This weekend, I went to a reading and conversation with Brenda Hillman and Bob Hass, celebrating Brenda’s new book, In a Few Minutes Before Later. Most of the poems are too long and visually complex to include here, but she read this short gem that I love. How smartly this captures the strangeness of the period of quarantine:
The Child, Finishing
Fourth Grade Online,
. when his mother asked,
. “how was that?”
. said, “odd.”
For several months I had been reading Ben Dolnick’s posts on literature, which I enjoyed greatly, before discovering his fiction. The Ghost Notebooks, a perfect read for this season, is what I’d call a literary thriller. Here are two excellent sentences from that book. As I was listening to it as an audio book, they were so good I had to stop driving to write them down:
“But morning always comes no matter what sort of a night you’ve had. This is an under appreciated fact.”
It’s that last observation that drives this home (not sure if there should be a hyphen there). And,
“So this is how homelessness begins. Not with a momentous decision but with a gradual surrendering. A rest becomes a nap becomes a night.”
I love the way that last sentence has an almost nursery rhyme inevitability. Sadly, he’s stopped his posts for now, but hopefully that will lead to more of his fiction.
When I think of Coleridge, I immediately think of Xanadu, of the famous interruption of the poem by the “person from Porlock,” which seems to me to stand for every mundane thing that keeps one from writing. But the Writer’s Almanac featured this short poem I’d never seen before, and think is quite wonderful.
What if you slept…
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Very modern, don’t you think, for something written more than 150 years ago?
Dorianne is a poet who rarely disappoints–simple but profound.
On the street outside the window
someone is talking to someone else,
a baffling song, no words, only the music
of voices—low contralto of questions,
laughter’s plucked strings—voices in darkness
below stars where someone straddles a bike
up on the balls of his feet, and someone else
stands firm on a curb, her arms crossed, two
dogs nearby listening to the human duet,
stars falling through a summer night
a sudden car passing, rap song thumping,
but the voices, unhurried, return, obligatos afloat
on the humid air, tiny votives wavering
as porch lights go out—not wanting it to stop—
and Mars rising over the flower shop, up
through the telephone wires.
by Dorianne Laux
I love the way Merwin can write in a way that seems simple and straightforward, but takes you somewhere else. There’s something magical about his work. Here’s one example:
Looking for Mushrooms at Sunrise
When it is not yet day
I am walking on centuries of dead chestnut leaves
In a place without grief
Though the oriole
Out of another life warns me
That I am awake
In the dark while the rain fell
The gold chanterelles pushed through a sleep that was not mine
So that I came up the mountain to find them
Where they appear it seems I have been before
I recognize their haunts as though remembering
Where else am I walking even now
Looking for me
For me, writing in form in poetry is a way to may things happen that wouldn’t otherwise. This form, the gigans, was created by Ruth Ellen Kocher, named after her favorite fictional monster. You can read about form and a little about her here. The basic rules are a poem made of couplet, tercet, couplet, couplet, couplet, tercet, couplet, in which the first line repeats as line 11 and the sixth line repeats as line 12. This one is my favorite of those of hers I’ve read, published in From the Fishouse:
the gigans: v.
i will not write you an elegy
big-mouthed woman whose breasts
hugged the microphone stand like some breadfruit dream
of nippled clouds, woman whose arms winged softly
into her armpits in a billowing flourish of skin’s bounty,
thighs and ass enveloping the world
with their musked satin, whose teeth
tunneled through the closets of angels
revealing their gilded garments,
whose eyes blinked back the salty spray of sea.
i will not write you an elegy,
though your voice encompassed the world
in a raspy under-song’s embrace, a diamond glare
of c-notes crowning you each time you walked on stage.
listen to the cardinal cutting a racket through my neighbor’s pine.
hear his salutation, his winged confirmation of music un-stilled.
Ruth Ellen Kocher