Archives For: Poetry

A Poem For Sunday

Sep 28 2014 @ 8:43pm


The Blind Stirring of Love” by Jean Valentine:

I rub my hands my cheeks
with oil my breasts
I bathe my genitals, my feet
leaf and bark

redden my mouth to
draw down your mouth
and all along
you have been inside me
unforsakenness . . .

(From Door in the Mountain: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2003 © 2004 by Jean Valentine. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press. Photo by Takumi Yoshida)

A Poem For Saturday

Sep 27 2014 @ 8:35am

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

This week the Poetry Society of America and the Bryant Park Reading Room joined forces to sponsor a tribute to the poet Jean Valentine with readings, recitations, and remarks by Catherine Barnett, Mark Doty, and Timothy Liu, and a reading of poems by Valentine herself, from her recent (and absolutely extraordinary) book, Little Boat.

Valentine is a contemporary poet who—like John Ashbery and the late Lucille Clifton—continues to inspire successive generations of poets. In 1965, her debut volume Dream Barker was chosen for the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Dudley Fitts, the selecting judge, described her in terms that still feel fresh and true today, praising her “quirky singular intelligence, a fusion of wit and tenderness, subserved by an unusual accuracy of pitch and rightness of tone.”

In 1969, Valentine published Pilgrims. Adrienne Rich’s moving words adorned the jacket, “Almost every poem is life lived at the edge, but lived by someone who is without cessation a poet.” Years and years later, after Jean had published many more volumes—and with her new book, Break the Glass, she is up to thirteen—Rich described Valentine’s poetry as one “of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn’t approach in any other way.”

Reading her delicate, tensile poems gives us steady access to the inward places, as Rich described, to what Emily Dickinson was indicating when she wrote of “internal difference,/Where the Meanings, are—“

This weekend, we’ll feature poems by Jean Valentine, starting with one from that early collection, Pilgrims, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1969 when (to give you a sense of the time) current volumes by John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Bogan, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Pablo Neruda, Edmund Wilson, and Derek Walcott were advertised on the back of the jacket. All these poems are available in Valentine’s Door in the Mountain: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2003.

“The River at Wolf” by Jean Valentine:

Coming east we left the animals
pelican beaver osprey muskrat and snake
their hair and skin and feathers
their eyes in the dark: red and green.
Your finger drawing my mouth.

Blessed are they who remember
that what they now have they once longed for.

A day a year ago last summer
God filled me with himself, like gold, inside,
deeper inside than marrow.

This close to God this close to you:
walking into the river at Wolf with
the animals. The snake’s
green skin, lit from inside. Our second life.

(From Door in the Mountain: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2003 © 2004 by Jean Valentine. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press)

A Poem For Sunday

Sep 21 2014 @ 6:31pm

“The Day Lady Died” by Frank O’Hara:

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille Day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfield Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the John door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

– 1959

(From Lunch Poems, Expanded 50th Anniversary Edition © 1964, 2014 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank O’Hara. Used by permission of City Lights Books, San Francisco)

A Poem For Thursday

Sep 18 2014 @ 7:12pm


“Colosseum” by Jericho Brown:

I don’t remember how I hurt myself,
The pain mine
Long enough for me
To lose the wound that invented it
As none of us knows the beauty
Of our own eyes
Until a man tells us they are
Why God made brown. Then
That same man says he lives to touch
The smoothest parts, suggesting our
Surface area can be understood
By degrees of satin. Him I will
Follow until I am as rough outside
As I am within. I cannot locate the origin
Of slaughter, but I know
How my own feels, that I live with it
And sometimes use it
To get the living done,
Because I am what gladiators call
A man in love—love
Being any reminder we survived.

Previous poems from Brown here and here.

