What you can do with a poem

I somehow encountered a time warp this week, and Monday is long past. Even Tuesday, and here it is Wednesday, and despite being fully “retired” I have not had the moment to sit down and put up a poem for Monday.  Time simply telescoped and disappeared.

iliadBut I have been reading a rather wonderful recreation of An Iliad by Alessandro Baricco, translated by the incomparable Anna Goldstein. Baricco had the idea of reading the entire Iliad in public, as it was done in the Homeric world. He adapted the poem for public reading, editing “to suit the patience of a modern audience.” His notes on this process are a poem in themselves, and the result was performed in fall 2004. He comments:

“For the record I’d like to say that more than ten thousand (paying) people were present at the two readings, and that Italian radio broadcast the Rome performance live, to the great satisfaction of drivers on the road and people at home. Numerous cases were confirmed of people who sat in their parked cars for hours, unwilling to turn off the radio. All right, perhaps they were sick of their families, but, anyway, this is just to say that it went very well.”

Here’s the opening, titled Chryseis: Continue reading “What you can do with a poem”


I read Larry a line from this review of The Art of Rivalry, a study of influences a group of modernist painters had on each other: “Lucien Freud declining a wedding invitation because he found himself ‘in the unusual position of having been involved sexually not only with the bride but also the groom and the groom’s mother.'” Larry’s response:

“At least he didn’t mention the family pets.”

George Oppen

oppenGeorge Oppen is a poet who seems to have faded from view. But his sensibility is intriguing.  His focus was on simplicity–using language to point to the experience as opposed to itself. Here’s a snippet:


What generations could have dreamed
This grandchild of shopping streets, her eyes

In the buyer’s light, the store lights
Brighter than the lighthouses, brighter than moonrise

From the salt harbor so rich
So bright her city

In a soil of pavement, a mesh of wires where she walks
In the new winter among enormous buildings.

George Oppen


2016-08-15 07.32.59The other day I made fig jam–one of my all time favorites.

But in trying to speed up the process, I scorched the bottom of my enamel pot. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but couldn’t get the fine layer of burnt jam off the bottom. I gave up and set the pot out in the sun to dry. When I went to take it in, all the scorch had lifted from the enamel and was easy to brush off. Who knew?

In other news, I stopped at a little mom and pop (mostly mom it seemed) diner the other morning for a quick bite and saw in action this wonderful pancake batter dispenser. If I made pancakes more often, I’d definitely get one.



Molly Peacock

I had a chance to look at a book of poems by Molly Peacock in a friend’s library. This one reminded me of a moment when i saw my parents sharing an apricot, by far my tenderest and most intimate memory of them:

peachCouple Sharing a Peach

It’s not the first time
we’ve bitten into a peach.
But now at the same time
it splits–half for each.
Our “then” is inside its “now,”
its halved pit unfleshed–

what was refreshed.
Two happinesses unfold
from one joy, folioed.
In a hotel room
our moment lies
with its ode inside,
a red tinge,
with a hinge.

Molly Peacock

Continue reading “Molly Peacock”

The art of the short poem

Does anyone do it better than this?


I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

Jack Gilbert

A Meal in Winter

This extraordinary little book is told as if a memoir, in very straightforward, matter-or-fact prose, which makes it all the more chilling. It is translated from the French by Sam Taylor. The basic plot concerns three German soldiers who no longer want to shoot Jews. They go to the commander, who is “a reservist like we were”:

“We explained to him that we would rather do the hunting than the shootings. We told him we didn’t like the shootings: that doing it made us feel bad at the time and gave us bad dreams at night. When we woke in the morning, we felt down as soon as we started thinking about it…” Continue reading “A Meal in Winter”

Olds’ Odes

If you’ve never heard Sharon Olds read, this is a good example:

or this, a poem I woke up thinking about this morning:

patz24n-5-webThe Missing Boy

(for Etan Patz)

Every time we take the bus
my son sees the picture of the missing boy.
He looks at it like a mirror–the dark
blond hair, the pale skin,
the blue eyes, the electric-blue sneakers with
slashes of jagged gold. But of course that
kid is little, only six and a half, Continue reading “Olds’ Odes”