prints
Its bright, ribbed shadow like a flapping sail.
Odd that a thing is most itself when likened:
The eye mists over, basil hints of clove,
The river glazes toward the dam and spills
To the drubbed rocks below its crashing cullet,
And in the barnyard near the sawdust-pile
Some great thing is tormented. Either it is
A tarp torn loose and in the groaning wind
Now puffed, now flattened, or a hip-shot beast
Which tries again, and once again, to rise.
What, though for pain there is no other word,
Finds pleasure in the cruellest simile?
It is something in us like the catbird’s song
From neighbor bushes in the grey of morning
That, harsh or sweet, and of its own accord,
Proclaims its many kin. It is a chant
Of the first springs, and it is tributary
To the great lies told with the eyes half-shut
That have the truth in view: the tale of Chiron
Who, with sage head, wild heart, and planted hoof
Instructed brute Achilles in the lyre,
Or of the garden where we first mislaid
Simplicity of wish and will, forgetting
Out of what cognate splendor all things came
To take their scattering names; and nonetheless
That matter of a baggage-train surprised
By a few Gascons in the Pyrenees—
Which having worked three centuries and more
In the dark caves of France, poured out at last
The blood of Roland, who to Charles his king
And to the dove that hatched the dovetailed world
Was faithful unto death, and shamed the Devil.

Wilbur has this to say about the poem:

What I’m sure of is that a high subject, unless perhaps one is writing a hymn, should not be approached with remorseless nobility, and this poem has its comic elements, as many of mine do. Comedy is serious; it is the voice of balance; and its presence in a serious poem is a test and earnest of its earnestness.

Makes me think of Emily Dickinson's approach to high subjects.

08 February 2006

Richard Hugo

[from Singular Voices: American Poetry Today, edited by Stephen Berg]

I dedicate this poem to Beverly Jackson.

Green Stone

All stones have luck built in. Some
a lucky line that curves a weak green back
into some age prehuman. If stones
could talk they’d tell us how they’ve survived.
They’ve been used in beautiful fences,
been weapons hurled.

The luck of a stone is part of that stone.
It’s not mystical, does not exist just on
the stone like a spell put there by some spirit
in some awkward moment—say the picnic’s
on the verge of disaster, then good wine opened
and the sun suddenly out, and oh the laughter.
But why am I digressing?
These things have nothing to do with stone luck.

I’m speaking real stones. You understand.
Rocks. Not symbols for testicles and not
some lay philosopher’s metaphysical notion
of an indestructible truth. Real stones, the ones
you find lining ocean floors or creek beds
or lying lonely on roads. Probable colors:
blue, yellow, gray, red, green, white or brown.
The luck of each is the same but each suited
to a different situation. That’s why December,
told I was dying of cancer
I picked up a green stone I liked the look of
and carried it in my pocket.
I fondled it just before I took the plane to Seattle.
I kissed it often, both sides before the plane took off,
before biopsy, before major surgery. And now
that surgery seems to have gotten every flake
of sick tissue, I keep the stone on a ledge,
where every morning the sun warms the stone.
When I’m totally recovered, another three months
they say, I’ll throw the stone back where I found it.
I won’t tell you where that is.
The same rock would not work for you no matter
how trivial your problem, how little
luck you need. Please know
I want your life to go on same as mine.
It’s just essential you find your own stone.
It lies somewhere near you now, innocent,
and your eye will spot it in one right moment.
You must hold it close to your ear, and
when it speaks to you, you must respond.

Stanley Kunitz

From his Paris Review interview:

The best people I know are inadequate and unashamed.

[The full interview is not yet online but expected before too long. Most interviews before 1980 are available here.]

my life on the farm

has reduced to this (and everything else I'm not telling):

- every day twice I ride my bicycle up the steep driveway

- every day I memorize an Emily Dickinson poem

i'm on day four

Low to my problem bending,
Another problem comes --
Larger than mine -- serener --
Involving statelier sums.

I check my busy pencil,
my figures file away.
Wherefore, my baffled fingers
Thy perplexity?

how many days will I do this?

07 February 2006

John Keats

On the Sea

It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores,—and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand caverns,—till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be lightly moved, from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of heaven were unbound.
Ye, that have your eye-balls vex’d and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the sea;—
Or are your hearts disturb’d with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody,—
Sit ye near some old cavern’s mouth and brood
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired.


[from a letter to the Reynolds sisters, 1817]

Respects to Mrs Dilk saying . . . that had I remained at Hampstead I would have made precious havoc with her house and furniture — drawn a great harrow over her garden — poisoned Boxer — eaten her Cloathes pegs, — fried her Cabbages fricaceed (how is it spelt?) her radishes — ragouted her Onions — belaboured her beet root — outstripped her Scarlet Runners — parlez vous with her french Beans — devoured her Mignon or Mignonette — metamorphosed her Bell handles — splintered her looking glasses — bullock'd at her cups and saucers — agonized her decanters — put old Phillips to pickle in the Brine tub — disorganized her Piano — dislocated her Candlesticks — emptied her wine bins in a fit of despair — turned out her maid to Grass and Astonished Brown — whose Letter to her on these events I would rather see than the original copy of the Book of Genesis.