(From The New Testament © 2014 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Detail of the Gladiator Mosaic, 4th century CE, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Sunday

Sep 14 2014 @ 11:25am


“To Be Seen” by Jericho Brown:

Forgive me for taking the tone of a preacher.
You understand, a dying man

Must have a point—not that I am
Dying exactly. My doctor tells me I’ll live

Longer than most since I see him
More than most. Of course, he cannot be trusted

Nor can any man
Who promises you life for looking his way. Promises

Come from the chosen: a lunatic,
The whitest dove—those who hear

The voice of God and other old music. I’m not
Chosen. I only have a point like anyone

Paid to bring bad news: a preacher, a soldier,
The doctor. We talk about God

Because we want to speak
In metaphors. My doctor clings to the metaphor

Of war. It’s always the virus
That attacks and the cells that fight or die

Fighting. Hell, I remember him saying the word
Siege when a rash returned. Here

I am dying while
He makes a battle of my body—anything to be seen

When all he really means is to grab me by the chin
And, like God the Father, say through clenched teeth,

Look at me when I’m talking to you.
Your healing is not in my hands, though

I touch as if to make you whole.

(From The New Testament © 2014 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Photo by Andrew Malone).

A Poem For Sunday

Sep 7 2014 @ 7:02pm
by Alice Quinn


“Julia Tutwiler State Prison for Women” by Andrew Hudgins:

On the prison’s tramped-hard Alabama clay
two green-clad women walk, hold hands,
and swing their arms as though they’ll laugh,
meander at their common whim, and not
be forced to make a quarter turn each time
they reach a corner of the fence. Though they
can’t really be as gentle as they seem
perhaps they’re better lovers for their crimes,
the times they didn’t think before acting—
or thought, and said to hell with the consequences.
Most are here for crimes of passion.
They’ve killed for jealousy, anger, love,
and now they sleep a lot. Who else
is dangerous for love—for love
or hate or anything? Who else would risk
a ten-year walk inside the fenced in edge
of a field stripped clean of soybeans or wheat?
Skimming in from the west and pounding hard
across the scoured land, a summer rain
raises puffs of dust with its first huge drops.
It envelopes the lingering women. They hesitate,
then race, hand in hand, for shelter, laughing.

(From Saints and Strangers by Andrew Hudgins. Copyright © 1985 by Andrew Hudgins. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. The poem also can be found in Poems of the American South, Everyman Pocket Poets. Photo by Eugen Anghel)

A Poem For Saturday

Sep 6 2014 @ 8:55pm
by Alice Quinn


For many years, LuAnn Walther, editorial director of Vintage Books, Anchor Books, and Everyman’s Library has orchestrated one of the greatest poetry publishing enterprises in America, bringing out nearly one hundred anthologies in the Everyman Pocket Poets series, including single-author titles such as superb selections of the work of Emily Bronte and W.H. Auden and themed anthologies ranging from Lullabies and Poems for Children and Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink to Marriage Poems, Jazz Poems, Poems of the Sea, and Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems.

The newest in this enchanting set of books is Poems of the American South, edited by David Biespiel. We’ve drawn some gems from it for our poems this week.

From “The Ozark Odes” by C.D. Wright:


Mother had one. She and Bernice racing for the river
to play with their paperdolls
because they did not want any big ears
to hear what their paperdolls were fixing to say.

Dry County Bar

Bourbon not fit to put on a sore. No women enter;
their men collect in every kind of weather
with no shirts on whatsoever.


I can still see the Cuddihy’s sisters
trimming the red tufts
under one another’s arms.

Lake Return

Why I come here: need for a bottom, something to refer to;
where all things visible and invisible commence to swarm.

(From Steal Away: Selected and New Poems © 1991, 1996 by C.D.Wright. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company on behalf of Copper Canyon Press. This poem also can be found in the anthology noted above, Poems of the American South, Everyman Pocket Poets. Photo of the White River in Arkansas by Thomas and Dianne Jones)

A Poem For Monday

Sep 1 2014 @ 7:37pm
by Alice Quinn


From the anthology, Tudor Poetry and Prose, which I praised last week, I relish the following passage about lyrics from song-books of the time:

Singing seems to have been almost universal in Elizabeth England. The countryside, the street corner, the cottage, and the tavern rang with ballads, rounds, catches . . . . The craftsman’s shop was ‘a very bird-cage’ says [Thomas] Dekker, and [Thomas] Deloney in his Gentle Craft writes that every journeyman shoemaker had to be able to ‘sound the trumpet, or play upon his flute, and bear his part in a three-man’s song, and readily reckon up his tools in rhyme.’ Among the educated, singing was a necessary social accomplishment. The breeding of a man who could not join in the song after supper, reading his part at sight, was in question.

