Hesitation, doubt, and ambiguity

Bill Keller proposes that the current occupants of the Capitol would benefit from a little poetry:

Poetry is no substitute for courage or competence, but properly applied, it is a challenge to self-certainty, which we currently have in excess. Poetry serves as a spur to creative thinking, a rebuke to dogma and habit, an antidote to the current fashion for pledge signing.

He quotes from William Carlos Williams (somehow I had remembered these lines as coming from Whitman): “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.”

His colleague David Orr suggests some works that might serve as antidotes to the paralysis. I think Kay Ryan’s “All You Did” is especially pertinent.

Reading list

‘Tis Poetry Month once again, and Patrick Cooper points to Jay Parini’s list of ten American poems then “have left the deepest mark on US literature – and me.” Robert Lowell is more or less unknown to me, and Parini’s selection, “Memories of West Street and Lepke,” reminds me pleasantly of Marianne Moore. I haven’t read much Whitman for a long while—time to rectify that.

Wash Day

A grim little poem from Allen Grossman:

Water. Well-water
is real cold.
No stove, pigs or not,
is hot enough to bring
well-water to blood heat.
For that you need a heart.

…with an allusion to the first verses of Amos 8:

Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the LORD unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more. And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord GOD: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence.

Mr. Brightside

there is always
something to be thankful
for you would not
think that a cockroach
had much ground
for optimism
but as the fishing season
opens up i grow
more and more
cheerful at the thought
that nobody ever got
the notion of using
cockroaches for bait

—Don Marquis, the Archy and Mehitabel poems, 19 April 1922

Granite kissed

in progress WhitmanStone masons are scribing a quotation from Walt Whitman’s “The Wound Dresser” into the Q Street N.W. entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro station. The complete stanza reads:

Thus in silence, in dream’s projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hos-
   pitals;
The hurt and the wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night—some are so
   young;
Some suffer so much—I recall the experience sweet
   and sad;
(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have
   cross’d and rested,
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Update: Via a DCist comment thread, WMATA’s press release on the project.