Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cry Again

Sorry for the radio silence, blogosphere. Lots of things have been happening, for which I'm very thankful. It's been a veritable whirlwind. Boone (pictured above, loving life) has made his triumphant return the the dog park, I published an article on the writing life over at the Wall Street Journal (strange days), I've celebrated my 26th birthday, and, perhaps most importantly, my flag football team remains undefeated through week 3. The sun is slowly returning itself to the PNW and, boy, are we ready for it.


Killer first line of the moment:

"2000 years and he's still rising."

from "Jesus, the Perfect Lover" by Catie Rosemurgy
(My Favorite Apocalypse, Graywolf Press, 2001)

-via NYT

-via NYT


When people ask me what being a young poet is like, I give them that tired bit we’ve all probably heard of academia in general — it’s like Hollywood without the money. Every time I send a poem or manuscript out for publication, I enter into a huge lottery. The slush pile is like an open call: I study, write, practice a craft, and stand before a group of anonymous folk who dependent not only the quality of my work but hundreds of other unaccountable variables — how their day was, who they’re currently reading, whether or not they react to this certain style, whether or not they’re facebooking while going through the electronic submission manager, or whatever – decide on whether or not to publish a piece. But unlike nailing the audition of a lifetime, my payout is next to nil. The poem gets picked up by a journal I respect that has maybe circulation of 2,000, and sometimes, very rarely, I get a check for $15. With that check I buy a bottle and cry again about not going to law school.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

"In View of the Fact" by A.R. Ammons

In View of the Fact

The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, A 60-year-old who

died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, babies, such a hullabaloo:

now, it's this that and the other and somebody
else gone or on the brink: well, we never

thought we would live forever (although we did)
and now it looks like we won't: some of us

are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
what they went downstairs for, some know that

a hired watchful person is around, some like
to touch the cane tip into something steady,

so nice: we have already lost so many,
brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our

address books for so long a slow scramble now
are palimpests, scribbble and scratches: our

index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:

at the same time we are getting used to so
many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip

to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
congestive heart failures or brain tumors, on

the nice old men left in empty houses or on
the widows who decide to travel a lot: we

think the sun may shine someday when we'll
drink wine together and think of what used to

be: until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every

loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter

and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way ....

A.R. Ammons
found in Till I End My Song; A Gathering Of Last Poems, Ed. Harold Bloom (Harper, 2010)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"V" by Adrienne Rich (from "Twenty-One Love Poems")


This apartment full of books could crack open
to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes
of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you’ve loved—
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children—
women, deviants, witnesses—in desert sand.
Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books
so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types;
yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift
loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind,
Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide,
and the ghosts—their hands, clasped for centuries—
of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake,
centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves;
and we still have to stare into the absence
of men who would not, women who could not, speak
to our life—this still unexcavated hole
called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.

-from The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich (W.W. Norton, 1978)

Friday, April 15, 2011

"That Saturday Without a Car" by Stephen Dunn

That Saturday Without a Car

for Ellen Dunn (1910-1969)

Five miles to my mother’s house,
a distance I’d never run.
“I think she’s dead”
my brother said, and hung up

as if with death
language should be mercifully approximate,
should keep the fact
that would forever be fact

at bay. I understood,
and as I ran wondered what words
I might say, and to whom.
I saw myself opening the door—

my brother, both of us, embarrassed
by the sudden intimacy we’d feel.
We had expected it
but we’d expected it every year

for ten: her heart was the best
and worst of her—every kindness
fought its way through damage,
her breasts disappeared

as if the heart itself, for comfort,
had sucked them in.
And I was running better
than I ever had. How different it was

from driving, the way I’d gone
to other deaths—
my body fighting it all off, my heart,
this adequate heart, getting me there.

