I want to call attention to two masterpieces of the genre. The first is the encounter of William Wordsworth, or “William Wordsworth,” and the Leech Gatherer in the poem “Resolution and Independence.” I put the author’s name in quotation marks because the poem is not a fully accurate account of their meeting on the moors; we have Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal entry of 3 October 1800 to remind us that this most sincere of all poets did not hesitate to recast his experience into a more perfect artistic form for his readers’ benefit. He was an artificer and sought a truth-to-life beyond the constraints of exact transcription.
Manipulation of details can be expected from a poem with such an overt therapeutic purpose. We know from biographical materials that this poem of 1802 is Wordsworth’s response to his friend Coleridge’s professions in person and in writing of his suffocating experiences of dejection. Wordsworth, also a prey to melancholy even in the happiest times of his life, harked back to an encounter two years previous and impersonated the malady he shared with his fellow poet. The first-person plural in the poem’s most famous couplet is no accident: “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness, / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” In no way does this biographical context impair the poem; quite the contrary. The formal question and answer structure, rendered in rhyme royal, sustains the dignity of a colloquy that might have become maudlin in the hands of a lesser poet.
The Leech Gatherer (the poem’s original title) seems at first to be the subordinate figure of the duo: “His body was bent double, feet and head / Coming together in life’s pilgrimage.” Add to his physical debility the fact that the leeches upon whose sale his survival depends have diminished in number over the years. Poor and exhausted, he is obviously close to death by natural causes. And yet this pathetic creature is full of good cheer, fortitude, and trust in his Creator. The speaker elicits the facts of the matter by repeated questions and remarks, during which time we as readers stand in awe of how the Leech Gatherer’s “discourse . . . // Cheerfully uttered, with demeanor kind” rebukes the poet’s anxiety and self-pity. That transmission of spiritual power complicates the narrative by means of a confusion of understanding as to just who is more or less fortunate, more glad and grateful to be alive. This confusion nourishes the paradox of the poem’s presence in our lives. The Leech Gatherer continues to be a consolatory figure for readers who may enjoy comfortable circumstances outwardly but suffer bouts of melancholy within. Paul Goodman wrote that he could not read the poem without weeping. (Lewis Carroll, who skewered it in a parody, apparently could not read it without laughing.) It remains an encounter poem we read throughout our life with mixed and deep feelings.
Compared to all the hundreds (thousands?) of commentaries Wordsworth’s poem has garnered, it is astonishing to me that a poem close to it in quality has received no lengthy readings at all (I hope to be corrected on this point). I refer to Robert Hayden’s “Aunt Jemima of the Ocean Waves” from his volume of 1970, Words in the Mourning Time, and reprinted in his Collected Poems. In Part I of this dramatic lyric the speaker wanders by a seaside minstrel/freak show featuring performers doing various sketches of a humiliating kind. “Poor devils have to live somehow,” he remarks to himself in a one-line stanza. Obviously dejected, he sits by the shore, and then in Part II he is joined by the woman who performs the role of Aunt Jemima, “fake mammy to God’s mistakes,” as she wisecracks. But like the Leech Gatherer she is full of good spirit and fills the rest of the poem with vivid autobiographical musings.
The speaker does not address her at all, making this poem a notable variation on the customary dialogue structure. (Forché directs no quoted speech to the Colonel either.) But we do hear his silent response, his meditation, or rather overhear it in the mode famously described by John Stuart Mill. Compared to Aunt Jemima’s fluent, idiomatic wit, his reactions, seemingly addressed as an aside to the reader, remain elevated in diction, professorial in allusion, and complex in syntax. What seems a mental withdrawal from interaction with his companion can also be read as an effort to translate the picaresque narrative of her life into high-culture literary language:
Scream of children in the surf,
adagios of sun and flashing foam,
the sexual glitter, oppressive fun. . .
an antique etching comes to mind:
“The Sable Venus” naked on
a baroque Cellini shell—voluptuous
imago floating in the wake
of slave-ships on fantastic seas.*
I’ve never been quite sure how to read this silent rejoinder to her discourse. He has acknowledged in Part I that he is a “confederate” of the minstrel show figures like Aunt Jemima and “Kokimo the Dixie Dancing Fool.” He too is black-skinned with a talent for self-invention. Is he evading the embarrassing implications of her demeaning self-portrait, as if turning away in shame from what she confesses is a degrading life of role-playing and deception? (She could be making it all up.) Or does he honor her by interpreting her adventurous life history as a high Romantic life-journey? In either case he has clearly retreated to the honorable role of Poet, master of language, inviting the reader’s admiration for his elevated rhetoric but covertly yielding the stage to her superior verbal skills. The last stanza is her unwitting rebuke of his quality reverie:
Jemima sighs. Reckon I’d best
be getting back. I help her up.
Don't take no wooden nickels, hear?
Tin dimes neither. So long, pal.
It’s too late for this advice, we think. His somewhat strained language—a deliberate risk on Hayden’s part—is precisely the stuff of legend and tradition that separates her low raffish idioms from his high eloquence and keeps her fixed in her lowly role as Aunt Jemima.
The poem is more complex than my few comments can begin to describe. By bringing these two figures into conjunction--alike in race, unlike in education and life experience--it challenges our good intentions of reading the plot in a straightforward, politically correct manner. The nervous speaker is too erudite to carry on a companionable conversation, and how strange that seems, to us as to him. The encounter is a dramatic and linguistic impasse, a stand-off of verbal styles. What gets transmitted to us is the same failure of class solidarity we glimpse in Wordsworth’s poem, but made more unsettling and ambiguous by the modernist manner of its clashing frames. This dissonant duet—she speaking to him, he speaking in monologue form to the reader—enlarges the genre of the encounter poem as befits a major poet.