06 February 2006

Miranda Field

[from Swallow by Miranda Field]

Then As September Fields of Wheat & Straw Take Fire

What’s withheld till wind parts the grasses:
Musk flooding the air, noxious-sweet — eggshell frail,
the tiny bones of the vole, its velvets stiffened,
pouchful of insects and seeds. Cold stones,
no movement in the tinfoil fallen leaves,
silence in the humus, and shadows on the hill grown long,
the death of the sun, the sun in its brief grave
waiting to be born. The cat hurries a carcass off,
but the deer won’t run through the grove.
They could be painted deer, they stand stock-still,
as if they wait, as if they want the gun, the sight’s
devotion: Such attentiveness is like a hot gold rush
of air from another content. And the jaws of stupefaction
can’t release what they close on, the fears that hound
the hunter’s child: who climbs the larcenous ladder to the shelf
is caught by the foot
. . . The deer’s children — all spring long
they come so close to the windows they startle
themselves against the glass. They let us watch them
because it warms them, as when my milk won’t come
my newborn thrives on my look — undiluted, nourishing.
Body entering all awe, all shock, who’d hobble you,
who’d bleed you of your want? The striding
shadows on the hill grow long, the hunters anxious —
not hunger driving them, not prescience of winter,
but nostalgia — for the fall about to start, that trapdoor in the air:
ardor to elegy. The painter arranges the deer in the wood.
Ripe fruit. Ready. So rich, so wet the palette.
Blood and iodine, desire and its attendant
damage. The hunter’s gun is loaded. The heart of the hunter
heavy as the hunted’s. And the chambers divided:
I & thou. And the passage narrow.

03 February 2006

Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird

[from Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird by Donald Hall]

A poem is one inside talking to another inside. . . .

Lyric poetry, typically, has one goal and one message, which is to urge the condition of inwardness, the inside from which its own structure derives. . . .

the old distinction between vates and poiein. The poiein, from the Greek verb for making or doing, becomes the poet—the master of craft, the maker of the labyrinth of epic or tragedy or lyric hymn, tale-teller and spell-binder. The vates is bound in a spell. He is the rhapsode Socrates patronizes in Ion. In his purest form he utters what he does not understand at all . . . He is the visionary, divinely inspired . . .

There is no poiein for the same reason there is no vates . . . the distinction becomes trivial when we discover the psychic origins of poetic form . . .

Yeats said that the finished poem made a sound like the click of the lid on a perfectly made box. . . . the poet improvises toward that click . . . pleasure in resolution is Twinbird. . . . a poem . . . exists as a sensual body . . . reaches us through our mouths . . . and in the muscles of our legs . . . These pleasures are Milktongue and Goatfoot . . .

From the earliest times, poetry has existed in order to retrieve, to find again, and to release. In the poet who writes the poem, in the reader who lives it again, in the ideas, the wit, the images, the doctrines, the exhortations, the laments and the cries of joy, the lost forest struggles to be born again inside the word. The life of urge and instinct, that rages and coos, kicks and frolics, as it chooses only without choosing—this life is the life the poem grows from, and reconstitutes.

02 February 2006

Suzanne Buffam

[from Past Imperfect by Suzanne Buffam]


We’ve found a hospital. The sick are missing
limbs, eyes, buttons, pins, and have been welcomed
for today back to the game.

They wait all day to see the doctor,
propped against the mantelpiece, above
the tinderbox that has been turned

into a gurney for a child, overlooked
while we look for the clock. We are not
interested in plot. Our pleasure’s

in the furniture, a rearranging of the rooms
inside the head. The doctor waits
to see the lady with the nickname

appliquéd across the bodice of her spangled
fitted dress. He’ll wait all day.
No one decided this. We simply

know it as we did not know
before we opened it — before it
opened us. There is a room inside the room

inside the room we find by wanting
it, in which a single, unplugged lamp
stands in for light.

01 February 2006

Srikanth Reddy

[from Facts for Visitors by Srikanth Reddy]


I am about to recite a psalm that I know. Before I begin, my expectation extends over the entire psalm. Once I have begun, the words I have said remove themselves from expectation & are now held in memory while those yet to be said remain waiting in expectation. The present is a word for only those words which I am now saying. As I speak, the present moves across the length of the psalm, which I mark for you with my fingers in the psalm book. The psalm is written in India ink, the oldest ink known to mankind. Every ink is made up of a color & a vehicle. With India ink, the color is carbon & the vehicle, water. Life on our planet is also composed of carbon & water. In the history of ink, which is rapidly coming to an end, the ancient world turns from the use of India ink to adopt sepia. Sepia is made from the octopus, the squid & the cuttlefish. One curious property of the cuttlefish is that, once dead, its body begins to glow. This mild phosphorescence reaches its greatest intensity a few days after death, then ebbs away as the body decays. You can read by this light.