New collection of June Jordan’s poems

There’s a new selection of June Jordan’s poetry out, The Essential June Jordan.  Here is a short sample–a poem I love for so many reasons, not least because of the way the complexity of title plays against the simplicity of the poem:

Poem Number Two on Bell’s Theorem, or The New Physicality
of Long Distance Love

There is no chance that we will fall apart
There is no chance
There are no parts.

June Jordan

You could do worse than add this volume to your library!

Hurricane watch

Here on Cape Cod, the hurricane is just a summer storm, mostly passed by. I had fallen into a lovely rhythm of early morning reading and writing, a swim, a meal, repeat. But this morning, my laptop refused to start, and despite the best efforts of Apple support, refused again and again.

On my own for a few days, I was startled to discover how bereft I felt–the laptop has been my workhorse, my tool. I read and write largely on my laptop. I didn’t even bring a notebook. But I gave up, went to the ocean for a long walk by the wonderfully crashing stormy waves, came back, and miraculously, it’s working again.

I can get back to work, and am publishing this wonderful poem by Camille Dungy a day early, in case this respite is temporary.

Trophic Cascade

After the reintroduction of gray wolves
to Yellowstone and, as anticipated, their culling
of deer, trees grew beyond the deer stunt
of the mid century. In their up reach
songbirds nested, who scattered
seed for underbrush, and in that cover
warrened snowshoe hare. Weasel and water shrew
returned, also vole, and came soon hawk
and falcon, bald eagle, kestrel, and with them
hawk shadow, falcon shadow. Eagle shade
and kestrel shade haunted newly-berried
runnels where mule deer no longer rummaged, cautious
as they were, now, of being surprised by wolves. Berries
brought bear, while undergrowth and willows, growing
now right down to the river, brought beavers,
who dam. Muskrats came to the dams, and tadpoles.
Came, too, the night song of the fathers
of tadpoles. With water striders, the dark
gray American dipper bobbed in fresh pools
of the river, and fish stayed, and the bear, who
fished, also culled deer fawns and to their kill scraps
came vulture and coyote, long gone in the region
until now, and their scat scattered seed, and more
trees, brush, and berries grew up along the river
that had run straight and so flooded but thus dammed,
compelled to meander, is less prone to overrun. Don’t
you tell me this is not the same as my story. All this
life born from one hungry animal, this whole,
new landscape, the course of the river changed,
I know this. I reintroduced myself to myself, this time
a mother. After which, nothing was ever the same.

Camille Dungy

From the book, Trophic Cascade, Wesleyan University Press, 2018




Forrest Gander

I reviewed Forrest Gander’s recent book, Twice Alive, for LA Review of Books recently. LARB is one of the few places that prints in-depth reviews, more than just a quick scan.  You can read the review here.

And here is a poem from the book that appeared in the New Yorker. It’s a complex poem that captures the brutal but not hopeless aftermath of the fires in Sonoma:

Post Fire Forest

Shadows of shadows without canopy,
phalanxes of carbonized trunks and
snags, their inner momentum shorted out.
They surround us in early morning
like plutonic pillars, like mute clairvoyants
leading a Sursum Corda, like the excrescence
of some long slaughter. All that moves
is mist lifting, too indistinct to be called
ghostly, from scorched filamental
layers of rain-moistened earth. What
remains of the forest takes place
in the exclamatory mode. Cindered
utterances in a tongue from which
everything trivial has been volatilized,
everything trivial to fire. In a notch,
between near hills stubbled
with black paroxysm, we spot
a familiar sun, liquid glass globed
at the blowpipe’s tip. If this landscape
is dreaming, it must dream itself awake.

You have, everyone notes, a rare talent
for happiness. I wonder how
to value that, walking through wreckage.
On the second day, a black-backed
woodpecker answers your call, but we
search until twilight without finding it.

Exemplary sentences

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted an exemplary sentence, but The Transit of Venus, by Shirley Hazzard, is full of them. Very arch, and often funny.  I’m only about half-way through, but here are a few:

“Dora sat on a corner of the spread rug, longing to be assigned a task so she could resent it.”

“She need not say, she said, that she loved them.”

“Saturday afternoon in England is a rehearsal for the end of the world.”

Of course the novel takes place largely in England.

The narrative poem

I love this form that tells a story but is more than a story.  When it works, it really works, as this, by Robert Bly:

The Russians

“The Russians had few doctors on the front line.
My father’s job was this: after the battle
Was over, he’d walk among the men hit,
Sit down and ask: ‘Would you like to die on your
Own in a few hours, or should I finish it?’
Most said, ‘Don’t leave me.’ The two would have
A cigarette. He’d take out his small notebook—
We had no dogtags, you know— and write the man’s
Name down, his wife’s, his children, his address, and what
He wanted to say. When the the cigarette was done,
The soldier would turn his head to the side. My father
Finished off four hundred men that way during the war.
He never went crazy. They were his people.

He came to Toronto. My father in the summers
Would stand on the lawn with a hose, watering
The grass that way. It took a long time. He’d talk
To the moon, to the wind. ‘I can hear you growing’—
He’d say to the grass. ‘We come and go.
We’re no different from each other. We are all
Part of something. We have a home.’ When I was thirteen,
I said, ‘Dad, do you know they’ve invented sprinklers
Now?’ He went on watering the grass.
‘This is my life. Just shut up if you don’t understand it.’”

Robert Bly

from Morning Poems
HarperCollins, New York (1997),



Old friends

This has been a week a travel, visiting family and childhood friends I haven’t seen since before the lockdown. Often the part of our catching up is about health, what one friend calls “the organ recital.”  This poem, then, feels appropriate:

Waking After the Surgery

And just like that, I was whole again,
seam like a drawing of an eyelid closed,
gauze resting atop it like a bed
of snow laid quietly in the night
while I was somewhere or something
else, not quite dead but nearly, freer,
my self unlatched for a while as if it were
a dog I had simply released from its leash
or a balloon slipped loose from my grip
in a room with a low ceiling, my life
bouncing back within reach, my life
bounding toward me when called.

Leila Chatti