Archives For: Poetry

A Poem For Sunday

Oct 19 2014 @ 12:31pm


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

James Laughlin, the founder and publisher of New Directions from 1936 until his death in 1997, was also a prolific poet, who established his style with some guidance from William Carlos Williams, one of his most distinguished authors. In Peter Glassgold’s introduction to The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, 1935-1997, the omnibus volume he has edited, I learned that Laughlin dubbed it “typewriter metrics.” Glassgold describes it thus: “The lines in any given stanza could not vary in length more than one typewriter character.” Laughlin said that he was after “an effect of tension from the war between the strictly artificial pattern and the strictly natural spoken rhythms.”

The poem below was written in the mid-30s, around the time he took a trip to Key West to try to talk Elizabeth Bishop into joining his list. She didn’t say yes, but there’s an enchanting picture of her on the steps of a brothel where they were treated to tea, and, as Laughlin recalled, “Oreo cookies, my favorites.”

“What My Head Did to Me” by James Laughlin:

Read On

A Poem For Saturday

Oct 18 2014 @ 5:49pm


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

James Laughlin, the founder and publisher of New Directions, shepherded a list, from 1936 until his death in 1997, which Peter Glassgold describes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, 1935-1997 as one that “steadily expanded to include an astonishing pantheon of contemporary authors, primarily of the Modernist avant-garde, and quite literally changed what educated Americans read and the way American writers wrote and the kinds of poetry and fiction that were taught in our schools.” Today, ND is just as vital a force in contemporary literary culture, and the backlist is, of course, astounding.

Laughlin considered himself primarily a love poet and was encouraged by a number of his treasured authors—among them William Carlos Williams, Thomas Merton, Kenneth Rexroth, and Guy Davenport, who has praised his poems as “witty, elegiac, sexy, satiric, naughty, poignant, wise.” But Ezra Pound whose “Ezuversity” in Rapallo, Italy proved foundationally crucial to Laughlin’s literary education “ruled them hopeless,” he recalled. When prodded as to what path he should take, Pound replied, “ Go back to Haavud to finish up your studies. If you’re a good boy, your parents will give you some money and you can bring out books.” And so they did, launching one of the great publishing houses of the century.

Glassgold tells us that more than three-quarters of the 1,250-odd poems in the new volume date from Laughlin’s last fifteen years. When I was at The New Yorker, we published a number of his poems, which I found so captivating and dear. I loved the one below, which we wanted to publish but couldn’t because I discovered it had already appeared in a book. When I called to give J (as he was called) the sad news, he replied, mischievously, “Poor Gramps—ejected on a technicality!”

“Grandfather” by James Laughlin:

Sits on a chair at the
Kitchen table shelling
Peas into a bowl. He
Looks contented, even
Happy, smiling as he
Works. If you ask him
A question he probably
Won’t answer. He has
No idea what my name is,
Or even, I guess, that
I’m his grandson. He’s
93 but he has to be kept
Busy or he’ll start to
Root around in closets
All over the house. What
Does he think is lost?
No matter, he has been
Asked to shell peas.
He’s happy doing it. And
We’ll have peas for lunch.

(From The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, 1935-1997, edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Glassgold © 1995 by James Laughlin. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue)

A Poem For Saturday

Oct 4 2014 @ 1:22pm


“Hunger for Something” by Chase Twichell:

Sometimes I long to be the woodpile,
cut-apart trees soon to be smoke,
or even the smoke itself,

sinewy ghost of ash and air, going
wherever I want to, at least for a while.

Neither inside nor out,
neither lost nor home, no longer
a shape or a name, I’d pass through

all the broken windows of the world.
It’s not a wish for consciousness to end.

It’s not the appetite an army has
for its own emptying heart,
but a hunger to stand now and then

alone on the death-grounds,
where the dogs of the self are feeding.

(From Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been © 1998, 2010 by Chase Twichell. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Photo by Nick Harris)

A Poem For Friday

Oct 3 2014 @ 5:49pm


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

This Saturday, October 4th, at 4 PM, the award-winning poet Chase Twichell will be at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, one of New York’s most magical places and, at 250 acres, America’s largest urban garden.

Twichell, a practicing Buddhist, will be celebrating the garden’s fall exhibition, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden. She has curated a poetry walk featuring tanka and haiku by two of Japan’s renowned female poets whose work she explores on an acoustiguide tour to accompany the walk. The first is Rengetsu (known in English as Lotus Moon), who lived in the nineteenth century and was a Buddhist nun as well as a potter, expert calligrapher, and martial artist and the second Mitsu Suzuki, who was born in Japan in 1914 and moved to San Francisco in the 1960s to help her husband establish the San Francisco Zen Center.

Twichell will read their poems and poems of her own from Horses Where the Answers Should have Been: New and Selected Poems. I like thinking about how her spiritual practice is inflected in her poetry the way I long ago enjoyed pondering how Doris Lessing’s Sufism affected her fiction. We’ll post poems by Twichell this weekend.

“Paint” by Chase Twichell:

Lotions and scents, ripe figs,
raw silk, the cat’s striped pelt . . .
Fat marbles the universe.

I want to be a faint pencil line
under the important words,
the ones that tell the truth.

Delicious, the animal trace
of the brush in the paint,
crushed caviar of molecules.

A shadow comes to me and says,
When you go, please leave
the leafless branch unlocked.

I paint the goat’s yellow eye,
and the latch on truth’s door.
Open, eye and door.

(From Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been © 1998, 2010 by Chase Twichell. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Photo by Robert Benson of some of the thousands of meticulously trained chrysanthemums in both modern and ancient styles currently on display at The New York Botanical Garden)

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)