Four spring poems, for such a spring

1. “A Quiet Life” by Baron Wormser (a great name), via Lori.

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.

2. “Prayer” by Keetje Kuipers (also a great name), also via Lori.

Perhaps as a child you had the chicken pox
and your mother, to soothe you in your fever
or to help you fall asleep, came into your room
and read to you from some favorite book,
Charlotte’s Web or Little House on the Prairie,
a long story that she quietly took you through
until your eyes became magnets for your shuttering
lids and she saw your breathing go slow. And then

3. “Nothing” by Ken Mikolowski. Twelve words, six lines long. Ink like dust and ashes to dust and ashes. The poem barely enters the page and your brain before it departs, and a title is rarely more fitting. Life is quick, so embrace what you love while you can.

4. “The Amnesty” by Caroline Bird. I’ve posted this poem here before. But the lines hit me squarely when they first came through my feeds amid all of our wedding planning. How squarely? Years ago, I met a train-jumper — his preferred term versus hobo — who told me with some pride how a wooden board at a construction job the previous week had fallen and smacked him right in the middle of his face. That squarely. I tweeted the poem the morning of our wedding because I couldn’t say much more than it does. “My love / equips me.”

Recent poems in my life, with which to emerge from winter?

I know we are still in the first days of February. After temperatures were scarf-less early in the week, bone chills re-emerged last night. But I find myself favoriting the warmth in what I read — Jhumpa Lahiri learning Italian, Cord Jefferson writing about his love for his mother, Washingtonian magazine noting (and capturing visually, if briefly) acres open city land and beautiful city-ancient buildings before they’re gone or disfigured, and, as usual, some poems.

A great way to start the day other day was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” She read it at Obama’s first inauguration. People didn’t love it. I loved it was a way to start my day. Italics are Alexander’s:

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Recently in my feeds as well have been two catch-you-off-guard poems about desire: Mary Jo Bang’s “Definitely” (“What is desire / But the hardwire argument given / To the mind’s unstoppable mouth”) and Heather Christle’s “Pursuits” (“It only gets worse / A girl’s gotta eat”).

And I’ve been catching up on The New Yorker too. Catching up for real. Before the holidays, my backlog had hit three or four months, and the physical stack was so sad. But I began digging over Christmas and have kept the pages turning. I’m now on the current issue. And it’s a double! I’m going to be a week ahead! Maybe. If I finish it today. You can’t count your Remnick chickens before they’re read.

Anyway, here’s the start of Hagit Grossman’s “On Friendship,” a poem of common life and so satisfactorily so, in the latest issue:

If a friend calls out to you late at night from beneath your window
Never send him on his way. And if you’ve sent him away and still
Insist on rigid rules, regain your composure after a moment
And run to the window and shout his name: “Come, Merhav!
Come back! I’ve got some corn cooking! Come eat something.”

Last but not entirely, I’m two issues behind on Poetry (after Conde Zero, so soon, I promise), but two favorites from the December issue were Caroline Bird’s “The Amnesty,” which packed so much metaphor and love in so little space, and Nate Marshall “Harold’s Chicken Shack #86,” which wrings Northwestern, names, race, and poverty from half a quote in a newspaper story.

Marshall also has a good one in the issue about Oregon Trail (“my first venture west was in Windows 98 / or Independence, Missouri…”), and the Poetry Foundation site turns up him penning a “Harold’s Chicken Shack #1.” Maybe the “#86” of the Northwestern poem is poetic license, but I hope there are 84 in between. I’d like to read them.

Related: The Springsteen song “Amnesty” made me think of. No one will put this song on a greatest-hits compilation, or any kind of compilation that comes to mind. But I’ve always found it strange and special, the best song on a not-great album. Heard it playing during a nice dinner at a nice restaurant last fall — Garrison, on Barracks Row — and found it fitting.

Related: It was a nice surprise to find Sally Jenkins writing on the front page of the Washington Post‘s Sports section recently about the friendship between NBA coach Phil Jackson and poet Mary Karr. I blogged about Karr’s “Loony Bin Basketball” poem here two years ago, and the article was a good reason to go back and reread the poem and her interview partly about it.

Related: Edward T. Wheeler writes for Commonweal about his prison ministry. “I was retired, convalescing from a five-month hospital stay, and needed a focus for my free time. … Soon I—a former high-school English teacher and long-ago Jesuit seminarian—was involved in a biweekly writing seminar for GED students, then a book discussion club, and finally a life-skills course sponsored by the state university’s extension division.”

They say Twitter will begin an algorithmically ordered timeline next week. They say it will be optional. I’m glad for the latter.

‘An ordinary making’ in recent poetry feeds and shares

First, I love the idea of this recipe — and this graf (source).

The careful regulation of sentences, the tunneling into uncomfortable states of mind and feeling, could threaten to asphyxiate, but Boyer has a dark wit and knows when to shift modes. The dramaturgy of the book bestows enormous power on apparently small moments — as when Boyer shares a recipe for “A chocolate cake for when you own only one small round pan.” That recipe is the totem of an alternate ars poetica, an ordinary making, a writing of the shareable, edible ordinary — which on some blessed days tastes good.

That story about poet Anne Boyer comes from the recent New York Times Sunday Book Review, which was all about poetry and which friend David thoughtfully saved for me. Thank you, David! Another great line from the issue comes in a quote from Jennifer L. Knox’s new work, “Whoever tied the Mylar birthday balloon to the dead squirrel on Main Street thinks big.” So bizarre and true.

