‘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.)


Picked up Ron Padgett’s new collection, “Alone and Not Alone,” a while back and just got a chance/remembered to pull it off the shelf and read it. The New York Times, amid saying nice things about the book, opines on Padgett’s openness in saying “nice” and excerpts one of my favorite poems from the book in doing so.

Dinner is a damned nice thing
as are breakfast and lunch
when they’re good and with
the one you love.

That poem’s called “Pep Talk,” for what the food gives us. I also like one about a butterfly. And one about what it means to relax. And one about the first person to say “I think the world of you.” My favorite passage from it end up on this page, a page that oddly says almost nothing else.

Don’t go around all day
thinking about life—
doing so will raise a barrier
between you and its instants.
You need those instants
so you can be in them,
and I need you to be in them with me
for I think the world of us
and the mysterious barricades
that make it possible.

‘The green Wi-Fi fuse’

I love the July/August issue of Poetry as much as I’d loved any magazine issue all year, I think. I’ve just finished it, and new love can be overstated love. Enjoyed? Is that a better word? Enjoyed more than any magazine issue all year. Let’s withhold love to wait for time. I’ve enjoyed the issue because of how strange and different and young and open it is, filled with voices that throw around love without waiting for time.

I enjoy the beginning, Amy Newman’s “Howl,” opening, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by wedding 
planners, dieting, in shapewear, / dragging themselves in cute outfits through the freezer section for the semifreddo bender, / blessed innovative cloister girl pin-ups burning to know the rabbi of electricity in poverty, obedience, in the dream stick of opium and the green Wi-Fi fuse….”

Then into a long poem about an early New England witch hunter, then an appreciation of limericks, with Anthony Madrid both mentioning Evanston and writing one that made me laugh out loud (the blackjack one), then two pieces of art made of letters, numbers and symbols, all of which your brain would like to form into sense but cannot.

Then there’s a whole section the magazine apparently worked on with Tavi and her Rookie people. Has the average age of the writers in this publication ever been so young? What a data set, should it ever exist. I would say the theme of the section is taking chances with poetry, with sharing, with exposure, in an environment (school/teen often here but any will do) filled with player also unsure of themselves and developing in different directions, sloppy but earnest, as likely to be with you as to run into you.

Closing the issue are short essays on poetry from Ai Weiwei, Rhymefest and others, but the last major section is a collection of poetry by Alice Notley, who I’d never heard before this issue (I’m unfamiliar with most of the names in each issue of the magazine, which only makes me more interested in them) but who writes with the same fever. “This fire all there is … to find … I find it / You have to find it. It isn’t love, it’s what?”

Poems tilting toward spring

Wrote a while back. Never posted, never really finished.


The Spring Poem,” by Dave Smith.

Awaking in New York,” by Maya Angelou.

Spring,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The birthday of the world,” by Marge Piercy.


Yes, we can look backward to winter or, sadly, to the present still-winter. I’m looking out the window at the increasing flurries right now, and the forecasters say freezing rain will follow. This first day of March, as I mentioned earlier today, follows Washington’s coldest February in 36 years.

Meanwhile in Chicago, coming off a month of great poems related to Black History Month, and a brutal and continuing winter, the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day feed resumes more-varied broadcasting today with an Emily Dickinson poem comparing traumatic pain to snowy cold and death.

But all isn’t lost in a snowbank. There’s some hope in the verses. The chilly pain can be “Remembered, if outlived.” A final line mentions, after the chill and stupor, the possibility of letting go. Letting go bad? Or letting go good? I’m choosing to be optimistic today, even as the snow blows.

Looking for more about the poem, I came across a site called Shmoop.com, which seems to be CliffsNotes-meets-Buzzfeed. (A related-stories area gets the header, “People who Shmooped this also Shmooped….”) Shmoop chases this Dickinson poem for its millennial (or younger?) audience, and the site’s conclusions make my day.

Sooner or later, everybody gets a shock. And we’re not talking about the kind of shock you get when you try to slide a Hot Pocket out of the toaster oven with a fork. We’re talking about the kind of deep emotional shock that comes when something seriously bad happens.

Maybe you miss the final shot at the big game even though you’re awesome. Or it could be that you discover your Dad has a secret family in Costa Rica. Or maybe somebody close to you dies.

Whatever it is—no matter how huge or miniscule—the period of time right after the initial pain can be pretty crappy. You can feel lost, alone, and totally numb to the world.

