I don’t know much about poet James Merrill. But in my New Yorker catch-up this spring, I do love these Dan Chaisson lines about him. Aspirational.
Merrill had few blind spots: his head was aware of his heart, and his imagination had unusual access to both. He approached his life with a weird mixture of abandon and detachment. There are no Merrill scandals. He wasn’t Mother Teresa, but he kept most of the friends he made, inspired forgiveness in most of his ex-lovers, and treated those whose lives drifted through the rarefied precincts of his own as though they were kings in disguise.
Two of them. First, Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter,” which showed up in the Poetry Foundation’s great Poem of the Day feed.
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
And James Richardson’s “Essay for Clouds,” from a recent New Yorker. So many good lines but maybe the most excerpt-able ones: “O / miracle not miraculous! Everything / we know well / lightens and escapes us, and isn’t that / when we escape?”
In an old notepad of mine, there’s mention of a Mary Oliver poem. I have no idea where I first heard the poem or when I wrote down a line from it, but it’s wonderful. You can read the work in full here.
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
On a different page of my notes, there’s “belted kingfisher.” I learn from research today that the bird is a wild one. “When a Belted Kingfisher catches a fish, it will fly back to its perch, bang the fish against the branch, throw it up into the air, catch it, and swallow it.”
Another page: “Catholic guilt. Never connected with it. Always saw it more as a kind of restlessness to do better. An interconnectedness.”
“Hog Island Oysters” by Devin Johnston, via Lori after we went to Hog Island Oysters on Highway One two winters ago. “Voluptuous and cold, / Kumamoto trembles / on a thin fork, / liquefaction / of cloud.”
“Ear” and “Asking the Way” by Ko Un. “How to Draw a Perfect Circle” by “Terrance Hayes. “I Wanted to Make Myself like the Ravine” by Hannah Gamble. “Dinosaurs in the Hood” by Danez Smith. And a repeat/reminder for the year ahead: Alice Fulton’s “Personally Engraved.” So: “In this spirit I force my eyes across your message, / revisiting that due diligence tone you do so well. / I’m searching for some whispered twist or shout….”
Michael Homolka’s “Riposte to Ode.”
It isn’t like that Horace Life stresses us out
However many hundreds of decades later we’re told
to welcome anxiety is beneficial
and to quote honor our imperfections
W.S. Di Piero’s “Chicago and December.”
I walk north across
the river, Christmas lights
crushed on skyscraper glass,
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing
through the artless fog.
Mary Oliver’s “White-Eyes.”
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
I can’t describe exactly what leads to put these three links together. Two are poems, and one is an essay by a poet. They all remind me of fall. None of the three are too cold or set late in the year. But they all contain an idea of early darkness — some of them clearly and others less so — and, most importantly, consider how to push back. Or set themselves apart from it.
“Vespers” by Louise Gluck.
In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
“Elegy for the Living” by Kathryn Simmons. “We wash up side by side / to find each other / in the speakable world, / and, lulled into sense, / inhabit our landscape….”
And an essay, “Omphalos: Returning to the troubles of a Northern Irish childhood” by poet Colette Bryce, who gives us a great word and stories.
Dan Chaisson’s review of Louise Gluck’s new book is a good piece that finds a great passage, true for just about any blogger, myself included.
My mother and father stood in the cold
on the front steps. My mother stared at me,
a daughter, a fellow female.
You never think of us, she said.
We read your books when they reach heaven.
Hardly a mention of us anymore, hardly a mention of your sister.
I write about you all the time, I said aloud.
Every time I say “I,” it refers to you.
The Post’s On Leadership series talks to poet Billy Collins, and he quickly swings the conversation away from himself to how a medium can lead.
Certainly one thing a poem can do is give you an imaginative pleasure by taking you places very suddenly that prose can’t take you, because poetry enjoys the broadest and deepest and highest and most thrilling level of imaginative freedom of any of the written arts.
Another thing poetry can do is connect you with the history of human emotion. That’s why at critical points in our lives, at funerals or weddings or other rituals, often a poem is read. The poem shows us that these emotions, love and grief, have been going on through the centuries; and that the emotion we’re feeling today is not just our emotion, it’s the human emotion.
Poetry is the only history we have of human emotions. Most history books, what we call history books, are stories of battles and treaties, negotiations and beheadings and coronations. But poetry is the only reminder of this very essential part of being human, which is one’s emotional life and all the dimensions it entails.
Been off the work grid for a few days. Here’s what I’ve been reading.
Kay Ryan, “In Case of Complete Reversal,” in the new issue of Poetry.
Born into each seed
is a small anti-seed
useful in case of some
Douglas Kearney, “Afrofuturism (Blanche says, “Meh”)“.
are we there yet?
are we we yet?
are we we there?
are there we there yet?
are we here yet there?
Edward Thomas, “Lights Out.” Posted a link to this one last week, finding it a beautiful poem about the powerless and strangely desire-less feeling of falling asleep. Rereading after learning he wrote it while deep in WWI.
Danez Smith, “alternate names for black boys.” I was bummed this poem didn’t run in Poetry‘s Poem of the Day feed this month. Given the events of the month, how could the magazine not mention one of the best poems it’s published this year? But apparently I was just looking in the wrong place. Editors reran a link, with several follow-ups, on the magazine’s Twitter.
Eavan Boland, “The Lost Art of Letter Writing.” This one kills me. It will probably do the same to you. It will raise up every letter you haven’t sent, every story or emotion or interest or question you’ve wanted to share but failed to put into words, and dump them all over your slow mortal head.
The ratio of daylight to handwriting
Was the same as lacemaking to eyesight.