-from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994 by Stephen Dunn (W.W. Norton, 1994)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dog-Eared Pages, Underlined Sentences (#2)

“There are of course additional reasons to read poems, and reasons to learn to read them well even if they may seem at times to be written in a baffling or unnecessary code. One is, you will feel less lonely. In the company of the world’s poems a reader discovers that the terrain of a life, its core griefs and core exhilarations, are not traversed entirely alone. Others have cut paths through the same thickets, found passes through the same mountains. This evidence of companionship may sometimes bring practical assistance along the way, at other times it may only help the walking feel less hard. At still other times, though, a poem can become the single point of light in a vast darkness—a small, infinitely distant, and yet still-sufficient star to steer by.”
-Jane Hirshfield, from “Telescope, Well Bucket, Furnace: Poetry Beyond the Classroom”

“We will discover that God made not only the parts of Creation that we humans understand and approve but all of it: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” And so we must credit God with the making of biting and stinging insects, poisonous serpents, weeds, poisonous weeds, dangerous beasts, and disease-causing microorganisms. That we may disapprove of these things does not mean that God is in error or that He ceded some of the work of Creation to Satan; it means that we are deficient in wholeness, harmony, and understanding—that is, we are “fallen.””
-Wendell Berry, from “Christianity and the Survival of Creation”

“As if to say that all boundaries are necessary evils and that the truly desirable condition is the feeling of being unbounded, of being king of infinite space. And it is that double capacity that we possess as human beings—the capacity to be attracted at one and the same time to the security of what is intimately known and to the challenges and entrancements of what is beyond us—it is this double capacity that poetry springs from and addresses. A good poem allows you to have your feet on the ground and your head in the air simultaneously.”
-Seamus Heaney, from “Something to Write Home About”

“But writing itself is one of the great, free human activities. There is scope for individuality, and elation, and discovery, in writing. For the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him, the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream. Working back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision.”
-William Stafford, from “A Way of Writing”

“People do want to, and I include myself in this, hide behind some kind of comforting illusion and it’s not because they’re stupid, it’s not because they’re less fully alive, it’s just that they’re terrified and need reassurance that they have some control over what’s happening to them, or that there’s some kind of, oh I don’t know, some kind of purpose to things that often feel as if they have no purpose. That all suffering can be redeemed. And so I have respect for people’s resistances to the truth [laughs]. Because I feel it in myself, but the job of poetry is partly to resist that resistance, and look at the world, the best and worst it has to offer, as unflinchingly as possible. And if poetry transforms experience into beauty, it has to be the kind of beauty that doesn’t falsify the reality that it’s pretending to represent.”
-Alan Shapiro, in an interview with RATTLE

"April" by Louise Gluck


No one’s despair is like my despair—

You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.

Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all of your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.

-from The Wild Iris by Louise Glück (Ecco Press, 1992)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Ars Poetica" by Charles Wright

Ars Poetica

I like it back here

Under the green swatch of the pepper tree and the aloe vera.
I like it because the wind strips down the leaves without a word.
I like it because the wind repeats itself, and the leaves do.

I like it because I’m better here than I am there,

Surrounded by fetishes and figures of speech:
Dog’s tooth and Whale’s tooth, my father’s shoe, the dead weight
Of winter, the inarticulation of joy…

The spirits are everywhere.

And once I have them called down from the sky, and spinning and
dancing in the palm of my hand,
What will it satisfy?

I’ll still have

The voices rising out of the ground,
The fallen star my blood feeds, this business I waste my heart on.

And nothing stops that.

-from The Southern Cross by Charles Wright (Random House, 1977)


It's National Poetry Month! I'll be participating in two separate but equally excellent celebrations courtesy of Deborah Ager at 32 Poems and Kelli Russell Agodon at Book of Kells. For the former, I'll be recommending five poetry collections that are important to me and saying a little bit about why. My picks will go up on April 11th. For the latter, I'll be giving away two books as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway! Leave a comment on the Giveaway post to be entered! I'll also be posting poems I dig throughout the month, as well as poetry-related snippets that seem worth sharing--not much rhyme or reason there, and likely something that will continue past April...


-via NYT


Killer first line of the moment:

"It's strange what the past brings back."

from "Driving Through Tennessee" by Charles Wright
(The Southern Cross, Random House, 1977)

-listen to the entire new Paul Simon album over at NPR


A generational shift is taking place in which longer forms of writing are being replaced with shorter ones, and sustained thought with shallower forms of multitasking. Those skills have value, but a growing percentage of students are arriving at college without ever having written a research paper, read a novel, or taken an essay examination. And those students do not perceive that they have missed something in their education; after all, they have top grades. In that context, the demands of professors for different kinds of work can seem bewildering and unreasonable, and students naturally gravitate to courses with more-familiar expectations. Without a carefully structured curriculum with required courses and regulation of standards across comparable courses, it's possible to graduate without acquiring foundational skills. Lacking proper preparation for college-level work, it's no wonder that so many students resort to plagiarism and paper mills, particularly since untenured college teachers—more than 70 percent of the faculty and growing—do not have the support needed to counter rampant cheating. And students know it.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Dog-Eared Pages, Underlined Sentences (#1)