If the alien figure of the Leech Gatherer looks forward in obvious ways to Aunt Jemima, he anticipates even more obviously Robert Frost’s haunting narrative, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” the quintessential Great Depression poem, in which an encounter occurs between the backwoods speaker (one has to grit one’s teeth not to type the words “Robert Frost”) who is chopping wood and two lumberjacks, though only one of them approaches the wary speaker and yells “Hit them hard!” (He is given no further speech.) By approaching closer to the chopping block, he makes clear his desire to usurp for pay the speaker’s satisfying task of preparing firewood for the cold season. Like the single utterance of La Belle Dame in Keats’s poem, these three words fix the “hulking” stranger as an archetype, in this case of the dangerous woods from which he emerges. Giving him no further speech is a mistake, I think. Frost’s long monologue in response can’t help but reduce the tramp to a prop, a poor occasion for the poet’s self-congratulating sermon about the proper way to behave “For Heaven and the future’s sakes.”
One final note. When we consider the figures of the Leech Gatherer and Aunt Jemima—neither is granted a personal name in the poems—we face the inescapable problem of whether to identify them as “doubles” for the poet in the manner Freud defines this elusive concept in his essay on “The Uncanny.” Encounter poems often do introduce a dyad in which one figure seems to represent the daimon of the other. Their dialogue enacts the psychic tensions felt by the speaker, who may or may not be trying to exorcise the mysterious personality spun off as a sibling or parent from his unconscious. When I wrote my poem on B. F. Skinner I intended it as an homage. Skinner first took shape as a patriarchal voice of rectitude in the music of time. But in reviewing the manuscript drafts I see how inevitably Skinner emerges as a venerable icon that the speaker treats irreverently. He and his utopian book are an affront to the twenty-year-old, fated to be an academic scholar as well, who confronts the master and uses the poem as a way to undermine him, if not to slay him in the Oedipal paradigm. Is there a more forgiving poem about B. F. Skinner out there? I sincerely hope so.
- The painting Hayden’s speaker has in mind can be seen by searching “The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies.”
(Laurence Goldstein is Professor of English at the University of Michigan and Editor Emeritus of Michigan Quarterly Review (1977-2009). His most recent book is a volume of poems, A Room in California (Northwestern University Press, 2005). A book of literary criticism, Poetry Los Angeles: Reading the City’s Essential Poems, is forthcoming from University of Michigan Press. )
(Ed note: We've been watching episodes of Spiral a French police procedural that's streaming on Netflix. It's wonderful, if a bit gruesome (I've had to leave the room more than once). The show has made me want to listen to more French so I have Pandora tuned to Charles Trenet radio and now I'm reminded of Roger Gilbert's post from June, 2008, reproduced below.-- sdh)
What if Irving Berlin and Frank Sinatra had been the same person? In France they were, and his name was Charles Trenet.
I’m taking a break from my posts on Ammons to share my newly revived passion for Trenet. While I’ve always enjoyed his lighthearted songs and his buoyant singing, I’ve only recently begun to appreciate his range and versatility. Trenet (1913-2001) wrote and performed hundreds of songs over the course of his more than sixty-year career; best-known in the US are “La Mer,” memorably recorded by Bobby Darin in an English version called “Beyond the Sea,” and “Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours,” recorded by Sinatra among others as “I Wish You Love.” But there are many other superb songs by Trenet that never crossed over to English. And while Trenet himself spent time in Hollywood, he didn’t achieve the level of transatlantic stardom accorded to fellow performers like Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, and Charles Aznavour. Yet in my opinion he was the greatest of all the French chanteurs, offering an incomparable blend of nostalgia, humor and joie de vivre, shot through with unexpected streaks of melancholy.
It may in part be a measure of how close-knit the French cultural world was in the 30s and 40s that Trenet associated with the likes of Saint-Exupery, Artaud, Cocteau, Colette, and Max Jacob. He harbored serious literary and artistic aspirations of his own, publishing novels and verse along with his copious chansons. A gay man compelled to keep his sexuality hidden for most of his career, he often called attention to the line between the performer’s mask and the poet’s soul. One of his most beautiful songs, “L’Ame des Poetes,” imagines a crowd of people singing the poet’s words after his death, “not knowing for whom his heart beat.” Here’s a video of Trenet singing it sometime in the 1970s:
His performance here is unusually muted; Trenet was generally known for his energetic, google-eyed manner. Here’s a clip from his first film, in which he calls to mind a singing Harpo Marx (he was known in this period as “le fou chantant” or “the singing clown”):
Finally, here is one of Trenet’s most famous songs, “Je Chante,” originally written in the 30s during the Depression. Trenet brings an irrepressible glee to his performance, but if one listens carefully to the lyrics they tell a surprisingly grim story of a wandering singer who begins to faint from hunger, is dragged off to jail, then praises the rope or “ficelle” with which he hangs himself for freeing his soul from his body:
Like the proprietor of this blog, I’m a diehard Sinatraphile, as well as a lover of the great American standards. But there is no one quite like Trenet in American popular music before the 1960s. While a few songwriters met with success as performers—Hoagie Carmichael, Johnny Mercer—none of them achieved Trenet’s dual standing as one of his country’s most beloved singers and songwriters. His songs are touching, hilarious, sweet, silly, and sad. Ecoutez-les!
(Ed. note: This is a continuation of Laurence Goldstein's essay about the encounter poem. Find part one here.)
Rules of the encounter poem:
1) For maximum effect, the narrative must dramatize a meeting between two people that is clearly a one-off, a nonce occurrence. These two people will never meet again, and that fact is understood by both parties. The unrepeatable quality of their encounter intensifies their emotional and intellectual exchange. Love poems do not belong in this category, nor poems of family and long friendship.
2) There is an imbalance, a fundamental incongruity, in their status. The speaker is likely to be the younger person, more a listener and learner taking mental notes. It is he or she who registers the impact of contact with a person likely to be somewhat exotic, exceptional, troubling, capable of surprising statements. The speaker is almost always impressed by the strangeness of the other’s presence.The best poems in this mode have that Pip-meets-Miss Havisham affect.
3) To say as much is to indicate the closeness of the genre to fiction and drama as models. The encounter poem treats scenes in ways familiar to all consumers of literature, film scripts, and popular songs. It is intertextual to a high degree, its practices open to introjection from a variety of familiar and recondite sources. The encounter poem sounds like a scene in a novel or a condensed short story. A certain moral weight attaches to the encounter poem because of its deliberate situation in the literary mainstream. Rules for social conduct are right on the surface.
