31 December 2007


[from David Ferry's The Odes of Horace, 1997]

i.3 Virgil's Journey to Greece

May Venus goddess of Cyprus and may the brothers
Castor and Pollux, the shining stars, the calmers,
Guard you, O ship, and be the light of guidance;
May the father of the winds restrain all winds
Except the gentle one that favors this journey.
Bring Virgil, your charge, the other half of my heart,
Safely to the place where he is going.

The breast of the man who was the first to dare
To go out in a little boat upon the waters
Must have been made of oak and triple bronze,
Fearing neither the sudden African squall
Contending with the North Wind, nor the storms
The Hyades threaten, nor what the South Wind, Notus,
Who rules the Adriatic, is capable of.

What way of dying could that man have feared
Who dared to be the first to look upon
The swimming monsters, the turbulent waters and
The dreadful cliffs of Acroceraunia?
The purpose of the god who separated
One land from another land was thwarted
If impious men could nevertheless set out

To cross the waters forbidden to them to cross.
Audacious at trying out everything, men rush
Headlong into the things that have been forbidden.
Guileful Prometheus audaciously by fraud
Brought fire down to the human race and thus
Brought fever down upon us and disease,
And death that once was slow to come came sooner.

Audacious Daedalus, wearing forbidden wings,
Tried out the empty air. And Hercules
Went down to the Underworld, broke in and entered.
No hill's too steep for men to try to climb;
Men even try out getting up to Heaven.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jupiter rages,
Hurling down lightning, shaking the sky with thunder?

The Odes of Horace: Bilingual Edition

27 December 2007

Valerio Magrelli

[from New Italian Poets edited by Dana Gioia and Michael Palma, 1991; Valerio Magrelli's untitled poem translated by Dana Gioia]

Ten poems written in one month
is not much even if this one
will become the eleventh.
Not even the subjects differ greatly
rather there is a single subject
whose subject is the subject, just like now.
This is to say how much
stays off the page,
knocks but cannot enter
nor even has to. Writing
is not a mirror, rather
the rough-surfaced glass of a shower
on which the body falls to pieces
and only its shadow shows through
indistinct but real.
And the one who washes reveals nothing
but his own gestures.
Therefore what purpose is there
in looking beyond the watermark
in case I am a counterfeiter
and the watermark alone is my work?

New Italian Poets

25 December 2007

Joe Wenderoth

"Writer" by Joe Wenderoth

David Shapiro

[from David Shapiro's House (Blown Apart), 1988]

House (Blown Apart)

I can see the traces of old work
Embedded in this page, like your bed
Within a bed. My old desire to live!
My new desire to understand material, raw
Material as if you were a house without windows
A red stain. Gold becomes cardboard.
The earth grows rare and cheap as a street.
Higher up a bird of prey affectionate in bright grey
             travels without purpose.
I beg you to speak with a recognizable accent
As the roof bashed in for acoustics
Already moans. What is not a model
Is blown to bits in this mature breeze.
If students visit for signs
Or signatures we would discuss traces.
             We would examine each other for doubts.
Old work we might parody as an homage
Losing after all the very idea of parody.
Traces of this morning's work are embedded in this page.

David Shapiro: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2006

Fernando Pessoa

[from Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith, 2001]

She holds Spring against her breast and stares at me with sad eyes. Her smile shines, because the paper's glossy, and her cheeks are red. The sky behind her is the colour of light blue cloth. She has a sculpted, almost tiny mouth, and above its postcard expression her eyes keep staring at me with an enormous sorrow. The arm holding the flowers reminds me of someone else's. Her dress or blouse has a low neck that reveals one shoulder. Her eyes are genuinely sad: they stare at me from the depth of the lithographic reality with a truth of some sort. She came with Spring. Her eyes are large, but that's not what makes them sad. I tear myself from the window with violent steps. I cross the street and turn around with impotent indignation. She still holds the Spring she was given, and her eyes are sad like all the things in life I've missed out on. Seen from a distance, the lithograph turns out to be more colourful. The figure's hair is tied at the top by a pinker than pink ribbon; I hadn't noticed. In human eyes, even in lithographic ones, there's something terrible: the inevitable warning of consciousness, the silent shout that there's a soul there. With a huge effort I pull out of the sleep in which I was steeped, and like a dog I shake off the drops of dark fog. Oblivious to my departure, as if bidding farewell to something else, those sad eyes of the whole of life -- of this metaphysical lithograph that we observe from a distance -- stare at me as if I knew something of God. The print, which has a calendar at the bottom, is framed above and below by two flatly curved, badly painted black strips. Within these upper and lower limits, above 1929 and an outmoded calligraphic vignette adorning the inevitable 1st of January, the sad eyes ironically smile at me.

The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)

23 December 2007

George Oppen

[from George Oppen's Collected Poems, 2002]

The Whirl Wind Must

for the huge
events are the       symbols

of loneliness (a country

poem of the feminine) and children's

trinkets in the gravel
of the driveways the warm

blood flows
in her the hot

river in the drama
of things caught
in the face

of things village
things long

ago a wind destroyed

shelter       shelter more lonely
than suns

astray over earth music
in the dark music

in the bare light suddenly I saw
thru Carol's eyes the little road leading
to her house the trampled

countries of the driveways to face
the silence of the pebbles the whirl wind must

have scattered under the sun the scattered

words that we can muster where once
were the grand stairways

of sea captains       language

in the roads speech

in the gravel the worn
tongues of the villages

New Collected Poems

21 December 2007

Larry Levis

Thank you Blackbird for reprinting this Larry Levis poem:

1974: My Story in a Late Style of Fire

Denise Levertov

Woman Alone

When she cannot be sure
which of two lovers it was with whom she felt
this or that moment of pleasure, of something fiery
streaking from head to heels, the way the white
flame of a cascade streaks a mountainside
seen from a car across a valley, the car
changing gear, skirting a precipice,
climbing . . .
When she can sit or walk for hours after a movie
talking earnestly and with bursts of laughter
with friends, without worrying
that it's late, dinner at midnight, her time
spent without counting the change . . .
When half her bed is covered with books
and no one is kept awake by the reading light
and she disconnects the phone, to sleep till noon . . .
selfpity dries up, a joy
untainted by guilt lifts her.
She has fears, but not about loneliness;
fears about how to deal with the aging
of her body -- how to deal
with photographs and the mirror. She feels
so much younger and more beautiful
than she looks.
                   At her happiest
-- or even in the midst of
some less than joyful hour, sweating
patiently through a heatwave in the city
or hearing the sparrows at daybreak, dully gray,
toneless, the sound of fatigue --
a kind of sober euphoria makes her believe
in her future as an old woman, a wanderer,
seamed and brown,
little luxuries of the middle of life all gone,
watching cities and rivers, people and mountains,
without being watched; not grim nor sad,
an old winedrinking woman, who knows
the old roads, grass-grown, and laughs to herself . . .
She knows it can't be:
that's Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby from The Water Babies,
no one can walk in the world any more,
a world of fumes and decibels.
But she thinks maybe
she could get to be tough and wise, some way,
anyway. Now at least
she is past the time of mourning,
now she can say without shame or deceit,
O blessed Solitude.

