28 May 2007

James Hyman Singer

When a poet presents a series of logical thoughts in a poem, it is not to express the logic of his thoughts and thus to allow the reader to draw their logical corollaries and mnemonics -- rather, it is to force the reader through the thinking of these thoughts, since the process of thinking them is an essential part of the experience which he wishes to re-create in the reader. It does not matter therefore if one logical sequence is placed alongside another with which it is logically irreconciliable, provided that both series properly belong to the experience in which they are involved.

27 May 2007

Basil Bunting

[from Michael Schmidt's Lives of the Poets, 1998]

Legend has it that in his teens [Basil] Bunting, il miglior schoolboy, "edited down" Shakespeare's sonnets, rather as Pound was to do with Eliot's The Waste Land, hacking out superfluous words, adjusting sentence structure, finding an essential poem under the accretions of convention. The volume in which he performed this surgery no longer exists . . .

26 May 2007

Maxine Kumin

[from Maxine Kumin's Selected Poems: 1960-1990]

The Dreamer, the Dream

After the sleeper has burst his night pod
climbed up out of its silky holdings
the dream must stumble alone now
must mope in the hard eye of morning

in search of some phantom outcome
while on both sides of the tissue
the dreamer walks into the weather
past time in September woods in the rain

where the butternuts settle around him
louder than tears and in fact he comes
upon great clusters of honey mushrooms
breaking the heart of old oak

a hundred caps grotesquely piggyback
on one another, a caramel mountain
all powdered with their white spores
printing themselves in no notebook

and all this they do in secret
climbing behind his back
lumbering from their dark fissure
going up like a dream going on.

Selected Poems 1960-1990

18 May 2007

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Kayaking Folly Creek

I want to turtle along,
slide my kayak into a tidal creek,
flare the white paddle into green water
and skim between the tips of grasses,
swing the pointed bow around a bend

to see the sun rise on the first of November,
the wind blow up across land and water,
an S-shaped channel of shine bearing
shallows here, narrows there,
dawdle without a map to a sandbar

where gulls and hooded mergansers,
cormorants, willets, and pipers
gather to sleep or dry their wings or
balance on one leg, hop from time to time,
not feeding but alert to possibility.

         -> next

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

A Dog’s Fiddle

A moon is waning above the field,
crushing the features of the face
or scrubbing them, to a desiccating gradient —
a finish — frayed, narrowed, riddled, rued
— all disappear for orbital reasons,
the cycling round of dark and light,
green flash and restitution — the vagabond spoon,
the brindle cow, the dream-tipped sea.

[originally published in Pebble Lake Review]

         -> next

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

The Arms of Three Men

I’m scanning the forest for longleaf pines,
searching for the largest, alive or dead
or dying, lightning-struck, over-beetled.

Trees lean from the strain of tapping —
ax cuts angled like chevrons, slaves charged
with daily quotas, decades of tars dripped,

resins cupped from basins, overseers counting
the pines missed, the quarter-acres ignored.
I take to clasping pines. Bark weeps

at my fingers. I measure deadfall, decipher stumps
ringed by curling pages, wonder that three men
had time for holding hands, spanning trees.

         -> next

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Two Hungers

A rabbit bounds into the yard,
stops at the bed of gloriosa
dimming to copper.

It lowers its head for a leaf
then sits tall while chewing,
green hanging from its mouth,
cheeks working ’til the leaf is gone.

One leaf after another,
the daisy stems tremble
as leaves are torn away.

We spread our toast with peach
and watch ’til we are full.

         -> next

Carol Peters

[from Muddy Prints, Water Shine]

Lake Sunset

A Canada goose
feels its double unfold;
gray wings burn gold.

A cloud camel
inverts to ice cream cones
strung from ribbons.

Gusts high and low
remodel a range of dunes
into orange begging bowls and then

blues dim,
mirrors unsilver,
and the goose swims alone.

         -> next

17 May 2007

James Baker Hall

[from James Baker Hall's The Total Light Process: New & Selected Poems, 2004]

During the Night

one of the seven sleepers
was taken by a slow, fluid elongation
of his features head first

through a hole in the wall
several feet above his pallet.