4) There must be some dialogue to fulfill the above-mentioned dialogic structure of the dramatic lyric, though the speaker may prefer to direct his part of the conversation to the reader in the form of a meditative aside. Meetings with non-human creatures may have some of the same conventions as the encounter poem but their rhetorical strategies differ from this person-with-person mode. The epiphanies that belong to poems of contact with birds, fish, moose, skunks, groundhogs, bears, deer, dogs and cats (readers can supply some famous examples) differ from the turns and intentions of the interpersonal poem.
5). Likewise the allegorical conjunction of one human and one spirit figure do not qualify. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is one of the great ballads of the English language, but it does not advance by exchange of dialogue. The demon lover sings, sighs, and moans; she does not speak beyond her false declaration, “I love thee true.” (Nor does the “glimmering girl” in Yeats’s “The Song of Wandering Aengus” who calls her victim’s name but disappears before she can establish herself as anything other than an archetype.) I would make an exception of some special cases like T. S. Eliot’s encounter with the “familiar compound ghost” in “Little Gidding” and the dialogue of the two dead soldiers in Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting.” Probably it is Owen’s death in war that makes us subconsciously hear the “I” of the poem as the posthumous voice of the poet. Dialogues with God do not qualify for this category (sorry, George Herbert!) but because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are persons, a conversation with, say, Koch Industries, is allowable.
6). The fact that the speaker has written a poem to document the encounter becomes an important motif, either explicitly or implicitly. The artifact brings news about how knowledge and power got transmitted to the talented speaker. “Something for your poetry, no?” says the Colonel as he pours a sack of human ears onto the table to intimidate the poet-journalist who is dining with him. Precisely. Carolyn Forché’s prose poem enacts the shift of power between them after their encounter, when her world-famous text mortifies his bullying performance.
(Laurence Goldstein is Professor of English at the University of Michigan and Editor Emeritus of Michigan Quarterly Review (1977-2009). His most recent book is a volume of poems, A Room in California (Northwestern University Press, 2005). A book of literary criticism, Poetry Los Angeles: Reading the City’s Essential Poems, is forthcoming from University of Michigan Press. )
(ed note: This is the first in a four-part series by Laurence Goldstein. Goldstein is Professor of English at the University of Michigan and Editor Emeritus of Michigan Quarterly Review (1977-2009). His most recent book is a volume of poems, A Room in California (Northwestern University Press, 2005). A book of literary criticism, Poetry Los Angeles: Reading the City’s Essential Poems, is forthcoming from University of Michigan Press.)
MEETING B. F. SKINNER, 1963
“Wear a coat and tie, if you have them,”
my editor advised. “He’s pretty famous.”
I folded my father’s formal jacket
over my sport shirt and peggers, and strolled
across the wide piazza toward Royce Hall.
Humming step by nervous step, in a
cascade of arias from the auditorium,
I mounted many stairs to an airless room.
He wore a coat and tie, of course: Harvard
spiffed-up for UCLA, noblesse oblige.
We both sweated a little. This interview,
we understood, was one building block
in my enlightenment, like the class hour
just past, on Wordsworth or Milton, spirits
most antithetical to L.A. “I hope I don’t
bore you,” I offered. “I’m never bored,” he said,
“Tired sometimes, but never bored.” I tried
to keep it andante, but he had foresuffered
all my queries on free will and social control.
If this were sport fencing, I died in five minutes.
I flourished a final thrust: “You write in Walden Two
that this utopia knows no unhappiness,
thanks to the Planners’ perfect design. Yet
the citizens rehearse a production of Hedda Gabler.
How can that be? How would they understand
so much heartbreak?” He gazed downward;
I felt my education hang in the scales of logic.
Finally, diminuendo, his small defeated voice:
“You’re right. The young wouldn’t understand.
I must change the play in the next edition.”
I felt sorry for him, for my own petty
triumph, my cub mousetrap cunningly sprung.
Skinner didn’t correct the next edition.
So what? Walden Two lost its audience.
The late Sixties made any bossy republic
Seem an affront to the young libido. A discord.
Only the spot of time seems unshakeable,
the invulnerable memory, those few minutes
atop the concert hall, my heart pounding
and the axis of culture shifting, adagio.
“Meeting B. F. Skinner, 1963” was written to mark the semi-centennial of a half hour’s encounter between a UCLA undergraduate, myself, and a distinguished scientist-philosopher visiting the campus to deliver a guest lecture. In the early 1960s I imagined that my destiny lay in journalism, and as an eager junior reporter for The Daily Bruin I volunteered to interview B. F. Skinner, who generously made himself available for a conversation he probably assumed would be a waste of his valuable time. The poem preserves the few remarks I can remember and tries to recreate the feel of an event which turned out to be more long-lasting in my memory than my exchanges during those years with other visitors to campus as well as figures residing in Los Angeles: John F. Kennedy, John Dos Passos, Stan Laurel, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley.
At the same time I settled into the romance of journalism—I cherished the old saw that this poorly paid profession was highly desirable because “you meet such interesting people”—I became increasingly fascinated by serious literature, especially poetry. The two worlds meshed for me; both demanded intellectual curiosity, stamina, and high-end verbal skills. The eight-paragraph news items and book reviews I wrote for the Bruin corresponded to the eight-line stanza poems, often of eight stanzas, I turned out as exercises in verse composition. Sometimes those poems had the form of a meeting, an interview, a narrative of significant contact between two people. Sometimes I still write those same kind of poems. Inevitably I have formulated a few rules governing the encounter poem.
(Tomorrow: Laurence Goldstein's rules for the "encounter poem.")
Stuck in Traffic
She meant it was good to yarn, no trauma
Now you get how you mistook
swotted totally at the braked drinks and slipped physics, you’re over
She’s bumping in for the show and doesn’t deign to risk
a charge or block, and her child ‘suffers absence’
Four churches sharpen the intersection
You know what? I cancelled, it wasn’t cogito precisely
but who could’ve, like I put it out there
my sessions and criteria all one-on-one a tray
across a bridge’s attempt at grace
while ads strew the transport’s view
into meshed ideograms of capitalism
I jibbed into a cube, shonky life blinking through a glass, a pick,
then hoiked what’s left of friends.