The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov

20 December 2007


[from Dante's Convivio, tr. Ralph Mannheim]

Canzone, I think there will be few
who wholly understand your thought,
so strong and arduous is your utterance.
Therefore if by chance it happen
that you should meet with persons
who seem not to have seized it fully,
I pray you to take comfort,
my cherished poem, and to say:
"Consider at least how beautiful I am!"

Michael Burkard

[from The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review, edited by Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Arthur Vogelsang, 2000]

The Dogs on the Cliffs

They are there
after having long departed
from their memory, and whether there is any memory
of a master is hard to say, for they were
born into an island
which was poor, could not support the birth of dogs
except with the whiteness of the tourists'
faces, a whiteness like the wallets
and purses, the loose change of the lives
which brought them and their own memories to this island,
injury after jury.

The jury on the island says this:
the dogs may roam each summer
til it is obvious they are a menace,
chickens attacked, an occasional tourist
attacked, lingering now in small
pathetic packs. And thus they are herded
to the sea from the cliffs above,
enticed perhaps by some ice memory
(surely the local islanders don't entice them fully
with a little meat, are they that hungry?)

— an ice memory of the dogs of the year before,
and the fall before that, in the month of September,
upon an island which despises animals anyway —

and the dogs are brought to the cliffs and herded off.
To the sea. To the rocks and the sea below.
It is a long drop, even for a dog.


I did not so much live upon this island
as hear this story, more vividly told, with a particular
dog which followed a particular man — the dog even did a double
take one summer — when the man reappeared on Eos after departing
for a month to Athens — and the dog followed the double take —
just seeing the face twice — with following.

So the story is not mine, but I feared the man would never tell it —
though versions of stories like this must abound.

I can hear the stories on the cliffs,
I can hear the lamps wailing sometime
much later in the winter, in winter
when the animals are all dead, all of them, all
the past times down below
near the rocks off Eos.

Now the ice memory wakes: the jury reports
in a different dream
that the town and the villas are sold out
already for still another summer,
another history for history,
another past
for past.

Today, after only
at the morning paper

I thought of that phrase
history repeating itself,

thought if history repeats itself
it is still the same history,
more repetition, no

because it is the same history
the same hysteria
which could include even me

The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review

16 December 2007

Susan M. Schultz

[from Susan M. Schultz's A Poetics of Impasse in Modoern and Contemporary American Poetry, 2005]

What if we begin our discussion not
From the point of "how do we start writing, given that it's difficult?"
But that of "why is it that we are having such difficulty writing,
And how is it that we can meaningfully begin to write about subjects
That are not easy to tackle?" At the level of the beginning writer,
Perhaps it's best simply to set pen or pixel to paper and scribble,
But for any serious writer, the question of block is not simply
A technical, or even a psychological, problem, but one that
Leads us to consider the larger forces that inform our writing,
Or our lack of it. The notion that any writing, however private,
Is "free," while it may result in words on paper, does not ask
The hard questions about "freedom" (or any such abstract noun/
Concept) that need to be addressed before or during our hoped-for
Move from writer's block to writing practice. What Goldberg ignores
Is the content of the block, even as she offers remedies
For the block's effects. Get at that content, my argument goes,
And the reason behind the block becomes the content
Of the writing that follows; at the least, writing resumes
At the moment one recognizes why it has stopped in the first
Place, and the content of that writing inscribes both reason
And release, is not perhaps liberation but a means to elucidate
Ways which are implicated in the larger structures
That silence us.

A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Modern & Contemporary Poetics)

15 December 2007

Sarah Lindsay

Sarah Lindsay's "Cheese Penguin," text and audio provided by From the Fishouse; originally published in Primate Behavior, 1997

Primate Behavior: Poems (Grove Press Poetry Series)

Mark Doty

If you know me, you know I don't love dogs. Dogs scare me, even the dogs I know and like scare me, so I probably wouldn't have read Mark Doty's book Dog Years except that when I bought my Kindle, this was the only book by a great living poet that I could find in the Kindle catalog. I downloaded a sample and recognized the marvelous Doty voice -- it's prose, not poetry -- so I clicked on the "Buy" button and waited for the right moment, which turned out to be yesterday's Atlanta to Los Angeles flight.

This is the first book I've read straight through on the Kindle, and believe me, the Kindle is a reading joy. I wish all the books I want to read were on the Kindle. They're not, so for now I'm buying the dead guys -- Dante, Milton, Pope. And Pullman (need to read the book before I see the movie).

Dog Years is a GREAT book. Read it.

Dog Years

06 December 2007

Herbert Mason's Gilgamesh

[from Herbert Mason's Gilgamesh, 2003]

All that is left to one who grieves
Is convalescence. No change of heart or spiritual
Conversion, for the heart has changed
And the soul has been converted
To a thing that sees
How much it costs to lose a friend it loved.
It has grown past conversion to a world
Few enter without tasting loss
In which one spends a long time waiting
For something to move one to proceed.
It is that inner atmosphere that has
An unfamiliar gravity or none at all
Where words are flung out in the air but stay
Motionless without an answer,
Hovering about one's lips
Or arguing back to haunt
The memory with what one failed to say,
Until one learns acceptance of the silence
Amidst the new debris
Or turns again to grief
As the only source of privacy,
Alone with someone loved.
It could go on for years and years,
And has, for centuries,
For being human holds a special grief
Of privacy within the universe
That yearns and waits to be retouched
By someone who can take away
The memory of death.

[the earliest versions of Gilgamesh are dated 2150-2000 BC]

Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative

02 December 2007

Willem de Kooning

[from a Michael Sonnabend interview with Willem de Kooning, 1959]

When I'm falling, I am doing all right. And when I am slipping, I say, "Hey, this is very interesting." It is when I am standing upright that bothers me. I'm not doing so good. I'm stiff, you know. . . . As a matter of fact, I'm really slipping most of the time into that glimpse. That is a wonderful sensation, I realize right now, to slip into this glimpse. I'm like a slipping glimpser.

01 December 2007

29 November 2007

James Elkins

[from James Elkins's The Object Stares Back, 1996]

The abstract machine of faciality is rooted in the body, and parts of it are repeated, strewn across the body's surface. The anus, the urethra, and the vagina were once called the "other face": an appropriate name for mock eyes, noses, and mouths. The armpits are blind, failed faces, and the navel is a partial face.

The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing

18 November 2007

Henry Noel

[Henry Noel, 16th century poet]

Gaze Not on Swans

Gaze not on swans in whose soft breast
A full hatcht beauty seems to rest,
Nor snow which falling from the sky
Hovers in its virginity.

Gaze not on roses though new blown
Grac'd with a fresh complexion,
Nor lilly which no subtle bee
Hath rob'd by kissing chemistry.

Gaze not on that pure milky way
Where night vies splendour with the day,
Nor pearls whose silver walls confine
The riches of an Indian mine:

For if my emperesse appears
Swans moultring dy, snow melts to tears,
Roses do blush and hang their heads
Pale lillyes shrink into their beds;

The milky way rides past to shrowd
Its baffled glory in a clowd,
And pearls do climb unto her eare
To hang themselves for envy there.