Also. I was sorry to read the other day about the death of C.D. Wright, whose poems had turned up several times in this blog. The three that appeared are all still very, very good (and dark and passionate and when read aloud will get through to anyone, I have no doubt):

  • Everything Good between Men and Women,” which begins with the first lines continuing the title, “has been written in mud and butter / and barbecue sauce.”
  • Flame,” which needs to be seen to be most appreciated and is basically a series of words but what a series of words.
  • This Couple,” which is so full of yearning it hurts. “Now is when we love to sit before mirrors / with a dark beer or hand out leaflets / at chainlink gates or come together after work/ listening to each other’s day. The engine dies….”

Meanwhile, in my slow, slow New Yorker catch-up — I’ll get there one day, I swear — there’s a good new one from Meghan O’Rourke, “Poem of Regret for an Old Friend.”

She begins, “What you did wasn’t so bad. / You stood in a small room, waiting for the sun. / At least you told yourself that.”  I’ve been on both ends of this one. You too?


Five poems recently

This Inwardness, This Ice” by Christian Wiman. “… this discipline, this glaze, / this cold opacity of days / begins to crack. …”

On Turning 37” by Kareem Tayyar, via Lori. “… Whitman was 37 when he wrote ‘Song of Myself’, / Rousseau was 40 when he first picked up a paintbrush in his Paris apartment….”

Apology” by Joanna Klink. “Lately, too much disturbed, you stay trailing in me / and I believe you. How could I not feel / you were misspent….”

Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “… You are very young to be a poet. I also like how your poems take / up an entire page (it makes our reading assignment go faster). …”

Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye. “… I want to be famous to shuffling men / who smile while crossing streets, / sticky children in grocery lines, / famous as the one who smiled back. …”

‘It is a dark fall day’ but…

Two of my favorites recently:

Because today is a dark fall day and I’m happy, though she’s at work now, that her jacket hangs in the hall next to mine. “Fall Song” by Joy Harjo. “It is a dark fall day. / The earth is slightly damp with rain. / I hear a jay. / The cry is blue.”

Untitled” by Fabio Morabito. On St. Francis of Assisi: “Every time, more widowed of my possessions, / every time, more bland to my writing tools. / Why not take off like him? What stops me from / returning to the woods, the bird, the wolf?”

Also good, from the January issue of Poetry, which I just got read last weekend, after a subscription issue last winter: Kathy Fagan’s “Perpendicular,” Rae Armantrout’s “Followers” — the first stanza is what gets me, framing an image of which I hadn’t thought in years or decades — and Mark Levine’s “Climax Change,” which I don’t entirely understand but must be a ton of fun to read aloud.

And then there’s this: “Las Chavas.” Episcopalian priest Spencer Reese and former U.S. poet laureate Richard Blanco team up to teach poetry at a school for girl orphans in Honduras. They share the girls’ best work with us, and we’re fortunate for both the teaching and publishing.

‘Keeping me almost warm enough…’

Thanks to friend Becky for dropping off a preview copy the other day of Susan Gardner’s new poetry collection “Lifted to the Wind.” After a week buried in the Internet (even more than usual), sitting with close reads of nature was a surprise — strange at first and then refreshing.

Like fall when you don’t expect it to be cold out, but then you find it’s not too cold and just brisk enough. (Like this weekend.) Gardner’s site hosts two of my favorites from the book, “Nebraska Sunrise” and “Chilly.”

Four favorite stumbled-over poems most recently and why

There She Is” by Linda Gregg. “When I go into the garden, there she is. / The specter holds up her arms to show / that her hands are eaten off.” Dark but honest about the world and welcoming, no more so than in the final lines.

Baseball and Classicism” by Tom Clark. Because it’s October. Because so many of the month’s games have been great. Because this poem lives up to its name and manages to combine the two elements in such a short space. Because delight.

From Book of Hours” by Kevin Young. Imagery by comparison rarely has so light a touch, so easily worn a humanity or so cumulative a narrative effect. A poem you need to take a quiet moment to scroll slowly and read to yourself.

Repetition” by Kay Ryan. I’m a big Ryan fan, but not all of her poems grab me for days and don’t let go. This one did. I think it’s because I’ve been working at the same place for five years and, for the longest stretch in a long time, have no thoughts of leaving. Or it’s because I’ve been dating the same woman for four years and — after a couple relationships previously where four years was the end — we’re instead getting married in the spring. Or it’s because I walk from that woman to that work place every day, and my usual stores sit along the route. “Few are / the willing / and fewer / the champions.” Count me in, for these things I’ve mentioned above. Investigated and grown well, familiar is far from flatness.

‘Walking the streets of Cork…’

Love how the new issue of Poetry is all about young Irish poets. There are so many good and different reads. Even the editor’s note is strong.

One notable difference between this issue and the Contemporary Irish Poetry issue of 1995 is how evenly women are represented. In 1995, out of forty poets and translators presented, only six were women. I had to make no conscious effort to achieve gender balance in this selection.

LGBT themes have been explored by a handful of poets of an older generation such as Padraig Rooney, Mary Dorcey, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, and Sarah Clancy. As to the representation of racial diversity in Irish writing — that must await the next generation. Walking the streets of Cork I take great pleasure in hearing local accents emit from Filipino, Nigerian, and Chinese teenagers. I look forward to reading them in a special Irish issue of Poetry in the future.

My favorites from the issue:

Also, from the back-matter: “But the best education in the poetic art must oscillate between the two — between the need to dream fiercely and the need to communicate,” Thomas McCarthy writes. He quotes André Gide: “The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. Essential to remain between the two, close to madness when you dream and close to reason when you write.”

(Off to Google both McCarthy and Gide.)