It’s of no purpose.
I don’t want to see him a radish or leek.
Chimes pester down what boredom spored
and goes, a meddler to the heath
You buy the lock for the door then the door for the lock
as cords corolla sealed ears that hyphen thought
to home in the electric fields
Gig Ryan (1956-) is the author of New and Selected Poems (Giramondo, 2011) winner of the 2012 Grace Leven Prize for Poetry and the 2012 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry . She is Poetry Editor for the Melbourne newspaper The Age and a freelance reviewer. She has also written songs with her occasional bands Disband and Driving Past, releasing 2 CDs, Real Estate (1999) and Travel (2006).
A confession - I'm not very prepared this week, having succumbed, as usual, the holiday insanity. Today I've got cookies, wrapping, and cleaning on the agenda, and, what with the rest of the holiday preparation, I just haven't had the time to think up something brilliant, moving, and appropriate for this week's post.
So instead, I'd like to share my all-time favorite Christmas poem. (I tried to get Black Jack and the sheep to pose for an illustration, but they were more interested in breakfast than art this morning.) This is a poem specifically about Christmas, but to everyone of whatever faith, or questioning, or none at all, blessings this holiday season and for the New Year.
"The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
(ed note: This post originally appeared on December 23, 2008)
Yes, rated X! But stay with it because John Milton comes up at the end!
(ed note: warning, this is a frank discussion. You may not want to watch/listen if you are in a public place.-- sdh)
This weekend is the beginning of an array of “holiday” festivities awaiting me—houses humming with sweater-adorned bodies sipping equally adorned cocktails. Everything smells vaguely of pine, cinnamon and candle wax. The food and conversation is bite-sized: light, airy morsels of vacation plans and movies, shopping and relatives, directions on how to baste something. Inevitably, talk turns to careers, professions, and jobs. And that’s when the awkward pause happens. Whenever my husband introduces me as a “poet”, I can see the confused scrunch forming on foreheads, the nervous laugh bubbling up or the uncertain head nod like he’s suddenly speaking a foreign language.
Here in LA people are familiar with screenwriters and novelists. Actors, producers, even Oscar-nominated sound engineers are not out of the ordinary at gatherings. But poets? My party cohorts don’t know what to do with that information. Perhaps they have a hazy recollection of a bushy-bearded Walt Whitman or a tightly-buttoned up Emily Dickinson from their high school English class. Some might have even indulged in a few angst-ridden lines of rhyme in their teenage years. But they don’t know what to make of it when they meet a person who calls herself a "poet" standing in front of them. They don’t even know what questions to ask about being a poet and I totally get it. There’s something about poetry that makes people’s palms sweat. It makes them anxious like I’m going to force them to recite a Shakespeare sonnet in front of everyone. For most people, poetry is other-worldly and distant. Most of what we know of poets and poetry comes from either English classes or Hollywood movies, and neither version really helps to bridge the gap to real life. The examples are painted as either reclusive and awkward or glamorous and troubled. I suppose on any given day I could be one of those things—but most of the time, it seems like too much energy to try.
Being a poet today living in America doesn’t much feel like those movie depictions, although who can resist a tormented Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath or Willem Dafoe as T.S. Eliot? Most poets today have been writing for years on their lunch breaks and on Friday nights, at kitchen tables and cafes and bars. We are workers just like everyone else. We watch Jon Stewart like the rest of the world. We carpool and occasionally, if forced, jog. We will smile if provoked and almost never wear black turtlenecks. Mostly, our minds are never quiet, even while driving our cars and washing the dishes, we are writing and revising lines in our heads. We write where we can, when we can, on cocktail napkins and grocery lists, because we are haunted—by words, by trying to find just the right way to fit it all together. The poets I know write as much as they can in between being parents and caretakers, while holding down jobs and paying their bills. We do live in the real world, at least some of the time.
And every so often we get enough poems together and lay them out on our living room floors, all those white pages and black ink. All our work and imagination and days and days of writing strung together. In those moments, yes, we are other-worldly, at least until the cat and the kids come running through. So the next time you are at a cocktail party, take a look around, the one scribbling in the corner just might be a poet. Offer her a drink and she might smile and recite a few lines…
Cheers! Hope your 2014 is filled with good poems and many free moments to write. And yes, that is a cocktail with bacon.
Type in the word rejection into any search engine and you’ll probably get the images of writers and actors. Yes, it took me exactly three days of blogging to bring up rejection. I’m a poet, what did you expect? Just as my students don’t believe that writing can be a lonely profession, they often don’t believe in rejection. Apparently, when you are standing up in front of a classroom “teaching” you’ve gotten there, at least in their eyes, unscathed—you’ve never heard the word “no”, everything you’ve written has floated from your “send” button onto a printed page in some magazine (that everyone reads).
I don’t like receiving rejections but they do humanize, everyone has been there. I have been rejected by magazines, journals, and contests many times this year (and I still have a chance of a few more before the New Year). Once I got rejected within 24 hours of submitting my work (ouch). I think successes are not always as memorable as the disappointments. My optimistic friends don’t believe this—but for me, it’s true. I remember being a finalist for a book contest—it was me and two other folks whittled down from a couple hundred manuscripts. I didn’t win—and this wasn’t the first time. My friends who are actors remember losing every job that they really wanted, even years later. There are some things the mind refuses to let go of.
I’ve heard these mythic stories about Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein and E.E. Cummings being rejected. How they eventually published their own work or stuck to it long enough for someone to recognize their brilliance. I'm not sure this knowledge is going to make me feel better. I’m never going to write like Sylvia Plath or E.E. Cummings so these stories meant to soothe me don't always work. What does make me feel better is my 24-hour sulk. Whenever my friends or I get a rejection for a job or a publication that we really wanted, we’re allowed to sulk. We are allowed to be glum, to wear pants with an elastic waistband, to watch as much reality TV as we want (without judgment), to eat potato chips for breakfast if that is our choice. We get 24 hours to be listless and apathetic and discouraged. But then, we have to get back to work—we have to write or audition or teach or do something that propels us forward.