So have I seene stars big with light,
Proud lanthorns to the moone-ey'd night,
Which when Sol's rays were once display'd
Sunk in their sockets and decay'd.

14 November 2007

08 November 2007

17th century view on rape

[from Kent R. Lehnhof's essay, “‘Impregn’d with Reason’: Eve’s Aural Conception in Paradise Lost.” Milton Studies 41 (2002)]

Relying upon such classical authorities as Galen and Aristotle, the early moderns asserted the existence of a female seed analogous to the male semen. Although the female seed was believed to be weaker and less pure than the male seed, it was nevertheless considered vital for conception. Conception, it was thought, could only occur if both the male and the female seeds were discharged during the sexual encounter. Because they believed that a female only emits her seed upon attaining orgasm, the early moderns insisted that conception could only come about if a woman enjoyed the sexual act. Thus, conception came to constitute concrete proof that a woman acted as a desiring, consenting participant in any given episode of intercourse. This putative connection is codified in Renaissance rape laws. As Sir Henry Finch professes in the enormously influential Law or a discourse thereof (1627): "Rape is the carnal abusing of a woman against her will. But if she conceives upon any carnal abusing of her, that is no rape, for she cannot conceive unless she consent." Richard Burns reiterates the idea in his guide for English magistrates, citing classical authorities to establish that "a woman can not conceive unless she doth consent." According to Thomas Laqueur, the belief that pregnancy proves complicity was so entrenched in English society that its physiological basis was not even questioned until the second half of the eighteenth or the first half of the nineteenth century.

06 November 2007

Ray McManus

The Fall 2007 issue of The South Carolina Review includes my review of Ray McManus's fine book of poetry, Driving through the Country before You Are Born.


[from Campbell, Mary Baine. “Busy Bees: Utopia, Dystopia, and the Very Small.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 36:3 (2006) 619-642]

Thomas Muffet (whose daughter Patience famously sat on a tuffet), as translated from his Theatrum Insectorum in Topsell’s Historie of Four-Footed Beasts:

To conclude this Section you see that Bees (creatures without reason) have not only providence and foresight, joined with art and industrie, perfect order and discipline in their government, being naturally loyal, valiant, and magnanimous, and abhorring as well rebellion and treason, as cowardice and sloth, all which plainly shew that nature in Bees laying down such a pattern should not only be imitated but surpassed by men, lest they be reproved by these unreasonable creatures.

03 November 2007

Fernando Pessoa

[from Poems of Fernando Pessoa translated by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown]


The poet is a faker. He
Fakes it so completely,
He even fakes he's suffering
The pain he's really feeling.

And they who read his writing
Fully feel while reading
Not that pain of his that's double,
But theirs, completely fictional.

So on its tracks goes round and round,
To entertain the reason,
That wound-up little train
We call the heart of man.

27 October 2007

Friedrich Nietzsche

[from Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil]

He who despises himself, nevertheless esteems himself thereby, as a despiser.

26 October 2007

W. H. Auden

[from W. H. Auden's The Dyer's Hand, 1962]

A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the aesthetic virtues of beauty, order, economy and subordination of detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror for, given the historical reality of actual men, such a society could only come into being through selective breeding, extermination of the physically and mentally unfit, absolute obedience to its Director, and a large slave class kept out of sight in cellars.

Vice versa, a poem which was really like a political democracy -- examples, unfortunately, exist -- would be formless, windy, banal and utterly boring.

The Dyer's Hand

22 October 2007

John Milton

[from John Milton's Paradise Lost Book 7]

. . . and in his hand
He took the golden Compasses, prepar'd
In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things:
One foot he center'd, and the other turn'd
Round through the vast profunditie obscure,
And said, thus farr extend, thus farr thy bounds,
This be thy just Circumference, O World.

18 October 2007

Jean Day

[from Jean Day's Enthusiasm: Odes & Otium, 2006]

from Ode in Pencil

. . .
               Last brief rays
in repetition's machine
set the scene [or Spiel]
on permanent sputter:
a woman entering
the frame of a murderous
cloud clobbers a man
ratcheting back
behind silent
credits (all clear
in underwear),
hogtied at the end
to the twang
of a player piano,
the small
unhappy voice of allegory
in snow scrub the blood
ponders longer than seconds
and spreading
out from its unrecoiled arrest
so you may see days raging,
as days rage
          Scratched out.
. . .

Enthusiasm: Odes & Otium (Adventures in Poetry)

17 October 2007

Linda Gregerson

[from Linda Gregerson's Bright North, 2007]

Bright Shadow
      for Peter Davison

Wherever they come from whether the all-
                     but impenetrable bracken
                               on the nearer
                side of Maple Road (so closely does she bed

them down) or deeper in the wetland (each
                     new season surrendering further to
                               the strangle
                of purple loosestrife) they

have made for weeks a daybed of
                     the longer
                               grass beneath the net
                that sometimes of an evening marks

the compass of our shuttlecock
                     so Steven
                               when at last he finds
                an afternoon for mowing must purposely

chase them into the woods where she
                     so watchful
                               in the normal course of foraging but
                lulled or made a stranger to her own

first-order instinct for dis-
                     quietude (so firmly
                               have the scents and apparitions of
                this people-riddled bit of earth impressed

themselves upon the wax that stands for world-
                     as usual) (a scant
                               twelve months ago she was
                herself the sucking diligence that made

the mother stagger on the dew-drenched
                     lawn) will find them near the salt lick and
                               as by a subtle field-of-
                force will reel them back to

stations-of-the-daily-path that portion out
                     their wakefulness
                               (the ravaged
                rhododendrons bearing witness) forever en-

grafting the strictures of hunger (bright shoots)
                     to the strictures (bright
                               shadow) of praise.

Magnetic North

15 October 2007

Lucie Brock-Broido

[from Lucie Brock-Broido's Trouble in Mind, 2004]

Leaflet on Wooing

Wanting is reposed and plump
As the hands of a Romanov child

Folded in the doeskin sashes of her lap,
Paused before the little war begins.

             This one will be guttural, this war.
How is it possible to still be startled

As I am by the oblong silhouette of the coiling
Index finger of a pending death.

No longer will
                         Wooing be the wondrous

Thing; instead, a homely domesticity, constant
As a field of early rye and yarrow-light.

What one is fit to stand is not what one is
Given, necessarily, and not this night.

Trouble in Mind

Ron Silliman & the National Book Award

Thanks, Ron Silliman, for throttling PoBiz, this time the latest nominating panel and nominations for the 2007 National Book Awards.

14 October 2007

10/4/7 RealPoetik reading @ the Bowery Poetry Club

Niels Hav, Tao Lin, Elisa Gabbert, Carol Peters, Sampson Starkweather, and Sharon Dolin

13 October 2007

Stanley Fish

[from Stanley Fish's How Milton Works, 2001]

In speech act theory (as originated by J. L. Austin) . . . a "declarative" [is] an utterance that brings into being the state it names, and does so by virtue of the unique authority of the speaker (when an umpire declares "You're out," you're out, but when a fan or fellow player says it, he succeeds only in expressing his opinion).

