Everything before mid-March is beginning to feel like the far past as the uncertainty of the future stretches. It’s hard to remember what getting up and going somewhere feels like. A month into this long ordeal, I created a poetic form I called the viral. It’s a poem about the virus that doesn’t use any of the words people use to talk about it. Here’s an example that came out of an exercise I was using by Tony Hoagland. Surprisingly, it was published soon after I wrote it in What Rough Beast, Covid-19 Edition, April 14, 2020:
First Person Plural, a viral
starting with a line by Diane Seuss
Let’s meet somewhere outside time and space
where panic cannot grab a toehold, in the crevice
between the president and the antiperspirant ad.
Observe as the sun gradually opens
the cymbidium’s curved purple sepals
to its gold labellum, it’s top like a tooth.
Let’s hunker down,
explore our fear of opening, turn
toward the page, the screen,
the one who shares our food,
our bed, our worries.
Let’s unfurl beyond terror
to be touched
by bird or bee or human finger,
wave our delicate fringe
unique, tremulous, perishable.
Poets have a form called “Ars Poetica” that they use to spell out their belief about their work. Here is one I love from Elizabeth Alexander. It’s simplicity, and the quick turns it makes are pretty darn good:
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
I had the good luck to host a reading by Elizabeth Bradfield on Saturday. We did this online, including several of her friends. I thought I’d post this poem by one of them, Sean Hill. He also hosts the Minnesota Northwoods Writers’ Conference, which starts Thursday. His most recent book is Dangerous Goods, from Milkweed Editions.
I posted some excerpts from The Fire Next Time last year. It seems appropriate to repost this one today.
“If one is permitted to treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them to endure, and since the entire race has been mysteriously indicted, no reason not to attempt to destroy it root and branch. This is precisely what the Nazis attempted. Their only originality lay in the means they used. It is scarcely worthwhile to attempt remembering ow many times the sun has looked down on the slaughter of the innocents. I am very much concerned that American Negroes achieve their freedom here in the United States. But I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know–we see it around us every day–the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself. That is not a mystical statement, but a most realistic one, which is proved by the eyes of any Alabama sheriff–and I would not like to see Negroes ever arrive at so wretched a condition…” Continue reading “Baldwin Redux”→
Sometimes it’s hard to pick a poem I think will offer some solace. Right now, the world seems so broken. I’m not sure this does the trick, but there is much we can’t do anything about, and some we can. Balancing those is key to remaining sane. I hope this poem helps.
Whatever It Is
I took some stones
from the overgrown fireplace
not too far from the maples
my father planted
that have outlived the house.
I have the tiny diamond
Aunt Barbara got from the man
she never spoke about
in my presence; today
only three people in the world
have any memory of her.
Here’s a diary entry I made
as a teenager: “Cicero says
one of the ‘six mistakes of man’
is to worry about things that
cannot be changed or corrected.” Continue reading “Troubles…”→