Everywhere people are longing for a deeper life.
Let’s hope some acrobat will come by
And give us a hint how to get into heaven.
Robert Bly, awarded the 2013 Frost Medal, read from his work to an enthusiastic overflow crowd at the Poetry Society of America’s 103rd Annual Awards Ceremony hosted by Alice Quinn on April 5th. These closing lines, read toward the end of the evening, from Bly’s “Longing for the Acrobat” echoed Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s citation honoring the first reader, Lizza Rodriguez, the high school student winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award. Rodriguez and her teacher Jen Karetnick (pictured above with the 2012 Frost Medalist Marilyn Nelson) made the trip from Miami Shores, Fl, for the awards ceremony. Calvocoressi citing lines from Rodriguez’s award-winning poem,
I was dilly dialing
when the phone rang
then I ran out
like red roses
wrote of her “perfect balance of formal rigor and imaginative acrobatics.” From Lizza Rodriguez’s reading to the last lines of “Wanting Sumptuous Heavens,” as Robert Bly, poet, teacher, preacher, reformer, editor, translator, theorist and champion of the work of many of his contemporaries took us through the sounds – grumbles, summer, thumbs, come, grumbling, comfortable, sumptuous -- the evening was lively with words and talent and noisy with enthusiastic applause. Hardly a moment’s dip or lull.
Today the exception to
that every rule has an exception
violated itself into a bright
metastasis of unfastening
while I rested my head against
In her citation honoring Ted Mathys, Alice Notely wrote, in part, “A said thing is only a said thing – though it may be true –but you can just as easily say the opposite.” Negations and reverses of the most pleasing sort, playful but not only, a poem to share with others, it ends (or perhaps doesn’t), with
Lightning can strike the same place twice.
Lightning can strike the same place twice.
Elyse Fenton took the red-eye from her home in Portland, Oregon, to read from her manuscript Sweet Insurgent Friday night.
…but after impact he opened
the door & walked away. Hello
tenacious earth. Sometimes
you have to practice crying uncle
for years to make it stick
Of Elyse Fenton’s poems, which won the Alice Fay di Castagnola award for a manuscript-in-progress, Kevin Prufer wrote “they are alive to our historical moment, inspiring us to re-think our place in a constantly shifting political and ethical world.” Her manuscript-in-progress is now a manuscript out for consideration for publication.
Carol Light may have come farther than any of the other winners to attend the awards ceremony, flying in from Rome where she is teaching spring semester to receive the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award for original work, mid-career, without prior substantial recognition.
The sky is a bouquet of old news.
Its gap-toothed vendor was Italian;
his roses unfurl galaxies.
If history is a map of courage,
then the heart is made of helium.
Her poem “Hertzsprung-Russell” is part of her book Heaven From Steam – twenty-two skies and eighteen yets, forthcoming from Able Muse Press. David Wagoner, citing Carol Light’s work, wrote that she “writes out of the belief that…sound, rhythm, and meaning are of nearly equal importance in a poem…[and that she] is always using formal cadence instead of allowing it to over-control the rhythms of common speech.”
The life of the party slits its wrists. Its wrists
slit their wrists. The wrist of the world
wears a Patek Philippe Henry Graves
Supercomplication. Which is not a wristwatch but a pocket
crowd out the black.
Not one of them
brings me wisdom.
provide no armor.
I still quiver
to anyone's dart.
In the award citation, B. H. Fairchild said, “Ezra Pound noted that poetry severed from music atrophies, and since the earliest poems of her first book, Ring Song, in 1952, Replansky has become the master of a Blakean music radically unfashionable in its devotion to song-like meters…” Before the reading, the crowd included many Naomi Replansky admirers, long familiar with her work and delighted to join in the award’s expression of deep gratitude; after the reading, her fans numbered even more. Her “About Not Writing” is posted on the Poetry Society of America Website along with more complete poems of all of those honored, including those who could not attend the evening’s celebration: Micah Bateman, Greg Wrenn, Paula Bohince, Gary Young, and Lucia Perillo.
Martin Espada, who shares the 2013 Shelley Memorial Award with Lucia Perillo, certainly did not sever the music. He read poems from The Trouble Ball, including “The Playboy Calendar and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” and “Isabel’s Corrido,” with these ending lines.
Thirty years ago, a girl from the land of Zapata kissed me once
on the lips and died with my name nailed to hers like a broken door.
I kept a snapshot of the wedding; yesterday it washed ashore on my desk.
There was a conspiracy to commit a crime. This is my confession: I’d do it again.
Strains from this last line resurfaced as Robert Bly read from “Ravens Hiding in a Shoe.”
Robert, you’ve wasted so much of your life
Sitting indoors to write poems. Would you
Do that again? I would, a thousand times.
With this poem, he settled into a conversational, call-and-response reading, the poet of solitude opening out to the community. “Is that true?” he would stop to ask the audience, read another line and then again, “Is that true?” Ted Mathys’s negations and reversals draw close to these lines, also from "Ravens Hiding in a Shoe."
Each sentence we speak to friends means the opposite
As well. Each time, we say, “I trust in God,” it means
God has already abandoned us a thousand times.
The audience’s response was enthusiastic – Yes. Yes. Yes. to his “Is that true?” and then a prolonged No…in response to his amused query “Am – I – emphasizing – each -- word – too -- much?”
“Like Ezra Pound half a century earlier, Bly has centered himself in poetry and proceeded to radiate his energies out to nearly all corners of the world of letters,” wrote Askold Melnyczuk in his 1988 Partisan Review critique of Bly’s Selected Poems. His work, his many roles defy summation, making Billy Collins' Citation all the more impressive. As he sat to read from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey side-by-side with his daughter Mary holding the microphone, Robert Bly seemed at the heart of all that had gone on in the preceding hours, in the words, the tributes, the audience participation and enthusiasm. More than one person in the audience told me how Robert Bly’s work in poetry and prose had opened the door to poetry for them and led them on to other poets – Rilke, Rumi, Machado, Neruda. Several had attended events at which Robert Bly had read over the years around the country.
With a large number from his family in attendance and a packed room full of admiring poetry readers, Robert Bly read most lines more than once, sometimes repeating parts of lines. We went down into the words with him, into the poem at the word level. Word by word.
And image by image.
I do love Yeats’s fierceness
As he jumped into a poem,
And that lovely calm in my father’s
Hands, as he buttoned his coat.
“I Have Daughters and I Have Sons" -- Robert Bly
Madge McKeithen has written about poems in several essays including those collected in her book, Blue Peninsula (FSG, 2006). She initiated the One Page Poetry Circle at the NYPL in 2006 and at the Darien Library in 2009. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Utne Reader, The New York Times Book Review, and Best American Essays 2011. She teaches nonfiction in the Writing Program at the New School and blogs at madgemckeithen.com