How Milton Works

Suzanne Langer

[via Jay Wright via Ange Mlinko in her recent book review in Poetry, October 2007]

Quoting Suzanne Langer in Elaine's Book (collected in Transfigurations), Wright lays claim to her insight: “and the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.”

03 October 2007

Matthew Zapruder

[from Matthew Zapruder's The Pajamaist, 2006]

Andale Mono

Today I walked past my door in the rain
and put an old key
in a lock from which gold light shone.
Gold light through the keyhole like didactic
material below a painting glows to explain
the nineteenth century and other things we must know.
In the poem we want to try to set off a light each time
the door of the closet is closed. And to be
for the reader a mechanism attached to a string
the poem pulls. And piecing together
as desperately as we can. By fragments we mean
pieces of things we thought we have heard,
and when we say them mean though we cannot
see you we love you. By light we mean light.
Fear is a mechanism thinking too much
and not enough about the closet
holding something. The light in the closet
is on, the garments are thinking,
the door to the closet opens
into a long empty corridor we fear
for verily it like a torch
in the british sense through a dusty room
pervades us. When we are walking
with our torch meaning flashlight before us
reaching for the long poem inside us
one door explains how to read for both meaning
and pleasure. Another shuts.
The poem Andale Mono begins.
When I was a child I used to give speeches
into the mouth of the dishwasher open and gleaming.
When in a private language I said
ritual laughter mother and father
without knowing commit transmits
a kind of anger it understood,
though they were not.
Today I walked right past the face of a woman
I was sure was in Andale Mono.
Today I walked right past the poem
I knew and looked
into a lake which is now my wife.
My wife has entered the room. She is
a finger lake. In one hand she is holding
a sweater, pink, in the other a cream colored
spatula. Which one do you like best?
The poem is now my wife. For the first time
today in Andale Mono I drew my shoulders
back and looked straight forward and slightly
up. All day for the first time things were
true size. Droplets hung from my lashes
strobing at times the warehouse
next to the elevated, at others the brand-new
cathedral from which small people were streaming,
lugging large black musical instrument cases.
Large black chambers hold the delicate
wooden chambers for making chamber music.
In Andale Mono things are both breakable
and strong. In Andale Mono just out of reach
of my dangling hand the lock was a tiny door.

The Pajamaist

01 October 2007

Carl Sandburg

[from Carl Sandburg: Poetry for Young People, Frances Schoonmaker Bolin, editor; thanks to David Wayne Hampton for pointing me at this poem]

Boxes and Bags
by Carl Sandburg

The bigger the box the more it holds.
Empty boxes hold the same as empty heads.
Enough small empty boxes thrown into a big empty box fill it full.
A half-empty box says, “Put more in.”
A big enough box could hold the world.
Elephants need big boxes to hold a dozen elephant handkerchiefs.
Fleas fold little handkerchiefs and fix them nice and neat in flea
    handkerchief boxes.
Bags lean against each other and boxes stand independent.
Boxes are square with corners unless round with circles.
Box can be piled on box till the whole works comes tumbling.
Pile box on box and the bottom box says, “If you will kindly take notice
    you will see it all rests on me.”
Pile box on box and the top one says, “Who falls farthest if or when we
    fall? I ask you.”
Box people go looking for boxes and bag people go looking for bags.

Poetry for Young People: Carl Sandburg (Poetry For Young People)

29 September 2007

Susan Ludvigson

[from "Letters Back: God Responds to Emily Dickinson," the middle section of Susan Ludvigson's Trinity, 1994]

Consider how the moment enters itself
when you're not looking, scarcely
paying attention, imagination
trusting what comes
on the surrounding air, sweet
or cool, whatever wafts
through. Your whole body
participates, yet, as in dream,
hardly moves, nearly
paralyzed with pleasure.
How you are taken into and out of
yourself at once, language
a braid, unbraiding, so that
what the fairy tales call tresses
loosen in your hands, brushing
your eyes back to time,
that slow surprise.

. . .

To a new friend you write,
"To multiply the harbors
does not reduce the sea."
Why do you not find
the only harbor there is?
No, you're perverse, inclined
to let your words
scatter like bread
over the waters,
and then to think
they'll transform themselves
to inlets and coves
the heart of anyone
might row to.
No, I am not jealous.
I want, simply, for you
to be original and mine,
not turn to me late
as to any port.

Trinity: Poems

26 September 2007

reading in New York

[from an editor of RealPoetik]

Next week, on October 4, Sharon Dolin - Tao Lin - Niels Hav - Elisa Gabbert - Sampson Starkweather - Carol Peters read for RealPoetik!!!

25 September 2007


[my friend Sally Rosenthal sent me this email]

If you haven't seen this farewell lecture by Randy Pausch, 46-year-old professor at Carnegie Mellon, i think you'll agree it's well worth the time to watch it. Randy is dying of pancreatic cancer - hard to fathom when you see how healthy he is. The talk is upbeat, with lots of humor, remarkable.

24 September 2007

John Milton

[from John Milton's "Of Education"]

I deem it to be an old errour of universities not yet well recover'd from the Scholastick grosness of barbarous ages, that in stead of beginning with Arts most easie, and those be such as are most obvious to the sence, they present their young unmatriculated novices at first comming with the most intellective abstractions of Logick & metaphysicks: So that they having but newly left those Grammatick flats & shallows where they stuck unreasonably to learn a few words with lamentable construction, and now on the sudden transported under another climat to be tost and turmoild with their unballasted wits in fadomles and unquiet deeps of controversie, do for the most part grow into hatred and contempt of learning, mockt and deluded all this while with ragged notions and babblements, while they expected worthy and delightfull knowledge . . .

23 September 2007

B. T. Shaw

If you're into ducks (I am)
then you know about their mating
about which here is a great poem.

19 September 2007

17th century musick

[from King's College London]

Jeremiah Clarke (1673?-1707) was himself a noted composer, best remembered today for his popular Trumpet Voluntary. He received his musical education at the Chapel Royal under John Blow and later became its organist, as well as Vicar Choral of St. Paul's. Found dead in his lodgings with a bullet in his brain, he was believed to have committed suicide as a result of a failed love affair. His death caused the poet Edward Ward, author of The London spy, to observe:

Let us not therefore wonder at his fall,
Since 'twas not so unnatural
For him who liv'd by Canon to expire by Ball.

14 September 2007

Linda Annas Ferguson & Rick Mulkey

Please come to the Poetry Society of South Carolina meeting tonight, 7 PM, at the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston to hear Linda Annas Ferguson and Rick Mulkey read from their new books.

12 September 2007

Peter Sacks

[from Peter Sacks's "Milton: 'Lycidas'" in The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats, 1985]

What is the real significance and function of Saint Peter's opening words? I do not think that the purpose of his "How well could I have spard thee . . . Enough of such" has been adequately noted. He is making an equation, and it is important in the light of what follows to recognize this as the essential equation of the revenger. One Lycidas is worth enough of such, and it is against that number -- that tally -- that the entire speech unrolls like a single act of vengeance. Here is the controlled release of rage that we have seen to be so crucial to the work of mourning. Once again, it involves the locating of a target for a wrath that must be turned outward; the shifting of the burden of pain; the reversal from the passive suffering of hurt to the active causing of it; and above all, the assumption of the power to hurt, a power that we have studied in its relation to the totemic force associated with a metaphoric sexual immortality.