Songs were also a staple of plays. Here’s one of my favorites by the Restoration poet John Dryden (1631-1700), born after Elizabeth’s reign and so beyond the compass (but not the influence) of the period celebrated in the anthology, appointed Poet Laureate in 1668, and buried in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer in what later became known as Poets’ Corner.

“Song for a Girl,” from Love Triumphant, by John Dryden:

Young I am, and yet unskill’d
How to make a Lover yield:
How to keep, or how to gain,
When to love; and when to feign.

Take me, take me, some of you,
While I yet am Young and True;
E’re I can my Soul disguise;
Heave my Breasts, and roul my Eyes.

Stay not till I learn the way,
How to Lye, and to Betray:
He that has me first, is blest,
For I may deceive the rest.

Cou’d I find a blooming Youth,
Full of Love, and full of Truth,
Brisk, and of a jaunty mean
I shou’d long to be Fifteen.

(Portrait of Dryden by James Maubert, circa 1695 , via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Sunday

Aug 31 2014 @ 12:47pm
by Alice Quinn


Many 16th and 17th Century English poets were also musicians—perhaps chief among them Thomas Campion (1567-1620). Campion’s ayres were often pirated before he could publish them himself, and in a note introducing a selection of them, he wryly addresses this issue, “To be brief, all these songs are mine, if you express them well; otherwise they are your own. Farewell.”

Peter Warlock, composer and scholar of Elizabethan music, felt Campion was “at his best in half serious songs” of “deliciously pretty tunes.” The jaunty one below is one of my favorites, from the Book of Ayres (1601).

“I Care Not for These Ladies” by Thomas Campion:

I care not for these ladies,
That must be wooed and prayed,
Give me kind Amarillis
The wanton country maid;
Nature art disdaineth,
Her beauty is her own;
Her when we court and kiss,
She cries, forsooth, let go.
But when we come where comfort is,
She never will say no.

If I love Amarillis,
She gives me fruit and flowers,
But if we love these ladies,
We must give golden showers,
Give them gold that sell love,
Give me the nutbrown lass,
Who when we court and kiss,
She cries, forsooth, let go.
But when we come where comfort is,
She never will say no.

These ladies must have pillows,
And beds by strangers wrought,
Give me a bower of willows,
Of moss and leaves unbought,
And fresh Amarillis,
With milk and honey fed,
Who, when we court and kiss,
She cries, forsooth, let go.
But when we come where comfort is,
She never will say no.

(Photo of an Amaryllis flower by Thangaraj Kumaravel)

A Poem For Saturday

Aug 30 2014 @ 4:53pm
by Alice Quinn


Evenings of these balmy August days, while riding my bicycle, I glimpse deer stepping out from the edges of thickets—including fawns and young bucks with delicate horns. This poem by Edmund Spenser springs naturally to mind, although it’s sweetly clear that he had something else on his. It’s one of ninety about his courtship of his wife, Elizabeth Boyle, published in 1595 with his Epithalamion, celebrating their marriage.

From Amoretti by Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599):

Lyke as a huntsman after weary chace,
Seeing the game from him escapt away,
sits downe to rest him in some shady place,
with panting hounds beguyld of their pray:
So after long pursuit and vaine assay,
when I all weary had the chace forsooke,
the gentle deare returnd the selfe-same way,
thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke.
There she beholding me with mylder looke,
sought not to fly, but fearelesse still did bide:
till I in hand her yet halfe trembling tooke,
and with her owne goodwill hir fyrmely tyde.
Strange thing me seemd to see a beast so wyld,
so goodly wonne with her owne will beguyld.

(Photo by Jereme Rauckman)