Like a forked tongue drawn back
into the maw. There was no
sound. This shows

that six men slept
through an entire night
in which their lives
were understood finally

as a dream. Toward dawn
the argument ensued

concerning the extent
to which his features
were distorted at the moment

of disappearance & the meaning
of that aspect of the event. This shows
that what lay inside the hole
was known to all.
They fully expected
to meet wickedness on the road
outside, shaped
as a man. They even believed

they would recognize him
as their lost friend
& with his wine sack
welcome him back.

This shows how the Mother draws,
up the flue of darkness.
What voice is this

trailing him like soot, wafting him
into the night like smoke?
In the circulation

of early light she appears
young. Having risen from a lover's sleep
she makes her way
with a clothes basket

to the river

Total Light Process: New & Selected Poems (Kentucky Voices)

Al Maginnes

[from Al Maginnes's The Light in Our Houses, 2000]

The Language of Birds

What does the river say to a woman
sleeping beneath a window left open
so she can hear its murmur and roll all night?
With first light, migrations of birds
will rise out of damp tatters of grass
to fill the empty tent sky raises over water.

The birds do not know the river's name,
do not spend hours, as she does, watching
its topography. They only know the blood-urge
lifting them into flight, the compass guiding them
down the wide alley of water. And the woman
sleeping below them is filled

with the language of birds,
her limbs weaving patterns of flight
as if she might rise at any moment
from the ropy nest of sheets, as if this house,
the car that ferries her to a job
she endures, the little square of garden

she turns anew each spring,
mattock blade lifting like a wing
to bury itself in damp soil,
all could be erased if the next motion
might discover her in flight.
Once or twice a week, after work, she drives

to a bar to drink and watch day smolder,
bed of burning feathers, the deep, temporary red
a glaring screen across the window. Sometimes she takes home
a man with the air of other places about him.
In bed, most of them are quick and clumsy,
as if they do not trust her not to vanish.

In the morning, the river looks wider,
less passable than before, each of them
shuffling through farewells rehearsed
since their bodies rolled apart. Still,
she dreams of the one whose hand
will awaken upon her, will translate flight

into the world of flesh that is also
the world of disapointment. Only in sleep
does she progress toward the invisible
places birds and rivers know.
Once, at dawn, she startled a gray water bird
out of the high weeds whiskering the bank.

Its wings wide as any man's span,
it rose with the slow assurance
of one who carries his destination
wherever he goes, who knows
that any resting place is temporary,
no matter what name it is given.

The Light in Our Houses (Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry)

15 May 2007

Terrance Hayes

[from Terrance Hayes's Hip Logic, 2002]


Walking our boundaries
We arrived at my mother's island

We entered silence

We have no passions left to love
We were born in a poor time

What am I ready to lose
What anger in my hard-won bones

What hues lie in the slit
When a mask breaks
When love leaps from my mouth

Who are you
Without expectation

Hip Logic (National Poetry Series)

12 May 2007

Elizabeth Alexander

[from Elizabeth Alexander's Black Interior, 2004]

I mean to make a point about myopia. When Basquiat's not being called a savage, he's being called brilliant because of the way his work is supposed to pay homage to white artists. The point is, what do critics, whose job it is to see and contextualize, bother to know about black artists and how do the limitations on that knowledge make them canonize a Basquiat who only makes sense in the most offensive racist scenarios.

Basquiat's work is made for other men. . . . His fiercely intelligent work (work "about knowing," in the words of Robert Storr) and thrilling high-wire chutzpah encoded a blackness to be read and deciphered. If you can "read" this work, it suggests, then you can be a smarty-pants, too. These drawings are filled with glyphs, words that do not lead to tidy comprehension. . .

Basquiat's work relishes the visceral experience of reading as well as the acts of attaining and displaying black male knowledge when the world wants to see you as all brawn and penis and savagery. Basquiat's work is a meditation on the science of outré black elegance and offers a kind of black male brilliance, a potential paradigm for other artists' work.