The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats

10 September 2007

Grace Simpson

[from Grace Simpson's Dancing the Bones, 2001]

Trying on His Body

I dragged the cane-bottomed
wheelchair down from the attic
and sat, right arm dead,
hand curled shut.
I crammed my foot
into his built-up shoe
and braced against the footrest,
even screwed my mouth
like his. Not enough.
I had to go
to the high oak bed,
crawl into his hulled-out shape
and become a paralyzed father
begging for the urinal,
while the little girl patted her doll,
pretending not to hear — until
he turned his face away
and wept, and she did
that indecent thing:
grabbed the chipped
white pitcher and shoved it tight
between his naked legs,
not looking, while the shuddering
rush of pee splattered
the sheets and the loose
enamel handle wobbled
in her grip.

It all came back:
the sharp ammonia smell,
my red shame,
his hand on my head,
drawn mouth slurring
Bless you, Daughter.

Father, I still hear
those garbled words.
Now, after fifty years of need,
I accept your absolution.

Dancing the bones: Poems

09 September 2007

Basil Bunting

[from Basil Bunting's Complete Poems, 2000]

excerpt from Villon, III

How can I sing with love in my bosom?
Unclean, immature and unseasonable salmon.

Complete Poems

08 September 2007

William Meredith

[from William Meredith's Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, 1997]

A View of the Brooklyn Bridge

The growing need to be moving around it to see it,
To prevent its freezing, as with sculpture and metaphor,
Finds now skeins, now strokes of the sun in a dark
Crucifixion etching, until you end by caring
What the man's name was who made it,
The way old people care about names and are
Forever seeing resemblances to people now dead.

Of stone and two metals drawn out so
That at every time of day
They speak out of strong resemblances, as:
Wings whirring so that you see only where
Their strokes finish, or: spokes of dissynchronous wheels.

Its pictures and poems could accurately be signed
With the engineer's name, whatever he meant.
These might be called: Tines inflecting a river, justly,
Or (thinking how its cables owe each something
To the horizontal and something to the vertical):
A graph of the odds against
Any one man's producing a masterpiece.

Yet far from his, the engineer's, at sunrise
And again at sunset when,
Like the likenesses the old see,
Loveliness besets it as haphazard as genes:
Fortunate accidents take the form of cities
At either end; the cities give their poor edges
To the river, the buildings there
The fair color that things have to be.
Oh the paper reeds by a brook
Or the lakes that lie on bayous like a leopard
Are not at more seeming random, or more certain
In their sheen how to stand, than these towns are.

And of the rivering vessels so and so
Where the shadow of the bridge rakes them once,
The best you can think is that, come there,
A pilot will know what he's done
When his ship is fingered

Like that Greek boy whose name I now forget
Whose youth was one long study to cut stone;
One day his mallet slipped, some goddess willing
Who only meant to take his afternoon,
So that the marble opened on a girl
Seated at music and wonderfully fleshed
And sinewed under linen, riffling a harp;
At which he knew not that delight alone
The impatient muse intended, but, coupled with it, grief —
The harp-strings in particular were so light —
And put his chisel down for marvelling on that stone.

Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems

07 September 2007

Thom Gunn

[from Thom Gunn's The Man with Night Sweats, 1992]

Odysseus on Hermes
   his afterthought

I was seduced by innocence
— beard scarcely visible on his chin —
by the god within.
The incompletion of youth
like the new limb of the cactus growing
— soft-green — not fully formed
the spines still soft and living,
potent in potential,
in process and so
still open to the god.
             When complete and settled
             then closed to the god.
So sensing it in him
I was seduced by the god,
becoming in my thick maturity
suddenly unsettled
still being formed —
in the vulnerability, edges flowing,
myself open to the god.

I took his drug
and all came out right in the story.
Still thinking back
I seek to renew that power
so easily got
seek to find again that knack
of opening my settled features,
creased on themselves,
to the astonishing kiss and gift
of the wily god to the wily man.

The Man with Night Sweats: Poems

Ellen Doré Watson

[from Ellen Doré Watson's We Live in Bodies, 1997]

On the Seventh Anniversary of the Conception of My First Child

I look to the world. I ponder the possibility of number two.
     Out the window fresh nubs of dead wood suggest
putting on some lullabies and sitting on the front stoop
     to blow bubbles. The chickens with the wounds of winter
on their backs have tired of walking tiptoe in the mud.
     They long to do the cross-stitch in the grass; they’re
dreaming of getting into real estate. It’s a Spring thing.
     There’s an attic full of baby clothes that want to get out.
They sigh and whisper with the rafters, sell all your roadmaps —
     hell, forget how to drive.
I try to see myself as the eager
young poppy in the corner of the garden, always the first
     to wave her red hanky at each passing cloud. I rise like
dough on that childlike thought. I can shut out the checkbook
     crying me a river, and the bellyaching rooms, too full
to cough. What needles is this craving for another someone,
     for the pain and beauty of something tugging day and night,
something needy that has no words. Most days it’s words I want.
     My eyes do their searching thing, but no skywriting in the high
thin air, no runes in the compost. The weather-beaten chicken shed
     is looking awfully sullen, playing it close to the vest. Soon darts
of green will gather at its ankles. We believe this on the flimsiest
     of evidence. Just as we know the scanty remains of the woodpile
and cluttered gutters will take a back seat to the question of those
     small boulders in the garden: are they saying goodbye, sucked
down under glacial mud, or rising up in the moonlight with a whiff
     of sour milk on their breath?

We Live in Bodies: Poems

05 September 2007

mountain scenery

In her book Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite [New York, Norton, 1959], Marjorie Hope Nicholson documents the change in taste that occurred in the eighteenth century with regard to mountain scenery. While seventeenth-century poets and theologians conceived of mountains as "warts, wens, and blisters" that mar the earth, travelers in the eighteenth century sought them out as sources of the sublime.


A Country so deform´d, the Traveller
Would swear those parts Nature´s pudenda were:
Like Warts and Wens hills on the one side swell,
To all but natives inaccessible;
Th´other a blue scrofulous scum defiles
Flowing from th´earths impostumated boyles (...)

[Charles Cotton, The Wonders of the Peake (London 1681), 1-2]

[these tidbits found here and here]

John Milton

[from John Milton's L'Allegro, 1645]

There on Beds of Violets blew,
And fresh-blown Roses washt in dew . . .

To hear the Lark begin his flight,
And singing startle the dull night,
From his watch-towre in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise;
Then to come in spight of sorrow,
And at my window bid good morrow . . .

Mountains on whose barren brest
The labouring clouds do often rest;
Meadows trim with Daisies pide,
Shallow Brooks, and Rivers wide.
Towers, and Battlements it sees
Boosom'd high in tufted Trees,
Wher perhaps some beauty lies . . .

Such sights as youthfull Poets dream
On Summer eeves by haunted stream. . . .

