Poetry Happens

For a person who ostensibly cares about language, I don’t read poetry as often as I should. It is difficult for me to pick up a volume of poems and say to myself, “Now I will read poetry.” I do much better when I happen upon it in somewhere – say, when the University of Iowa Press sends my wife a review copy of Visiting Wallace: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Wallace Stevens, and I open the package while sitting on the steps in the front yard next to the herb garden and read one aloud to her as she picks tomatoes from the plants growing along the driveway. Oh, hey, here’s one by Robert Lowell…

…O that the spirit could remain
tinged but untarnished by its strain!
Better dressed and stacking birch,
or lost with the Faithful at Church –
anywhere, but somewhere else!
And now the new electric bells,
clearly chiming, “Faith of our fathers,”
and now the congregation gathers.

O Bible chopped and crucified
in hymns we hear but do not read,
none of the milder subtleties
of grace or art will sweeten these
stiff quatrains shoveled out four-square –
they sing of peace, and preach despair;
yet they gave darkness some control,
and left a loophole for the soul…

When will we see Him face to face?
Each day, He shines through darker glass.
In this small town where everything
is known, I see His vanishing
emblems, His white spire and flag-
pole sticking out above the fog,
like old white china doorknobs, sad,
slight, useless things to calm the mad.


  1. Matthew,

    Stevens: arguably the 20th century's greatest lyric poet (yes, even greater than Ol' Possum and Uncle "Ez"!)

    Here's my Stevens send-up written a number of years ago (the poet must confront Stevens as "the lion in the path" in the same way that, as Henry James once noted, Maupassant is the feared maneater of fiction for the short story writer… There's no better way than by getting the emulations out of the way and getting on with one's own thing. A sort of exorcism.)


    Nine Lessons in Landscape-Watching

    Watch the land curl around a couple buckets of old paint:
    Whorls of tree, cloud, hill and plain make their acquaintance
    With the crow’s hueless shadow and the robin’s blue nature.

    Make this tree a trigonometric persuasion of song;
    Make this gently sloping hill the tumid topography of antiphons.
    Sweet tubers of melody grow madly certain in loam’s richness.

    See that overlap of a sky’s azure dish and creamy clouds?
    What better imitates the fused cohesion of the sun’s ambitions
    Spread across the venues and vistas of an open-fisted apple orchard?

    The lone figure on the far green hill is a man full of perhaps.
    How well this man snaps into the world’s perfectly becoming metaphor.
    But neither man nor world are as certainly there as the watchful sun.

    Where shadows creep toward the zero hour, noon’s perfect template,
    Leafy gnomons, conical conifers and rough rhomboids are ascendant and aslant.
    Let trees be their own geometry. Let pollards be lemmas to the proof.

    “Wait,” says the eye to the scene filled with passing eloquence,
    “I have not had my fill of feasting on the colored things or the things
    Draped by the wind.” But it is too late. Time is the only landscape of the mind.

    This too is a fox’s fable: the changing light of autumn
    Once dwelt in exile, a spy among rabbit warrens, much like a mole
    In a gopher tunnel, sowing the big bones of a wilderness.

    One asks a question of the landscape: “Is it better to sit
    As still as the eye of a pike in the eye of a pond in the eye of the sky,
    Or to be the blur of scales in blue water blurred by drapes of wind?”

    Observe: if the landscape is winter, you too will be the winter.
    And if the summer, you too will be the summer by proxy.
    But if the landscape is changing, you will be the landscape.


  2. Matthew Lickona says

    JOB – only 19 minutes after posting; well done. It's like you can hear poetry hit the web. "Let pollards be lemmas to the proof!"

  3. Matthew,

    Yeah, poetry and beer. I can usually sniff them both out from a good distance.

    Which is why I only respond to your posts as half as much as I'd like…


  4. cubeland mystic says

    just heard this on the radio

    Vegetable Love
    by Barbara Crooker
    Feel a tomato, heft its weight in your palm,
    think of buttocks, breasts, this plump pulp.
    And carrots, mud clinging to the root,
    gold mined from the earth's tight purse.
    And asparagus, that push their heads up,
    rise to meet the returning sun,
    and zucchini, green torpedoes
    lurking in the Sargasso depths
    of their raspy stalks and scratchy leaves.
    And peppers, thick walls of cool jade, a green hush.
    Secret caves. Sanctuary.
    And beets, the dark blood of the earth.
    And all the lettuces: bibb, flame, oak leaf, butter-
    crunch, black-seeded Simpson, chicory, cos.
    Elizabethan ruffs, crisp verbiage.
    And spinach, the dark green
    of northern forests, savoyed, ruffled,
    hidden folds and clefts.
    And basil, sweet basil, nuzzled
    by fumbling bees drunk on the sun.
    And cucumbers, crisp, cool white ice
    in the heart of August, month of fire.
    And peas in their delicate slippers,
    little green boats, a string of beads,
    repeating, repeating.
    And sunflowers, nodding at night,
    then rising to shout hallelujah! at noon.

    All over the garden, the whisper of leaves
    passing secrets and gossip, making assignations.
    All of the vegetables bask in the sun,
    languorous as lizards.
    Quick, before the frost puts out
    its green light, praise these vegetables,
    earth's voluptuaries,
    praise what comes from the dirt.

  5. Matthew Lickona says

    Indeed they do. Would you be willing to contact me via email about this (click the feather above)

  6. Matthew Lickona says

    And thank you, JOB and CM, for the verse!

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