Meanwhile, in Cambridge, MA…

Here’s looking at you, kid. 



Rising and flying

I just picked up a copy of Through the Forest by David Wagoner, and I encountered this poem for the first time. He’s a fine observer of nature, and this one strikes me more than his other poems by its embodiment of the caterpillar’s experience, rather than reportage from the perspective of a human being encountering nature. You might say this is “deep pastoral” in that the human experience becomes one with what it absorbs? These are just first thoughts. It’s a beatiful poem that I’m sure to read again and again. 

Good Stuff in the latest Hudson Review

Check out these two beautiful lyrics by John Foy. I especially admire the first, for its clean, precise diction–not a word wasted–and the uncomplicated way he complicates otherwise complacent phrases. What does it mean to want the world for someone, given the lamentable state of the world? Foy answers this, though he admits that what we want never makes much of a difference in the way things turn out. 

I’m still exploring this issue, but another standout for me has been Richard Hornby’s review of a performance of You Can’t Take it with You, which includes a brief but interesting history of the sitcom. It’s a must-read. 

Giving Dark a Dream

Check out this knockout sonnet by Mary Meriam over at American Arts Quaterly. 

I love the kinetic syntax of this poem.  The language races through the line breaks and rhymes like the pickup truck that darkness drives “into the hills and hollers”, and soars like a flicked cigarette. I love the detail of “gunshots hit the town’s Masonic club,” all the more because it remains a bit mysterious to me, something to puzzle over. 

There’s tons else to love in this issue of AAQ, too. If you don’t already subscribe to the print edition, you should–it’s free, and beautifully produced. 

Langston Hughes’s Grandma Mary Writes a Love Letter to Lewis Leary Years after He Dies Fighting at Harper’s Ferry by Erica Dawson

Back from 2011, appearing on Blackbird. 

There is so much to love in this poem. How Dawson creates its voice and persona. How she builds narrative, setting, and tone through hints and telling details rather than exposition (she excels at this in all of her work). How she begins with an all-but-inconsequential pondering of the sounds of language–a casual, playful, unselfconscious remark that you just don’t expect to find in a poem. How she closes with a devastating metaphor that brings you (along with the speaker) down to your knees (and with a nod to Whitman, as well). How she does this:

Damn all Octobers, sin,
Forgiveness. Dam the streams until
Oceans of buried brothers spill
Like grief beneath the skin

Of rivers. […]

Happy Birthday to the Upstart Crow!

Today is the birthday of William Shakespeare. Yves Bonnefoy has written a letter to Shakespeare, which you can read over at the Fortnightly Review. I found it very absorbing indeed, a richly textured piece of imaginative criticism. Here’s a passage where I felt sparks flying: “This stage with nothing but itself–this metaphysical place, in short–mirrors the dimensions of the hope we peg to language. It offers itself unreservedly to what is sought by poets, always much more than the letter of their work. It permits us to glimpse what is unsayable in their perception of the world, or hidden in their relation to themselves: two things that are inexpressible. Their conjunction, their mutual consumption, is the event of poetry….”

That’s just a little taste. I promise you, this piece will absorb you completely.

“First Born, Last Born” by A.E. Stallings

Check this out, over at Unsplendid. 

What I love about this poem is its perfect combination of wit and poignancy. Cleverness is often called out as a weakness in poems, either because it detracts from the communication of feeling or because the critic derides it as a matter of course. I don’t know what to say to the critic who will stomach no wit whatsoever, but I can say that, in the case of this poem, wit and sentiment perform a breathtaking balancing act. Phrases like “Your firsts were first” might be too clever without the balance provided by “We bit our lips if you were ever slow/to reach some milestone….” Conversely, if all the poem had to offer was this lip-biting, without the biblical allusions of “In the beginning” and “Your alphas are omegas”–it would perhaps descend into mawkishness. I’ve been a fan of Stallings since her debut collection, Archaic Smile, and this sonnet is a beautiful addition to her work.