These delights, if thou canst give,
Mirth with thee, I mean to live.

02 September 2007

David Wagoner

This Is a Wonderful Poem

John Milton

[from Anonymous Life of Milton]

He rendred his Studies and various Works more easy & pleasant by allotting them thir several portions of the day. Of these the time friendly to the Muses fell to his Poetry; And hee waking early (as is the use of temperate men) had commonly a good Stock of Verses ready against his Amanuensis came; which if it happend to bee later than ordinary, hee would complain, saying hee wanted to bee milkd.

The Riverside Milton

01 September 2007

David Ferry

[from David Ferry's Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, 1999]

Mary in Old Age

. . .


Of Others Who Were There

There was: the old lady in the nursing home
Who kept coming up to me and standing much too close
To me, sniffing at my body or my soul
As if it were something deliciously stinking,

Thrilling to her, or else a flowering bush,
Nourishment for a ravenous questioning;
Staring into my ear the way the child
In the comic routine long ago in the movies

Stared silently into the coils of the ear
Of the man sitting there next to the child,
Trying to watch the movie on the screen,
Driven wild inside by the child's relentless gaze:

As if the ear could speak its secrets back.

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Phoenix Poets Series)

31 August 2007

Simone Weil

[from Simone Weil's Gravity and Grace, 1947]

Obedience. There are two kinds. We can obey the force of gravity or we can obey the relationship of things. In the first case we do what we are driven to by the imagination which fills up empty spaces. We can affix a variety of labels to it, often with a show of truth, including righteousness and God. If we suspend the filling up activity of the imagination and fix our attention on the relationship of things, a necessity becomes apparent which we cannot help obeying. Until then we have not any notion of necessity and we have no sense of obedience.

After that we cannot be proud of what we do, even though we may accomplish marvels.

Gravity and Grace (Routledge Classics)

26 August 2007

George Steiner

[from George Steiner’s After Babel: Aspects of Language & Translation]

We must not trust the translation whose words are entirely ‘un-broken’. As with a sea-shell, the translator can listen strenuously but mistake the rumour of his own pulse for the beat of the alien sea.

Yet ‘mis-taking’, to grasp in place of, to transliterate, as it were, between seizure and surrogation, is indispensable. We have seen that serious understanding depends on a linguistic and cultural experiencing of resistant difference. But the transcendence of difference, the process of internalizing the probabilities of non-communication, of acute doubt as to whether the thing can be done at all, demands Wahlverwandschaft (elective affinity). At close linguistic-cultural quarters the translator often finds himself in a state of recognition. The hermeneutic and praxis of his decipherment and subsequent restatement are those of mirrors and déjà-vu. He has been here before he came. He has chosen his source-text not arbitrarily but because he is kindred to it. The magnetism can be one of genre, tone, biographical fantasy, conceptual framework. Whatever the bonding, his sense of the text is a sense of homecoming or, as the sentimental tag precisely puts it, of a home from home. Poor translation follows on negative ‘mistaking’: erroneous choice or mechanical, fortuitous circumstance have directed the translator to an original in which he is not at home. The alienness is not one of differentiation undergone, circumscribed as a moment in the dialectic of transit, but a muddled, vacant disaccord which can, in fact, be independent of linguistic difference. Thus there are within our own tongue and culture numerous works with which we have no just relation, which leave us cold. Positive ‘mistaking’ on the contrary generates and is generated by the feeling of at-homeness in the other language, in the other community of consciousness. The point is a central one. Translation operates in a dual or dialectical or bipolar energy field (one’s preference between these terms being simply a question of meta-language). Resistant difference — the integral and historical impermeability, apartness of the two languages, civilizations, semantic composites — plays against elective affinity — the translator’s pre- and recognition of the original, his intuition of legitimate entry, of an at-homeness momentarily dislocated, i.e. located across the frontier. At close quarters, say as between two European languages, the charge is maximal at both poles. The shock of difference is as strong as that of familiarity. The translator is held off as powerfully as he is drawn in. Translucency comes of the unresolved antinomy of the two currents, of the vital swerve into and away from the core of the original. Some such picture seems to obtain in the micron spaces between high-energy particles drawn together by gravity but kept apart by repulsion.

But notice how ‘positive mistaking’, the translator’s recognition or Narcissism on which the business depends for half its logic, sets odd psychological traps. Once the translator has entered into the original, the frontier of language passed, once he has certified his sense of belonging, why go on with the translation? He is now, apparently, the man who needs it least. Not only can he hear and read the original for himself, but the more unforced his immersion the sharper will be his realization of a uniquely rooted meaning, of the organic autonomy of the saying and the said. So why a translation, why the circumvention which is the way home (the third movement in the hermeneutic)? Undoubtedly translation contains a paradox of altruism — a word on which there are stresses both of ‘otherness’ and of ‘alteration’. The translator performs for others, at the price of dispersal and relative devaluation, a task no longer necessary or immediate to himself. But there is also a proprietary impulse. It is only when he ‘brings home’ the simulacrum of the original, when he recrosses the divide of language and community, that he feels himself in authentic possession of his source. Safely back he can, as an individual, discard his own translation. The original is now peculiarly his. Appropriation through understanding and metamorphic re-saying shades, psychologically as well as morally, into expropriation. This is the dilemma which I have defined as the cause of the fourth, closing movement in the hermeneutic of translation. After completing his work, the genuine translator is en fausse situation. He is in part a stranger to his own artifact which is now radically superfluous, and in part a stranger to the original which his translation has, in varying degrees, adulterated, diminished, exploited, or betrayed through improvement. I will come back to the consequent need for compensation, for a restoration of parity. This need is obsessive in the distances, at once resistant and magnetic, of Hobbes to Thucydides, of Hölderlin to Sophocles, of MacKenna to Plotinus, of Celan to Shakespeare, of Nabokov to Pushkin.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation


22 August 2007

20 August 2007

Richard Hugo

[from Richard Hugo's "Death in the Aquarium}"]

. . . and wouldn't we welcome dying unknown,
unnamed on the floor of the ocean,
our bones ignored by the only clock there,
that slow unrhythmic waver of kelp --
our bones giving off the phosphorus
that collects in pockets and waits,
then one night washes in glowing?
And lovers, lovers would stop making love
and stand there, each suddenly alone
amazed at that gleam riding sand.

