Category Archives: Poetry

Primary virtues

“Hem Stitch Hemi Stichs,” a masterful poem by Judith Baumel. Lovely alliteration and springy rhythms.

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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.

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in the dark among the L-pipes

“The Sink,” by Catherine Bowman, in this week’s New Yorker, witty wordlists jumbled together.

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To be annotated

Via languagehat, 2,187 words in 243 end-stopped lines from Anne Tardos in the Ashberyesque “Nine,” with a whiff of Larry Shue’s Charlie Baker:

Yentsia bakoondy eeleck, ta-dee-doo-dah, bentsey la cozy fen-fen.

Bit baloon timi zin zah, timi zin zah, zimbudah.

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It shouldn’t be so easy

A recent run of fine poems at Poetry Daily, inculding “The Welcome Chamber,” by G.C. Waldrep.

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Radiator renovator

Julie Sheehan’s “Big Crazy Victorian” is at Poetry Daily.

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The Love Poem Project

Via kottke.org: this sounds like a dumb idea, like a lot of the McSweeney’s and Onion items that aren’t funny once you get past the headline. But it kinda works: George Herbert’s been remixed.

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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.

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On the verge

Joanna Goodman listens to a yellowthroat.

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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
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Abecedarian acrostic

“Ode on Dictionaries,” by Barbara Hamby.

you are the megaphone by which I bewitch the world
      or not, as the case may be. O chittering squirrel,
Ziploc sandwich bag, sound off, shut up, gather your words
      into bouquets, folios, flocks of black and flaming birds.

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Scrape

Robert Hass reflects on abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter in the poem “Time and Materials.”

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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.

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John Doe

“He commits the same crimes year after year,” according to poet Cathrine Grøndahl.

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On difficulty

A post at Via Negativa on John Ashbery and other things points to one by Reginald Shepherd on the degrees of difficulty in poetry, and a lot of the post works for other art forms as well.

Semantic difficulty can in turn be broken down into difficulty of explication and difficulty of interpretation. Some poems present both kinds of difficulty, some only one or the other. In the case of explicative difficulty, the reader cannot decipher the literal sense of the poem: “What is this poem saying?” One encounters this in Hart Crane’s “At Melville’s Tomb,” and he wrote an extensive explication of the poem for Harriet Monroe, then editor of Poetry. In the case of interpretive difficulty, one grasps what is being said on the literal level, but doesn’t know what it means, what it is meant to do. John Ashbery’s poems, usually syntactically and explicationally clear, often present this interpretive difficulty. To say that one doesn’t know what a poem means, if one understands its literal sense, is to say that one doesn’t know why it’s saying what it’s saying. The reader asks, “Why am I being told/shown this?”

It is semantic difficulty which readers are usually experiencing when they say, “I don’t understand this poem.”

In theater, this translates to the comment one hears in the lobby at intermission, “I wish they would put something in the program to tell us what this play is about.” It’s perfectly clear what, say, Waiting for Godot is “about,” what the story is: two hoboes hanging out by a withered tree expecting to meet someone who doesn’t show up. But the bemused audience member wants to know why he’s being told this particular story. (Of course, my perennial frustration is with audience members who, when presented with the fence of a difficult play, balk and refuse to jump it, even with the carrot of a program note suggesting an interpretation.)

And as well:

Formal difficulty is a particular case of what George Steiner, cited by Shetley, calls modal difficulty…. In the case of modal difficulty, a reader asks, “What makes this a poem?”

Some of the experimental work of the 1960s might fall into this category.

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