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A Poem For Friday

Alice Quinn —  Dec 19 2014 @ 7:34am
by Alice Quinn

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“A Morning” by Mark Strand (1934-2014):

I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.

The Dish looked back at Strand’s life and work after his recent death here.

(From Selected Poems by Mark Strand © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Photo of a small boat off of Prince Edward Island, where Strand was born, by Angus MacAskill)

A Poem For Thursday

Alice Quinn —  Dec 18 2014 @ 3:00pm
by Alice Quinn

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“The Afternoon According to Saint Matthew” by Mary Ruefle:

There’s the black truck
with orange flames
on its hood. There’s the girl
in the pink pajamas. There’s her sister
in a bumblebee suit.
They are playing with dirt.
When they find bugs
they scream
but no one hears them.
Their minds are growing though.
In the late afternoon light
they scoop the dirt into tin cans
so they can bury it
in the backyard.
I think we have a case
of two women grinding at the mill—
one will be taken and one
will be left,
but it’s way too early
to tell.

(From Trances of the Blast © 2013 by Mary Ruefle. Used by permission of Wave Books. Photo by David Poe)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 13 2014 @ 8:18am

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From Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn:

I am not a poet but reading certain poems gives me a feeling which I like to believe tells me something of what it might feel like to be a poet, one who makes the compositions that bear that sacred name. That’s how I feel when I read the work of Mary Ruefle. Her poems are sweetly mysterious and captivating, with a decisive momentum like tobaggans swiftly barreling to their last lines—sometimes holding on for dear life, sometimes fairly squealing with abandon. And thus my love of tobogganing has been restored to me.

Mary read at the 92nd Street Y in New York City this week with Christian Wiman, another illustrious contemporary poet, chief editor of Poetry Magazine from 2003-2013 and currently on the faculty at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School.

We plan on posting poems by Christian Wiman soon in the new year, and this week we’ll feature three of Mary’s. Others of hers from The Dish can be found here, here, and here, all from the same book from which these three are drawn, Trances of the Blast, published by Wave Books in 2013.

“Platonic” by Mary Ruefle:

Did it mean anything? The stone, the rose,
darkness, wood, wind, flame, the violin.
The practical man, the visible world,
the painted ponies, the sea, the wilderness
of cellophane, my last word, my crumpled message
to my friend? Was I in search of something,
tools maybe, or seeds, for many odd things
are stowed under the overthinking.
Let’s begin to talk about things,
and what they should be named,
and whether it will be necessary
to draw any of them.
The sound of the teakettle—
it was the most terrible thing in the world.
Sometimes it was a wolf, and sometimes
a man or a woman, whatever it felt like,
even falling cherry blossoms, and always
it could take you out, and then it did,
leaving the whole room as impressive
as an unexplored cave.

(From Trances of the Blast © 2013 by Mary Ruefle. Used by permission of Wave Books. Photo by Jim Devleer)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 6 2014 @ 9:33am

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

100914strand14LSMark Strand was (even for a poet) exceptionally captivated by a cat-and-mouse game – whimsical and profound – with the subject of death. He left this realm on Saturday, November 29th, to the great sorrow of his many, many dear friends and admirers. He was, I reckon, mostly cat in this fluidly shifting contest, empowered by the strength of his indelible and charming artistic wiles.

His poem “2002” from the collection Man and Camel, begins:

I am not thinking of Death, but Death is thinking of me.
He leans back in his chair, rubs his hands, strokes
his beard, and says, “I’m thinking of Strand, I’m thinking
that one of these days I’ll be out back, swinging my scythe
or holding my hourglass up to the moon, and Strand will appear
in a jacket and tie, and together under the boulevards’
leafless trees we’ll stroll into the city of souls. . . .”

The above photograph of Mark Strand with Charles Wright, our current U.S. Poet Laureate, was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald on Thursday, October 9th, when nineteen poets—lifelong friends like so many in the audience—joined his daughter Jessica on stage at the New School’s Auditorium at 66 West 12th Street to celebrate his 80th birthday and his new Collected Poems, just published by Alfred A. Knopf. No one present will ever forget his wit, sweetness, and radiance that night.