When I tell my students I have a folder full of rejection slips I’ve saved over the years they look worried like at some point I’m going to need a hug. But I’m not. I don’t need hugs but I do need my rejections because they’ve taught me my own brand of resilience. They’ve taught me to get up and keep getting up—every day, every week. To push aside the potato chips and head to the laptop. I’ve learned the obvious— that not everyone is going to like what I’ve put out into the world, but that’s okay as long as I like what I’m writing. These rejections have taught me that writing should give me pleasure more often than not, and if it doesn’t, something is very wrong. I’m allowed my disappointments but that shouldn’t stop me from being part of the conversation.
I’m okay with the road getting a little rough here and there. I’ll wrap my rejections around me like a shawl, hunch my back against the chill and keep going.
This fall I’ve been teaching creative writing again in a traditional classroom with 20 year olds. Their smooth, unlined faces stare back at me with an array of emotions ranging from skepticism to wonder (expressions, that in the end, are troublingly similar)—they don’t exactly know how they got here or why they are here, but somehow we get to the first poetry workshop and their pages are full of break-ups. There’s something about a writing workshop that opens up all the locked doors and we get poems and poems about his leaving, her heartbreak, how each of them wrecked it all.
There’s the unique affinity that break-ups inspire that we can’t resist writing or reading about—it is the great equalizer. No matter how fresh or how distant the relationship, how many years have passed, we still have sense memories of those experiences—mine involve a parking lot on a warm summer night sitting on a curb, crying all over the dirty sidewalk.
Although I’ve never written about that night, I remember that moment still so many years later and as readers, we remember and relive it within the world of the poem. It’s that vulnerability, that kick in the mouth, the sopping-wet-on-the-inside feeling that we’ve all had. Who can resist the emotions? Hidden or raw, it’s there—the pain, the loneliness, all those images of things cracked open. I experience it all over again with the students—how their hurt and tenderness rises on the page with red eyes, a blue bruised heart. Its why even years later the thought of being stuck in an elevator with an ex churns my stomach, makes my tongue thick and clumsy. These poems remind us that we are all ripe for the tearing—love is tenuous and we should remember that.
So next semester, I’m going to dedicate a whole class session to break-up poems. It’s on everyone’s brains from the beginning of the semester and I want them to see how experienced writers navigate these emotions without being too self-indulgent and exclusionary. Good writing lets us in, even for a little while, with dignity or anger or embarrassment. And that’s what we want, I tell my students, we don’t want to be on the sidelines. We want to be let in.
Two poems that are on my list for next semester are Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?” from her book Lucky Fish and Paisely Rekdal’s “Flowers from a New Love after the Divorce” from her collection Animal Eye. One makes me smile and the other makes me shiver.
Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?
If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.
Can you imagine the number of bouquets, how many
slices of cake? Even now, my husbands plan a great meal
for us—one chops up some parsley, one stirs a bubbling pot
on the stove. One changes the baby, and one sleeps
in a fat chair. One flips through the newspaper, another
whistles while he shaves in the shower, and every single
one of them wonders what time I am coming home.
Flowers from a New Love after the Divorce
Cut back the stems an inch to keep in bloom.
So instructs the florist’s note
enclosed inside the flowers.
Who knew what was cut
could heal again, the green wounds close
stitching themselves together?
It doesn’t matter. The flowers, red
and white, will bloom awhile, then wither.
You sit in an unlit room and watch
the vase throw crystal shadows through the dark.
The flowers’ colors are so lovely they’re painful.
In a week, you’ll have to throw them out.
It’s only hope that makes you take out scissors,
separate each bloom and cut
where you last measured. Did you know
Venus was said to turn into a virgin
each time she bathed? She did it
as a mark of love. She did it
so as to please her lovers. Perhaps,
overwhelmed by pain,
she eventually stopped bathing
altogether. It doesn’t matter. It’s a pleasure
to feel the green nubs stripped, watch the stems
refresh under your blade. They’re here
because they’re beautiful. They glow
inside your crystal vase. And yet
the flowers by themselves are nothing:
only a refraction of color that,
in a week or two, will be thrown out.
Day by day, the water lowers. The red-
and-white heads droop, blacken at the stems.
It doesn’t matter. Even cut stems heal.
But what is the point of pain if it heals?
Some things should last forever, instructs
the florist’s note. Pleasure,
says one god. Shame, says another.
Venus heads, they call these flowers.
In a week or two, you’ll lose the note,
have to call the florist up.
With sympathy, you’ll think he says.
Perhaps: With love. It doesn’t matter.
You’ve stopped bathing. Alone,
you sit before the crystal
vase refracting you in pieces
through the dark. You watch
the pale skin bloom inside it, wither.
You petal, inch by inch.
You turn red and white together.
Another terrific review, this one by Grace Cavelieri, in this month's Washington Review of Books:
"Lehman is a combination of Mark Twain, Charlie Rose and John Le Carre with a little John Donne thrown in. Is he historian? Rabbi? Storyteller? Yes and more. I say, take the book on a cross country trip and you’ll find literary entrapment that keeps you from looking out the window . . . "
Some times you just don't know what's going on in your own back yard. Turns out that a talented New School graduate student has been recording Poetry Forums and uploading them to the school's web page. Who knew? Now we know. You can listen to David Lehman with Auden scholar Edward Mendleson and award winning poet Tina Chang:
Audiograph: Edward Mendelson Moderated by David Lehman Read our review of this program here.
Denise Duhamel, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013 makes it easy for you to catch up on the poets you should be reading now with her reading list for her course Advanced Women Poets: Books You May Only Be Hearing about Now. The good news, writes Duhamel, is that "there is room in this Advanced Women Poets seminar, no prerequisite required."
Ford Madox Ford had a novel idea for how to evaluate a book. It's put to use in this review of Jennifer Michael Hecht's important new book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.