New York reading

Bowery Poetry Club
October 4, 2007
8 PM

I'll be reading with other authors from RealPoetik

Frank O'Hara

[from Frank O'Hara's Collected Poems, 1995]


I don't know as I get what D. H. Lawrence is driving at
when he writes of lust springing from the bowels
or do I
it could be the bowels of the earth
to lie flat on the earth in spring, summer or winter is sexy
you feel it stirring deep down slowly up to you
and sometimes it gives you a little nudge in the crotch
that's very sexy
and when someone looks sort of raggedy and dirty like Paulette Goddard
in Modern Times it's exciting, it isn't usual or attractive
perhaps D.H.L. is thinking of the darkness
certainly the crotch is light
and I suppose
any part of us that can only be seen by others
is a dark part
I feel that about the small of my back, too and the nape of my neck
they are dark
they are erotic zones as in the tropics
whereas Paris is straightforward and bright about it all
a coal miner has kind of a sexy occupation
though I'm sure it's painful down there
but so is lust
of light we can never have enough
but how would we find it
unless the darkness urged us on and into it
and I am dark
except when now and then it all comes clear
and I can see myself
as others luckily sometimes see me
in a good light

The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara

My New Gig

Monthly Fiction Writing Group
led by Sean Scapellato and Carol Peters

meets the second Tuesday of each month
starting September 11, 2007, 7-9 PM
Charleston County Main Library, 68 Calhoun Street

For all those closet novelists out there: bring your favorite pen and paper, your works-in-progress, your fictive mind. During our recurring fiction workshop series, we’ll be tackling major topics of the craft: dialogue, plot, character, tone, point of view, imagery. We’ll look at process, discipline, revision, submitting, editing. Our two hours will be split with instruction and interactive exercises, questions and answers, and brief sharing of exercises. Use this time to meet other writers and to put pen to paper. We’ll be helping you formulate ideas, improve your works in progress, and learn substantive techniques about the craft and art of fiction. Designed to help fiction writers at all levels, from beginning to professional, this time will allow for introspection and work on individual projects as well as a chance to learn about the many techniques of story. Sponsored by the Charleston County Public Library and The Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts (LILA). For more information please call 843-805-6930.

19 August 2007

Buson & Jack Gilbert

[Buson, translated by Lucien Stryk]

A sudden chill —
in our room my dead wife's comb,

[from Jack Gilbert's The Great Fires, 1996]


I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife's hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko's avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane's Bill (An Evergreen Book)
The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992

18 August 2007

Elizabeth Daryush

[Elizabeth Daryush, from Collected Poems, 1976]


The shadeless elms, the poplars shimmerless
Have yellowed, dropped their flaccid leaves a full
Two months before their time; the alder-pool
Is a black miry swamp, ploughed by the press
Of tortured, thirsty cattle; or look where
Once would a spreading line of verdure show
The river’s lush umbrageous path, that now
Is a white hard road, hedged with willows bare.

Autumn will flush no harvest in these fields
Failed of slow Nature’s sober, ripening clime,
Nor winter in these woods brighten with rime
Red berry, brown nut, her late-lavished yields

To bird and beast: the blighted copse they rob
Already of its last lean hip and cob.

Collected poems [of] Elizabeth Daryush

more from Mary Kinzie

Philip Hobsbaum's rhyme rankings (the larger the number, the stronger the rhyme):

2.00 interior/superior
1.50 mystery/mastery
1.00 terse/hearse
0.75 world/walled, wheels/wells
0.50 bar/fire, hair/got there
0.25 on/organ

W. K. Wimsatt on rhyme:

Wimsatt makes the further point that it is not sounds that rhyme but meanings (or the single-syllabled meaning-nuggets linguists call "morphemes"), which now clash under the cover of likeness. What comes together in the technique we call rhyme are not so much aural signifiers as semantic ones with subtle syntactical identities, for it is Wimsatt's view that "words have no character as rhymes until they become points in a syntactic succession." . . .

In the couplets of Pope, in particular, Wimsatt believes the disparity between the auditory resemblance and the logical divergence--a divergence in both function (syntax) and meaning (root) -- is exploited with unparalleled cleverness. . . . not only words that rhyme, but small parts of larger, countermatching line-segments (clauses and phrases), which come together with a closure in sound that contradicts the contrast in meaning . . .

A Poet's Guide to Poetry (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)

15 August 2007

Mary Kinzie

[from Mary Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry, 1999]

Metrical “correctness,” which leads Surrey to pile one closed pentameter line upon another, does not insure good poetry (and the Surrey versions of many Wyatt works seem padded out — note the frequency of doubled phrases linked by and), just as metrical “incorrectness” does not absolutely diminish a fine poem, although it makes the job riskier . . . Of course, meter that always limps and lurches may irk the reader and distract the writer ar the wrong moment. The middle ground may yield greater success — lines, that is to say, in which neither is the variation so wild as to cancel out the background music of metrical expectation, nor the metrical ground base so rigid as to silence all departures from the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables.

A Poet's Guide to Poetry (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)

14 August 2007

Timothy Steele

[from Timothy Steele’s After Sapphics and Other Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986]

Toward Calgary

Out over these parched, gusty plains,
Loose dirt is lifted to a sail;
Beyond wide distances, a train’s
Smoke draws a horizontal trail.

Posts bear a wire, mile after mile,
Across deep views toward which winds roll,
That wire the only obstacle
Between the winds and the North Pole.

Here one could drive what seems an age,
Seeing no more than levelled land
And, on the road, slow-skidding sage
And skating shapes of wind-blown sand.

Here one could try the radio's dial
And, as the inching needle slips
Through far, infrequent static, feel
A stilled world at the fingertips.

And one might sense nothing but thirst
Or soundless hours in this place
Where all horizons are dispersed
Continuously into space.

Yet from caked, crumbly ground and rocks
The spiky purple lupines grow
And cacti shaped like tuning forks.
And some who've crossed such precincts know

The prudent heart is like these plains,
Where quietness has grown immense,
No landmarks rendering its terrains
Measurable to human sense,

And where, remote of any tree,
The sky is an inclusive drift
Of radiance chastening, endlessly,
Needless invention, needless thrift.

Sapphics and Uncertainties: Poems 1970-1986


I belong to the wonderfully supportive Southern Appalachian Writer's Cooperative

13 August 2007


Who we're watching

Alice Fulton

[from Alice Fulton’s “Give: Daphne and Apollo” in After Ovid: The New Metamorphoses, ed. Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun]

. . . Remember how

       music was aroused in the old technology?
The stylus vibrated, shaking a crystal in its head,
       and the groove culled this trembling.
The stylus made electrons fly
       from the atom, climb a wire through
the crystal to the gate. There

       the slight current was amplified,
bridling the large —

       and vinyl gave
rise to sonatas, rise to bop.

       This gives the odd god
and hound dog, dolphin and electron,
       the novation and the moment
of change. Since the truly new
looks truly wrong at first,

       it gives the sublime and grotesque,
hoping you’ll receive them kindly,
hoping for the best — newness
       being not so much a truth

as it is emotion.
Can you feel for the dark

       matter, background
lines of lace of brides? Will you
       receive the hybridized and recombined,
the downsized and the amplified?

The greenery and systemic herbicide:
       the laurel wreath. . . .

After Ovid: New Metamorphoses

12 August 2007

Thom Gunn

[from Thom Gunn's Collected Poems, 1994]


Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake.
I woke. What beasthood skin she made me take?

Leather toad that ruts for days on end,
Or cringing dribbling dog, man's servile friend,

Or cat that prettily pounces on its meat,
Tortures it hours, then does not care to eat:

Parrot, moth, shark, wolf, crocodile, ass, flea.
What germs, what jostling mobs there were in me.

These seem like bristles, and the hide is tough.
No claw or web here: each foot ends in hoof.

Into what bulk has method disappeared?
Like ham, streaked, I am gross — gray, gross, flap-eared.