Whenever you’re feeling like this, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” is a poem that’s there for you. Don’t expect it to be there with sunshine and roses, though. Nah, it’s that friend who’s there to say, “Look, dude, I know how you feel.” As you read these lines that perfectly capture the conflicted feelings that come after a trauma, you’ll know it’s being straight up with you.

So, like the angsty tween readers of Shmoop, let us try to move forward with hope. In poetry selections of this time of year, I see so much “Look, dude, I know how you feel” happening. We know spring lurks!

Related favorites of mine recently include…

Probability,” by Lia Purpura.

Most coincidents are not
miraculous, but way more
common than we think—
it’s the shiver
of noticing being

Abide” by Jake Adam Work, and Natasha Trethewey’s first selection for the poem feature in the redesigned New York Times Magazine. It’s a slow burner, growing warmer, and worth it.

Trethewey’s second selection, “Moth Orchids” by Ellen Bass, is fantastic too. Trethewey writes: “Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings showed us how sensual flowers could be. Ellen Bass’s poem does this, too, reminding us of the power of metaphor: how one thing is like another, how desire can be reflected in the way we see and how our sustained attention — to language, to the things of this world — can reward us again and again.”

An Old Woman’s Painting” by Lynn Emanuel speaks to the warmth we find even when the nights are cold, mentioning autumn but still fitting for this time of year when we doff or don our coats depending on the time of day. “Let the world stand wearily on the stoop of  the jail / of  the world….”

And then there’s “I Allow Myself” by Dorothea Grossman. It begins:

I allow myself
the luxury of breakfast
(I am no nun, for Christ’s sake).

Last, we have “The Mushroom House,” which isn’t a poem at all but an actual house. Click to see the photos. The name fits, and right now I wish I could live there.

The architect, inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, created an undulating design with rolling curves and curls. Because of the home’s cavelike exterior, created by a polyurethane foam coating, many people are surprised to find it light and airy inside, not dark and gloomy.

“It is very, very private,” Frances said. “It is open and free but very private.”

‘Like emerging from a forest’

The Post talks to local writers about inspiration. Rita Dove:

Whenever I walk into my study, I take a moment — an inhalation, really — to gaze out over the neighborhood, an undulating patchwork of variegated greens that miraculously smudge into the dusky lines of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The desk surface I sit down to is a landscape of woods wrapped around three walls. For me, finishing a poem often feels like emerging from a forest. Now whenever I sit down to write, I find myself suspended between artifice and nature, poised to step into the clearing’s rinsed light.

Related, from my New Yorker catch-up, there’s Anne Carson’s “Each Day Unexpected Salvation (John Cage),” a meditation on shade.

Forest shade, lake shade, poplar shade, highway shade,
backyard shade, café shade, down-behind-the-high-school
shade, cow shade, carport shade, blowing shade, dappled
shade, shade darkened by rain above, shade under ships….

Some of the poems I’ve been reading (and liking) recently

In catching up with Poetry magazine this summer.

End of Days Advice from an Ex-zombie” because ex-zombies.

from d e l e t e, Part 8” because consciousness is amazing.

The Fourth Hour of the Night” because a very long poem is a gutsy way to start an issue.

Two Rooms” because a very short poem is a gutsy way to start an issue.

Introduction” by Brian Henry because it’s really just an intro to a section of an issue about poet Tomaž Šalamun but for the first two paragraphs I thought I was reading Tomaž Šalamun writing form-less poetry about himself.

Against Witness” by Cathy Park Hong about artist Doris Salcedo.

… But the surfaces have been manipulated by the artist’s hand: table surfaces have been distressed, scratched, and threaded with human hair like cryptic inscriptions from the dead.

Salcedo’s installations are said to be intimate and uncanny, both qualities in an artwork that must be intuited in person because both qualities require proximity. You must inhabit a space to feel uninhabited by the uncanny. In German, uncanny is unheimlich, or its literal translation, unhomely. To feel the uncanny is not unlike déjà vu, where you are in a new environment and are jolted by a flash of the familiar, or inversely, when you’re in your own home and you suddenly feel a terrible unease that this is not your beautiful house. Freud said that flash of the familiar is a return of our repressed past. It is the opposite of Kant’s notion of the sublime: while one elicits a rush of elevated pleasure, the uncanny provokes anxiety, a discomfort in one’s own skin. The uncanny, according to Freud, is not unlike the feeling of being buried alive. The uncanny, according to Freud, is also to feel “robbed of one’s eyes.”