We leave you with this:
It’s that time of the year when everything is strangely candy-cane scented and glittering with a tourniquet of lights. We are anxious with our lists, with our need to prove our thoughtfulness. We want the “perfect”, unnamable thing to fill up our loved ones hands. Inevitably, we turn to the experts who tell us what is the “best” of this past year: the best album of the year, the best gadget of the year and of course, the best books of the year. Everyone has a list, but like all things in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I’m not sure what it means to be the “Best Book of 2013”. I just know that if you ask me, I can list some great books that I’ve read over this past year. My desk is overflowing with them.
Goodreads has got a list that gets voted on by readers:
Slate.com’s list also includes a list of “Overlooked Books” and “Best Lines of 2013”, to which I say, Bravo!:
Publisher’s Weekly was only able to list 5 best books of poetry this year (let’s hope 2014 is better):
NPR put out a good list of some noteworthy books of 2013 but has placed poetry and short stories together, because they are apparently the same thing:
So, the following is what I’ve read this year that I really liked. The first list of books was published in 2013. The second list is no different as far as wow-factor, they just missed the list because of expiration dates. All of these books are interesting, unique and “perfect”. I’ve calculated that I’ve bought about 18 books of poetry over this past year and I’m hoping for at least 20 in 2014. I figure, I write it, so I should read it.
If you are looking to fill up the hands of the ones you love with something beautiful and thought-provoking, then please consider the following:
Sky Ward, Kazim Ali
Bright Power, Dark Peace, Traci Brimhall & Brynn Saito
X Marks the Dress: A Registry, Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess
Vow, Rebecca Hazelton
The Traps, Louise Mathias
Body Thesaurus, Jennifer Militello
Mezzanines, Matthew Olzmann
To See the Queen, Allison Seay
Incarnadine, Mary Szybist
Antidote, Corey Van Landingham
Small Porcelain Head, Allison Benis White
Below is a list of the poetry books I also bought/read this year—but were published prior to 2013:
The Lost Country of Sight, Neil Aitken
Fair Copy, Rebecca Hazelton
Loveliest Grotesque, Sandra Lim
Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls, Erika Meitner
I Was There for Your Somniloquy, Kelli Anne Noftle
Animal Eye, Paisley Rekdal
On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year, Lee Ann Roripaugh
Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems, Natasha Trethewey
Enjoy yourself—read a poem!
I feel it’s only right to confess something in my first-ever blog post, (deep breath): I like to read other people’s blogs, especially poets I don’t know personally. For the past decade or so while I have been having children, writing a book of poetry and teaching here and there, I have also been religiously (and secretly) reading poetry blogs and websites. It is my lunchtime ritual—kitchen table, bowl of soup, laptop and blog. Reading other poets’ posts is my way to connect with a poetry community without ever getting out of my pajamas…or flip flops. I’m sure there are much smarter people who have written about whether us cyber voyeurs are really part of a larger community or are simply just eavesdroppers. Either way, it’s what I do, what has gotten me through years of being homebound without being totally isolated.
For a writer, who for one reason or another (say the birth of twins for instance), can’t leave the house to go to a writer’s conference or even meet up with her regularly scheduled writing group because she hasn’t gotten around to showering for a few days, a poetry blog is the best way to keep that part of her, that poetry-part, breathing. Its comforting to know that there are others out there who care as much about poetry as I do, more even, because they put their thoughts out into the world daily, weekly, monthly. They are clever and persistent. They write and publish and read, even when I’ve been too tired to do so. Someone on the other end of the computer screen has kept the candle burning and to quote Frost, “that has made all the difference”.
Yes I admit to trolling the internet looking for poets and their words in the world—they are my daily affirmation, my support group, my guilty pleasure. I’ve found out about trends and controversies, been reassured that someone is counting the number of women writers who are getting published and talked about (thank you, VIDA); but mainly, I’ve found kindred spirits (unbeknownst to them)—other writers who feel the same joys and frustrations that being a poet encompasses—the poems that get rejected, the books that get taken, and the endless empty pages waiting to be filled. This is really what our lives are made up of: words and pages and books. There are so many poets out there writing about the craft and business of poetry that the sheer force of their knowledge, insight, and research have made me a better writer.
So here are a few of my favorite poetry blogs and websites (out of thousands out there), some I turn to for sheer humor and support, others because they have smart things to say:
Julianna Baggott (http://bridgetasher.blogspot.com/): because she’s a writer and a mom, and isn’t afraid to talk about both.
Sandra Beasley (Chicks Dig Poetry) http://sbeasley.blogspot.com/: because she’s a working writer and gives good insights into the business.
C. Dale Young (The Micro Muse) http://blog-cdaleyoung.tumblr.com/: because I can barely manage to do one thing right and he does many.
Brian Brodeur’s How a Poem Happens (http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/): because haven’t we all asked that question at some point.
Thank you, dear reader, for listening to my confession.
It's been about six months since my last post - I've been super busy getting my two new books to press. They both came out last month and it's been very exciting - and sometimes a lot to handle. More on that soon.
Right now I want to introduce you to a wonderful young poet who I met when he was in the MFA Program at the New School, Tommy Pico. His poetry is great; he grew up on the rez and writes movingly about it; he's been a community builder in poetry, starting reading series, putting out a magazine, etc.
Pico has an app coming out in January with his poetry collection on it. I'll tell you more about that when it comes out. For now, here's a poem of his:
1. My mother was voted “best legs” in her senior high school yearbook, despite the fact that she was also student body president and editor in chief of the school paper. Only boys got superlatives like, “Most Likely to Succeed.”
2. Doctors say that Indians are predisposed to a lot of illnesses, like alcoholism and diabetes. At the clinic, patient history starts the first time you get sick. They ask me why don’t I eat, nearly commit me when I say because my great grandfather’s horses were stolen in 1890.
3. Myths aren't told to make things seem down to earth.
4. Thinking all the time vs Giving up (the butt).
5. Cigarette habit that kicks in around the third drink and the right lung.
6. Things that make me want to run: I) Seeing other people run. II) Eating a whole pizza. III) Everyone adoring the same person.
7. Upon being drafted into Vietnam, my father guided tanks through minefields in the jungle when he was very young. I have never not once walked in the wrong direction surfacing from the subway.