The Black Interior

11 May 2007

Carol Frost

[from Carol Frost’s The Queen’s Desertion, 2006]

The St. Louis Zoo

         The isle is full of noises,
         Sounds and sweet airs . . . sometimes voices.
                 — The Tempest

High, yellow, coiled, and weighting the branch like an odd piece of fruit,
     a snake slept
by the gate, in the serpent house. I walked around the paths hearing

hushed air, piecemeal remarks, and the hoarse voice of the keeper
     spreading cabbage
and pellets in the elephant compound — “Hungry, are you? There’s a girl.

How’s Pearl?” — A clucking music, then silence again crept past me
on the waters of the duck pond. Birds with saffron wings in the flight

and flamingos the color of mangoes, even their webbed feet red-orange,
     made so
“by the algae they ingest,” as angels are made of air — some bickered,

some were tongue-tied, some danced on one leg in the honeyed light.
I thought of autumn as leaves scattered down. Nearby, closed away

in his crude beginnings in a simulated rain forest, the gorilla pulled out
of grass, no Miranda to teach him to speak, though he was full of noises

and rank air after swallowing. Smooth rind and bearded husks lay about
His eyes were ingots when he looked at me.

In late summer air thick with rose and lily, I felt the old malevolence;
the snake tonguing the air, as if to tell me of its dreaming: — birds
     of paradise

gemming a pond; the unspooling; soft comings on, soft, soft
gestures, twisted and surreptitious; the shock; the taste; the kingdom.

In something more than words, You are the snake, snake coils in you,
it said. Do you think anyone knows its own hunger as well as the snake?

Why am I not just someone alive? When did Spirit tear me
to see how void of blessing I was? The snake hesitated, tasting dusk’s

to feel if it was still good. And through its swoon
it knew it. Leaf, lichen, the least refinements, and the perfection.

The Queen's Desertion: Poems

06 May 2007

Emily Dickinson


Renunciation — is a piercing Virtue —
The letting go
A Presence — for an Expectation —
Not now —
The putting out of Eyes —
Just Sunrise —
Lest Day —
Day’s Great Progenitor —
Renunciation — is the Choosing
Against itself —
Itself to justify
Unto itself —
When larger function —
Make that appear —
Smaller — that Covered Vision — Here —

05 May 2007

Camille Dungy

[from Camille Dungy’s What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison, 2006]

To Put Things Right

What I saw first was an elephant rising,
and though the sight was glorious, it was not
half so decadent as other feasts offered up
that day — women robed in flame wishing
through air toward men in hats as tall as I
on legs as tall as father who held hoops
through which the women sped before arrowing,
violent and graceful as phoenix, into a pool
and streaming out, one, two, three, four, five
spangled flyers from one, two, three, four,
even five corners of the cornerless pool,
into our thick applause — so that I let go
her rising and fed my eyes to gluttony.

But it is that first sight I would sip up

had I to choose just one of my lives
to live again. The first crunch of sawdust
beneath my feet, her knees. Popcorn stalled
between my hand and mouth. There was meal enough
in the sight of her rising. First, just her
on her knees, skin char-gray under those glares —
even her naked hairs showing — and then her rising;
the earth shifted forward under the press of her knees,
and I tilted with it, we all tilted forward, so she could rise
ever so slowly (we heard trust in her heaves of breath),
and we were not breathing; an elephant stumbled,
we understood, as anyone might, we swallowed;
and then her rising, and the world put right,
and women, robed in flame, wishing through air.

What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison

02 May 2007

how Homer describes injury

[from Robert Fagles translation of Homer's Odyssey]

Odysseus aimed and shot Antinous square in the throat
and the point went stabbing clean through the soft neck and out —
and off to the side he pitched, the cup dropped from his grasp
as the shaft sank home, and the man's life-blood came spurting
from his nostrils —
                          thick red jets —
                                                 a sudden thrust of his foot —
he kicked away the table —
                                       food showered across the floor,
the bread and meats soaked in a swirl of bloody filth.

The Odyssey