“One of the reasons I write poems is that they make revelation possible. I sometimes think I ought to spend the rest of my life writing a single poem whose action reaches an epiphany only at the point of exhaustion, in the combustion of the whole life, and continues and renews, until it blows away like a puff of milkweed. “
-Stanley Kunitz, an interview with Paris Review

“It is the gap between what one wants to say (or what one perceives there is to say) and what one can say (what is sayable), words provide for a collaboration and a desertion. We delight in our sensuous involvement with the materials of language, we long to join words to the world—to close the gap between ourselves and things, and we suffer from doubt and anxiety as to our capacity to do so because of the limits of language itself.”
-Lyn Hejinian in “The Rejection of Closure”

“The thing that obsesses me is always beyond language. Language is almost an inconvenience. I have a feeling that no matter what kind of art we’re practicing, at some point we become hyper-aware of our medium. If we’re painting it’s paint and if writing it’s the language. But if we don’t at some point move beyond our hyper-consciousness of language, we’re stuck in the land of the medium. On that plane, only the relationships of words to other words is available, while the relationships of words to their ground, mother-silence, on the one hand, and to the concepts they name, on the other hand, gets abandoned…The beautiful Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, said something like—the difference between prose and poetry is that in prose you use language and in poetry, you yield to language. It feels like there’s this weird dialectic between us and the language. I can’t tell whether we just yield to it or we bend it. Maybe both. Sometimes it feels like we’re bending the language. Maybe it’s a process of self-making. I can’t tell.”
-Li-Young Lee, an interview with The Writer’s Chronicle

“What is this enigmatic impulse that does not allow one to settle down in the achieved, the finished? I think it is a quest for reality. I give to this word its naïve and solemn meaning, a meaning having nothing to do with philosophical debates of the last few centuries. It is the Earth as seen by Nils from the back of the gander and by the author of the Latin ode from the back of Pegasus. Undoubtedly, that Earth is and her riches cannot be exhausted by any description. To make such an assertion means to reject in advance a question we often hear today: “What is reality?”, for it is the same as the question of Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” If among pairs of opposites which we use every day, the opposition of life and death has such an importance, no less importance should be ascribed to the oppositions of truth and falsehood, of reality and illusion.”
-Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel Prize Lecture (1980)

“In short, whatever the work is supposed to be,
Let it be true to itself, essentially simple.”
-Horace (trans. David Ferry) in “The Art of Poetry: Notes for Aspiring Poets and Playwrights”

“And reject the angel, and give the muse a kick in the seat of the pants, and conquer our fear of the violet smile exhaled by the eighteenth-century poetry, and of the great telescope in whose lens the muse, sickened by its limits, is sleeping.”
—Federico Garcia Lorca (trans. Christopher Mauer), in “Play and Theory of the Duende”

“Poets, if they’re genuine, must also keep repeating “I don’t know.” Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift, absolutely inadequate to boot. So the poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their “oeuvre”…”
—Wislawa Szymborska (trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh), Nobel Lecture (1996): “The Poet and the World”

“From all this, my friends, there arises an insight which the poet must learn through other people. There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song—but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.”
—Pablo Neruda, Nobel Lecture (1971): “Towards the Splendid City”

“Aristotle, I have been told, has said that poetry is the most philosophic of all writing: it is so: its object is truth, not individual and local, but general, and operative; not standing upon external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion; truth which is its own testimony, which gives competence and confidence to the tribunal to which it appeals, and receives them from the same tribunal. Poetry is the image of man and nature…”
—William Wordsworth, “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Triphammer Bridge" by A.R. Ammons

Triphammer Bridge

I wonder what to mean by sanctuary, if a real or
apprehended place, as of a bell rung in a gold
surround, or as of silver roads along the beaches

of clouds seas don’t break or black mountains
overspill; jail: ice here’s shapelier than anything,
on the eaves massive, jawed along gorge ledges, solid

in the plastic blue boat fall left water in: if I
think the bitterest thing I can think of that seems like
reality, slickened back, hard, shocked by rip-high wind:

sanctuary, sanctuary, I say it over and over and the
word’s sound is the one place to dwell: that’s it, just
the sound, and the imagination of the sound—a place.

-from The Selected Poems by A.R. Ammons (W.W. Norton, 1986)