8. Waiting to be moved.
9. Waiting to be introduced.
10. Always wanting to raise my hand first.
11. My father's unfinished collection of poetry is called, "In the Days of Tall Cans and Short Hopes."
12. Songs to sing when the roommates are gone vs songs to sing at karaoke vs songs to listen to, pretending.
13. Collections: do they get better, or just bigger?
14. Devin at Blue Olive. James at Pine State. Barry at Cup. Angelo at Dave & Busters. Jean Baptiste at Point Ephemere. Eric at Pop In. Federico at Monster Ronsons. BigGuySF365 at Adam4Adam. Me at Gmail.
15. There must be a word for this in some romance language, for looking down at your legs and seeing mom; for looking down at your hands and seeing dad.
Great, right? Alright, more soon. I've missed you all terribly and hope to now start blogging at you regularly again. As always, don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 16, 2013 at 11:23 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0)
That day in 1932 when Hart Crane went overboard
Off the steamship he cried ‘Goodbye, everybody!’
With a stark economy of expression unlike The Bridge
And his other poems’ intricately wrought phrasings.
Whoever is unmoved by such poignant juxtaposition
In extremis of plain style and poetic eloquence
Never studied at Columbia University -- as did I
With David Lehman, Paul Spike, Leslie Gottesman,
David Shapiro, Hilton Obenzinger, Paul Auster,
Aaron Fogel, Bruce Kawin, David Anderson,
Alan Senauke, Arnold Eggers, Laurence Wieder,
Michael Steinlauf and others of that same ilk --
Nor should we forget the poet’s promise in1916,
Albeit unfulfilled, to attend Columbia University.
In the last poetry forum of the fall season at the New School, poet and Harvard Review poetryeditor Major Jackson sat down with Best American Poetry series editor David Lehman after a moving reading of new poems and work selected from Jackson’s first three collections, Holding Company, Hoops and Leaving Saturn. Jackson and Lehman share a love of natty headwear—Lehman happened to be sporting a dark fedora on this occasion, and Jackson a light gray newsboy cap—that extends toward more subtle manifestations of a poet’s style in verse. Lehman brought up a quotation from Philip Roth that: “A liking for hats is essential if you’re going to be an American poet.” Jackson, leaning back in his chair, responded humorously but in all seriousness that “this was not debatable. There’s a relationship between style and poetry. There’s something about what the surface conveys subtly that is enacted on the page. These are areas where you can create a style.”
Jackson’s own style draws on a multitude of influences. A product of inner-city Philadelphia, he characterized his early years as a writer as his “brooding period,” a time when he was “drawn to poets who spoke to his existential angst.” He was heavily affected by Robert Lowell and Galway Kinnell’s lyrical engagement with historical and social issues, particularly Kinnell’s books Midsummer, The Bounty and White Egrets. This engagement with history is evident in both the series “Urban Renewal” that he has worked on since his first collection, the Cave Canem-winning Leaving Saturn, and in more recent poems like “Berimbau.” At the podium earlier, resting his large palms on each side, Jackson read to us from “Berimbau” in a warm low voice: “How in Congo Square/ African dance kept 600 slaves alive…sadder still/ How we must always ask, who are we?”
Lehman, leaning forward in his chair, inquired about another line of influence. Quoting what Jackson wrote on his Twitter page that morning he asked, “Would you consider that you are part of the eighth wave of the New York School?” Jackson replied that there was indeed a lot of influence from the New York School in his work, particularly in the most recent collection, Holding Company (2010), in which he emulated Ted Berrigan's habit in The Sonnets of recycling lines from poem to poem. Jackson elaborated: “I’ve lightened up over the years. The New York School led the way.” Lehman remarked that there was a lot of the New York School in Jackson’s prose poem “OK Cupid.” It has an organic unity that feeds back on itself:
…dating a white man is like dating insecurity, and dating insecurity is like dating a Hummer, and dating a Hummer is like dating the Pentagon, and dating the Pentagon is like dating a lost star, and dating a lost star is like dating a liberal, and dating a liberal is like dating a Jew….
Jackson has explained elsewhere that Jackson Mac Low’s procedural poetics was an influence here. In Major Jackson’s poem, this strategy generates a long absurd string of descriptors that becomes an odd mirror of the categories OK Cupid’s algorithm sets up around race, politics, gender relations and subcultures in America. Jackson’s “Why I Write Poetry,” which was selected by guest editor Denise Duhamel for The Best American Poetry 2013, has a similar sense of unspooling a long string of causal phrases: “because my son is as old as the stars….because I better git it in my soul / Because my grandfather loved clean syntax…Because I have been on a steady diet of words / since the age of three.”
Interestingly, Jackson’s reading of “OK Cupid” to us veered from the text published in the most recent Tin House. Lehman was curious about the point at which Jackson had made that decision, whether he had brought a different draft or had improvised while reading. Jackson remarked that he was one of those poets who never stopped editing even after publication. Galway Kinnell would sometimes revise a poem for 20 or 30 years. Lehman remarked that it was good for the emerging poets in the audience to hear that the act of reading a poem aloud can teach an author something new about his or her work and that poems that have already been published are subject to revision nevertheless.
Jackson told us that another influence has been Joseph Brodsky’s Twenty Sonnets to Mary, Queen of Scots. He was particularly drawn to “that shape, that extended sonnet, that block of text.That form is always teaching me something about how to form and shape a self within that block.” The recent Holding Company, consists almost entirely of ten-line lyrical blocks that delve into subjects as wide-ranging as Nazi cinematographer Leni Riefenstahl, the catastrophist Immanuel Velikotsky, infidelity, heartbreak and Lorca, among others. It’s a playing with form that is reminiscent of his 70-page poem to Gwendolyn Brooks in Hoops, “To Brooks,” that ranges through varied places and moments of Jackson’s poetic development, all through a long string of cantos.
This multiplicity of experience comes out in his language as well. Managing editor Stacey Harwood, raising her hand from the audience, noticed: “there is a very moving editing of detail because you select elements of your environment that are so precise.” New additions to the “Urban Renewal” series placed us in Madrid with the poet Mark Strand and sketched images of a Mediterranean island Jackson and his wife visited: “the morning sweet prayers of palm leaves…yucca leaves lifting like a chorus of arms.” Jackson replied to Harwood that: “Seeing is a statement of personality. What we see is a statement of who we are. Growing up going to Nashville, Tennessee, in the summers developed that sensitivity."