“My Death” by Mark Strand:

Sadness, of course, and confusion.
The relatives gathered at the graveside,
talking about the waste, and the weather mounting,
the rain moving in vague pillars offshore.

This is Prince Edward Island.
I came back to my birthplace to announce my death.
I said I would ride full gallop into the sea
and not look back. People were furious.

I told them about attempts I had made in the past,
how I starved in order to be the size of Lucille,
whom I loved, to inhabit the cold space
her body had taken. They were shocked.

I went on about the time
I dove in a perfect arc that filled
with the sunshine of farewell and I fell
head over shoulders into the river’s thigh.

And about the time
I stood naked in the snow, pointing a pistol
between my eyes, and how when I fired my head bloomed
into health. Soon I was alone.

Now I lie in the box
of my making while the weather
builds and the mourners shake their heads as if
to write or to die, I did not have to do either.

(From Selected Poems by Mark Strand © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.Random House, LLC. Photo of Strand and Charles Wright courtesy of Lawrence Schwartzwald.)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 22 2014 @ 9:34am

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Last week I introduced Sharon Olds at a benefit for Red Hen Press in Pasadena. At Knopf in 1983, I was her editor for The Dead and the Living, her second book of poems, winner of both the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the National Book Critics’ Circle award. On the plane to LA two days before the event, I reread a number of her splendid books, all devotedly published by Knopf. Stag’s Leap, from 2012, her compelling collection centered around the end of her marriage—part elegy, part dirge, part paean to all it was—was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and Britain’s T.S.Eliot Prize. We’ll post several poems from that book this weekend and in the days ahead, including a poem especially apt for Thanksgiving.

“The Last Hour” by Sharon Olds:

Suddenly, the last hour
before he took me to the airport, he stood up,
bumping the table, and took a step
toward me, and like a figure in an early
science fiction movie he leaned
forward and down, and opened an arm,
knocking my breast, and he tried to take some
hold of me, I stood and we stumbled,
and then we stood, around our core, his
hoarse cry of awe, at the center,
at the end, of our life. Quickly, then,
the worst was over, I could comfort him,
holding his heart in place from the back
and smoothing it from the front, his own
life continuing, and what had
bound him, around his heart—and bound him
to me—now lying on and around us,
sea-water, rust, light, shards,
the little eternal curls of eros
beaten straight out.

(From Stag’s Leap: Poems by Sharon Olds © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 15 2014 @ 10:31am

From Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn:

I’ve been reading The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 for weeks and am mesmerized by the beauty and power, the humor, complexity, and charge of her poems, often bringing to mind the work of another great, canny contemporary poet, the Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska.

Toni Morrison wrote the forward to the book, and I’ll quote some lines I treasure. “The love readers feel for Lucille Clifton – both the woman and her poetry – is constant and deeply felt….Her devoted fans speak often of how inspiring her poetry is – life-changing in some instances….I read her skill as that emanating from an astute, profound intellect.”

Just months before her death, Lucille Clifton learned that she had been awarded the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Art by the Poetry Society of America. At the awards ceremony that spring, the poet Cornelius Eady, standing beside Lucille’s beautiful daughters, accepted the award on her behalf, reading remarks she had composed for the occasion.

Two of my favorite short poems of hers can be described as self-portraits – one of spirit, the other of fidelity to poetry. The first is “We Do Not Know Very Much About Lucille’s Inner Life”:

from the light of her inner life
a company of citizens
watches lucille as she trembles
through the world.
she is a tired woman though
well meaning, they say.
when will she learn to listen to us?
lucille things are not what they seem.
all all is wonder and
astonishment.

The other is “the making of poems”:

the reason why I do it
though I fail and fail
in the giving of true names
is I am Adam and his mother
and these failures are my job.

We’ll feature her poems today and over the weekend.

“in the evenings” by Lucille Clifton:

i go through my rooms
like a witch watchman
mad as my mother was for
rattling knobs and
tapping glass. ah, lady,
i can see you now,
our personal nurse,
placing the iron
wrapped in rags
near our cold toes.
you are thawed places and
safe walls to me as I walk
the same sentry,
ironing the winters warm and
shaking locks in the night
like a ghost.