The pale-lashed eyes my only human feature.
My teeth tear, tear. I am the snouted creature

That bites through anything, root, wire, or can.
If I was not afraid I'd eat a man.

Oh a man's flesh already is mine.
Hand and foot poised for risk. Buried in swine.

I root and root, you think that is greed,
It is, but I seek out a plant I need.

Direct me, gods, whose changes are all holy,
To where it flickers deep in grass, the moly:

Cool flesh of magic in each leaf and shoot,
From milky flower to the black forked root.

From this fat dungeon I could rise to skin
And human title, putting pig within.

I push my big gray wet snout through the green,
Dreaming the flower I have never seen.

Collected Poems

09 August 2007

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[from Walter Jackson Bate's Coleridge, 1968]

As to Nightingales — they are almost as numerous with us and as incessant in song as Frogs with you. Ah! (I groaned forth a few nights ago, when qualmy and twitchy from the effects of an Aperient) Ah! PHIlomel! ill do thy strains accord with those of CALomel!

. . .

I envy dear Southey's power of saying one thing at a time in short and close sentences, whereas my thoughts bustle along like a Surinam Toad, with little toads sprouting out of back, side, and belly, vegetating while it crawls


07 August 2007

Terri McCord

The marvelous and prolific Finishing Line Press will soon publish a chapbook by my friend and sister poet Terri McCord of Greenville, SC.

06 August 2007

Jilly Dybka

I suppose everyone except me knew that Wikipedia refers to my friend and sister poet Jilly Dybka in their Dock Ellis entry.

Anne Haines

I'm delighted to learn that Finishing Line Press is preparing to publish a chapbook by my friend and sister poet Anne Haines.

Ron Silliman

Read Ron's blog posting today, or at least this quoted paragraph:

Thus if poetry is about vocabulary & poems themselves are not referential, we have – no one is more clear about this than Ashbery – a hierarchy of vocabulary. At the pinnacle are the three great orienting pronouns, I, you and we, followed very closely by proper names – Rappahannock or Wimpy or whatever – followed by nouns, as such, then adverbs & verbs and then all other words. It is worth noting that what puts the three pronouns at the pinnacle is their implication of presence, these invariably are the pronouns of immanence, as he, she and they are not.

05 August 2007

Ernst Bloch

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation]

We hypothesize and project thought and imagination into the 'if-ness', into the free conditionalities of the unknown. Such projection is no logical muddle, no abuse of induction. It is far more than a probabilistic convention. It is the master nerve of human action. Counter-factuals and conditionals, argues Bloch, make up a grammar of constant renewal. They force us to proceed afresh in the morning, to leave failed history behind. Otherwise our posture would be static and we would choke on disappointed dreams. . . . Bloch has insisted that 'reasonings on a supposition' are not, as Hume in his exercise of systematic doubt ruled, 'chimerical and without foundation'. They are, on the contrary, the means for our survival and the distinctive mechanism of personal and social evolution. Natural selection, as it were, favoured the subjunctive.

04 August 2007

Sir Thomas Urquhart's Logopandecteision of 1653

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation]

The object is 'to appropriate the words of the universal language with the things of the universe'. Only a 'Grammatical Arithmetician' . . . will bring about this indispensable accord. Urquhart's interlingua contains eleven genders and ten cases besides the nominative. Yet the entire edifice is built on 'but two hundred and fifty prime radices upon which all the rest are branches'. Its alphabet counts ten vowels, which also serve as digits, and twenty-five consonants; together these articulate all sounds of which the vocal organs of man are capable. This alphabet is a powerful means of arithmetical logic: 'What rational Logarithms do by writing, this language doth by heart; and by adding of letters, shall multiply numbers; which is a most exquisite secret.' The number of syllables in a word, moreover, is proportionate to the number of its significations. Urquhart kept his 'exquisite secret' but the anticipation of his claim on modern symbolic logic and computer languages is striking. As is Urquhart's assurance that the phonetic and syntactic rules of his 'universal character' have inherent mnemonic advantages. A child, he says, will acquire fluency in the new speech with little effort because the structure of the idiom in fact reproduces and reenacts the natural articulations of thought.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

Kamau Braithwaite

[from Kamau Braithwaite's Dreamstories, 1998]

from The Black Angel

                                          . . .but like he cdn't hear be->
cause i cdn't speak and in anycase my words. as words. fall>>
chalk & foolish on my tongue

Dreamstories (Longman Caribbean Writers)

03 August 2007

George Steiner

[from George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language & Translation, 1998]

It is likely that the current of language passing through the mind, either in voluntary self-address or in the perhaps random but almost certainly uninterrupted soliloquy of mental activity, contributes largely to the definition of 'interior time' . . .

The modulations of inference, of provisionality of conjecture, of hope through which consciousness maps ahead of itself, are facts of grammar. . . .

The tragic vision of Greek literature turns on this deep paradox: the event most expected, most consequent on the internal logic of action, is always the most surprising . . . We know precisely what Oedipus will discover -- in a crucial sense he too has known all along. Yet with each narration or performance of the fable our sense of shock is renewed. . . . Eteocles' knowledge that death waits for him at the seventh gate does not void his action; it gives it the dignity of meaning.

[Thucydides] The past tense of the verb is the sole guarantor of history.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

Christopher Isherwood

[from Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Prater Violet, 1945]

The King’s Road was wet-black, and deserted as the moon. . . . The little houses had shut their doors against all strangers and were still, waiting for dawn, bad news and the milk. There was nobody about. Not even a policeman. Not even a cat.

It was that hour of the night at which man’s ego almost sleeps.

Robert Creeley

[from Robert Creeley's The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 2006]

The World

I wanted so ably
to reassure you, I wanted
the man you took to be me,

to comfort you, and got
up, and went to the window,
pushed back, as you asked me to,

the curtain, to see
the outline of the trees
in the night outside.

The light, love,
the light we felt then,
greyly, was it, that

came in, on us, not
merely my hands or yours,
or a wetness so comfortable,

but in the dark then
as you slept, the grey
figure came so close

and leaned over,
between us, as you
slept, restless, and

my own face had to
see it, and be seen by it,
the man it was, your

grey lost tired bewildered
brother, unused, untaken —
hated by love, and dead,

but not dead, for an
instant, saw me, myself
the intruder, as he was not.

I tried to say, it is
all right, she is
happy, you are no longer

needed. I said,
he is dead, and he
went as you shifted

and woke, at first afraid,
then knew by my own knowing
what had happened —

and the light then
of the sun coming
for another morning
in the world.

The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1975-2005

David Ferry

[from David Ferry’s Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, 1999]

Character Analysis of Mary in Earlier Life

Her spinster eccentricity often
Said things for the sake of startling you.

She was like that. It seemed a form of shyness,
Putting you off with her charm flirtatiously.

It was a powerful entrapped wild innocent conventional nature.

The rage in her charm steadily
Burned its way through the materials of her life

So that there was always almost nothing left.
To put it another way:

Where she was was always stranded on a high platform
She got to on high heels getting across

On a tight rope strung out over the abyss.

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Phoenix Poets Series)