Lehman inquired what developments Jackson sees in American poetry from his vantage point as the poetry editor of the Harvard Review. Jackson said that he felt that the proliferation of MFA programs was working because he sees people “adopting all these different styles.” What he looks for the most is: “if the language is alive, if there is a kernel of the self. Being an editor often feels like being a curator of an exhibit of various voices. People are so much more complex than the categories we place them in, and the poems should reflect that.”
Like Jackson’s oeuvre, such poems can’t be easily pigeonholed, splicing a voice from multiple experiences and influences, something Jackson sees as a strong positive: American poetry today is borrowing from an ever-expanding bank of cultures and styles. -- Nora Robertson Brooks
Marie Ponsot held us in her spell, reading with radiant authority and a deep pleasure in the power and play of language at the University Club, NYC, where friends and family gathered Nov. 19 to celebrate her legacy as poet, teacher, and benefactor to The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s College. It came as no surprise that Ponsot, class of 1940 and this year’s recipient of the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (among her many other honors), asked the audience to hold applause when it broke out after she read a second poem. Quiet observation and imaginative attention to the power of poetic structures are key in Ponsot’s poetry. One thinks of Ponsot’s most recent book, Easy, and realizes that this ease is hard won, as she affirms in a PBS News Hour profile.
Each of the twelve poems Ponsot chose for Tuesday’s event reveals experience enfolded within experience, as in “Pre-text,” in which the first, lunging steps of a “sudden baby” lead backwards in time erasing suddenness in an eloquent gesture. In “On a Library of Congress Photo of Eunice B. Winkless, 1904,” a young woman’s proud but precarious control over the “animal horse” results in her fall into “a pool like a tame star.” In Ponsot’s luminous yet uncompromising vision, we come up short but still win. “Did it again. Damn Fool!” the rider exclaims, and the poem ends with an observation on the authority of the imagination, the poet asking, “And when do I act on better evidence?” In “Hard Shell Clams,” Ponsot commemorates the intimacy of a day shared with her father, yet remembers also “what I would not let us say.”
A series of glowing tributes to Marie Ponsot’s legacy followed a convivial settling in. Dean Richard Greenwald of St. Joseph’s introduced President S. Elizabeth Hill, who praised Ponsot’s “generous embrace of life” and her poems that “blaze like the sun or glow like warming embers.” Alice Quinn, who edited Ponsot’s return to publishing with her 1981 Admit Impediment, remembered being careful not to damage “the copious beauty” and celebrated Ponsot’s “thrilling relation to the poetic canon and poetic form.” She described the eleven poems that appeared in a recent edition of Poetry as “marvels of intellectual curiosity and acuity that will also break your heart.” To illustrate, she read Ponsot’s “Roundstone Cove,” which ends with the acute and comforting observation, “Fog hoods me. But the hood of fog is sun.” Rosemary Deen, co-author of Beat Not the Poor Desk, described Ponsot’s inspired teaching syllabus and expressed enduring admiration for the way this “mother, breadwinner, cooker of two French meals a day, and poet” managed to find “those twenty minutes before going to bed” to write. Finally, Jackson Taylor, Director of The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s and first to hold the newly endowed Ponsot Chair in Poetry, introduced Marie Ponsot by quoting her advice to him: “You gotta get lucky. The way to get lucky is to be open to luck.” Clearly, there is always another lesson to be learned from this brilliant poet.
as some landscapes are
(a lakeshape, say,
lying and lifting
under a cupping sky)
so angels are,
entire with each other,
their wonderful bodies
obedient, their strengths
we imagine them
by saying these things of them
to invent human love.
From Springing: New and Selected Poems, from Knopf, 2003
Karen Steinmetz’s poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Coal Hill Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among other literary journals, and in the anthology Still Against War/Poems for Marie Ponsot. Her novel The Mourning Wars was published by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan in 2010. She is a Lecturer in Writing at Manhattanville College.
At your front gate
an oily truck murmurs away
patiently enough, it could be said,
while two young blokes
in tattoos and muddy denims
tug the small heavy sacks up to your house.
They are delivering tact
and it’s expensive
but worth every penny of the cost,
given it makes the whole shebang
tick along smooth and quiet
like the innards of a bedside clock.
That’s right: it lubricates existence.
You take delivery
sign a docket
and the truck puffs up white dust.
Locked in a jail of ribs, the passionate heart
the way a cranked car used to do,
the whole system
Chris Wallace-Crabbe (1934-) taught for many decades at the University of Melbourne where he gained a formidable reputation as a teacher and critic. He is one of the major voices in Australian poetry known beyond our shores.
Vandana Khanna was born in New Delhi, India and received her M.F.A. from Indiana University. Her first collection, Train to Agra, won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize and her second collection, Afternoon Masala, won the Miller Williams Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Arkansas Press in 2014. She is a lecturer at the University of Southern California.
The Literary Man writes:
As a counterpoint to the current glut of people blabbing about the same old novels, we would like to say a few words about David Lehman’s NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, our favorite book of poetry published in 2013.
. . .
This is excellent stuff, people. We often talk about enjoying poetry, and yet it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. How does one stay in touch with contemporary poetry? Well, start here: with these NEW AND SELECTED POEMS.
Read the complete review here.
There’s an old French saying,
“the whole of a man’s mystery
rests in his hat,” and if you
translate it into American
you get Sinatra smoking
and singing “Memories of
You,” “I Thought About You,”
“You Make Me Feel So Young,”
and “You Brought A New
Kind of Love to Me,” all
from the same 1956 session,
I love that voice and have since
the summer I was eight and
my friend Ann and I sang “Love
and Marriage” on Talent Night
at the bungalow colony when I’m
down there’s nothing like you,
birthday boy, singing “All of Me”
to lift me up and when I’m in love
I jump out of bed in the morning
singing “It All Depends on You” and
your voice comes out of my mouth
-- David Lehman (12 / 12 / 97)
from The Daiy Mirror (Scribner, 2000)
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.