(From The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glasner with a foreward by Toni Morrison © 2012 by The Estate of Lucille Clifton. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 8 2014 @ 10:34am

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

I introduced the Scottish poet Robin Robertson at the 92nd Street Y this past Monday, where he read with another wonderful poet, Carolyn Forché. Reading his poems beforehand for days and days (and I’ve been reading his work for years) reinforced my sense that he is writing some of the best poems we have in English today—musical, stirring, and beautifully conceived. We’ll feature several this weekend from his newest book, Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems.

“Artichoke” by Robin Robertson:

The nubbed leaves
come away
in a tease of green, thinning
down to the membrane:
the quick, purpled,
beginnings of the male.

Then the slow hairs of the heart:
the choke that guards its trophy,
its vegetable goblet.
The meat of it lies, displayed,
up-ended, al dente,
the stub-root aching in its oil.

(From Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems by Robin Robertson © 2014 by Robin Robertson. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

A Poem For Friday

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 7 2014 @ 7:29pm

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Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell died last week. He loved the poems of his predecessors, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, whose line from “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” we post in his honor.

“I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter.”

“Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell (1927-2014):

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched or broughamed,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry eating in late September.

(From A New Selected Poems © 2000 by Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Photo by Jared Smith)

A Poem For Monday

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 3 2014 @ 6:52pm

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Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

From poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets, I learned that Amy Lowell from the grand Massachusetts family, whose brother Abbott Lawrence, would become president of Harvard College from 1909-1933, “secluded herself in the 7,000 book library” of her family’s estate in Brookline to study literature at the age of seventeen. She enjoyed early success, publishing in The Atlantic Monthly and other journals, and became a key figure in the Imagist movement spearheaded by Ezra Pound. She was also for many years a central figure at the Poetry Society of America in New York, the nation’s oldest organization devoted to the art.

“The Pike” by Amy Lowell:

In the brown water,
Thick and silver-sheened in the sunshine,
Liquid and cool in the shade of the reeds,
A pike dozed.
Lost among the shadows of stems
He lay unnoticed.
Suddenly he flicked his tail,
And a green-and-copper brightness
Ran under the water.

Out from under the reeds
Came the olive-green light,
And orange flashed up
Through the sun-thickened water.
So the fish passed across the pool,
Green and copper,
A darkness and a gleam,
And the blurred reflections of the willows on the opposite bank
Received it.

(From Modernist Women Poets: An Anthology © 2014 by Robert Hass and Paul Ebenkamp. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press. Photo by Flickr user katdaned)

A Poem For Saturday

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 1 2014 @ 5:47pm

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

The superb American poet Galway Kinnell, who was also a sweet, generous, gallant, much-beloved man, died peacefully in Sheffield, Vermont this past Tuesday. When The Book of Nightmares, long considered one of his best, was published in 1971, fellow poet John Logan wrote, “Each generation looks about to see who the great ones are in the arts, and in our time we can single out Galway Kinnell as one of the few consummate masters in poetry.”

His Selected Poems, published in 1982, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and shared the National Book Award that year with Charles Wright’s Country Music: Selected Early Poems. The reception of the book was extraordinary, exemplified by the praise of Richard Tillinghast in The Boston Review, “This book is proof that poems can still be written movingly and convincingly, on those subjects that in any age fascinate, quicken, disturb, confound, and sadden the hearts of men and women: eros, the family, mortality, the life of the spirit, war, the life of nations.” After September 11th, The New Yorker published his profound meditation, When the Towers Fell, which he read from the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall to a public aching for poetic witness. A friend who was there told me, “Fighter jets flew overhead, the sky was as blue as it had been on 9/11, and it was as intense a civic moment as one could have. Or, put another way, the civic became intensely personal.” Up to the moment the magazine was to be printed, Galway’s revisions were sliding through the fax machine at a tremendous clip. The consummate master was a consummate reviser, too, which inspired the legions of students he taught over the decades.

“After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” by Galway Kinnell (1927-2014):

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

(From A New Selected Poems © 2000 by Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)