July 18, 2012, 8:00 am
(Photo by Paul Hart via Flickr/CC)
By Lisa Russ Spaar
Is there a subject more often evoked in poetry than our earth’s own natural satellite? The earliest poems in a host of languages—Greek, Chinese, Tamil, Hebrew, Arabic, to name but a few—include lunar references, images, tropes, confessions, curses, and appeals.
Scientists think the cratered mass of cosmic debris includes earth matter sent into orbit along with other planetary stuff in a seminal terrestrial collision. Cycling around our globe, it has been mythologized, romanticized, blamed, worshiped, and charged with symbolism, not only in writings about the moon but also in copious writing about writing about the moon. As poet Paul Legault puts it in a feature on moon poetry posted at the Academy of American Poets Web site…
June 21, 2012, 11:04 am
By Lisa Russ Spaar
On Monday, June 11, 2012, I gathered with a group of undergraduates for the first meeting of my summer session creative writing workshop here at the University of Virginia, where I have taught in the Department of English since 1993. I teach in the summers as well as during the regular academic term not only because I can’t otherwise make ends meet on my 9-month faculty salary but also because I enjoy meeting students at time when classes are both more intense (summer sessions are three and half to four weeks in length and are typically scheduled to meet every day for several hours) and more relaxed (lots of iced coffee and bare feet among the books, backpacks, and loose papers).
We spent about an hour in that initial class period talking about Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s poem “Oysters.” The poem begins in a highly lyric mode with a…
June 1, 2012, 3:06 pm
By Lisa Russ Spaar
Several years ago a colleague in the studio art department and I team-taught a course we called “The Matrix,” an experiment in bringing together eight advanced printmaking students and eight advanced poets to make new work, including several high and low-end collective books. A matrix, in the printmaking lexicon, refers to the plate—zinc, plate, copper—or other material (stone, collage) used in printing, but when we advertised the course we had a lot of interest from initially thrilled and then bitterly disappointed fans of the 1999 science fiction film of the same name, undergraduates who thought that it was high time that the cinema icon got the serious attention it deserved in the academy.
There was much enthusiasm among the young artists and poets as well, of course. , and our idea as instructors was to throw them (and ourselves) into the water, with the …
May 27, 2012, 2:12 pm
We get things in our head, a sort
of wonder I suppose, a notion,
about where to stand on the hill to see
the white blur of a steeple eight
or maybe ten miles away
at the center of a country town
whose school has been consolidated,
and the little country store, where news
and gossip spread around and maybe
a local discovery was claimed
by one of the loafers there, is closed.
Going to find that spot on the hill
in order to see from a certain prospect
a world far enough away it seems
a symbol is a walk that brings
an important silence down on us.
You could say, I guess, it makes us think—
just walking up a hill to find
a part in the distance that looks familiar.
It makes me think that walking in silence
and going up to where the woods
have made an agreement to leave
an opening—that walk has become
a plain responsibility.
Yet it seems to be a kind of…
May 19, 2012, 6:00 pm
she says their names to hear them
out loud Wildwood Margate Avalon
Ocean City Stone Harbor Cape May
her passing pine barrens down to the shore
softly stench overtakes in still bays
digging for clams in bare feet a wiggle
a collector of shells licking driftwood
her tongue becomes is more than bare
in Cape May catching a one way
on that mosquito mound its winding through
sanctuary for sea birds small feathers
she doesn’t learn a thing birds without glasses
honeymooners on leave for a week in Wildwood
she poses under arches on running boards
bikini clad in less modest two piece posing
sand sticks to lotion who’s running doesn’t follow
in the one beside the sea beside the sea
beside the beautiful sea there is a woman upstairs
a wife who is dying imagines saying nothing
he had his motive the author of Hawaii…
May 12, 2012, 11:35 am
And where my organ of veneration should be—
wormwood and gall. Grudge sliver.
Wailbone, iron, bitters. I mean to say the miniature
waterfalls have all dried up in this miniature
place where day is duty cubed, time is time on task
and every mind optimized for compliance.
Time to delint my black denim traveling stuff.
The florescent major highlighter has dimmed
to minor. I’m so dying I wrote
when I meant to write so tired.
And when I sleep I dream only that
I’m sleeping. Please see my black stuff’s
dusted off. Night has no dilution anxieties,
but only the infinites are happy:
Math. Time. Everything happy goes
to many decimal places
while flesh passes through
gradations of glory. I visualized it,
the nurse said of the bedsore. Everything exists
at the courtesy of everything else.
Please see that my grave is kept clean.
May 3, 2012, 3:08 pm
We, the African-American-studies faculty at Northwestern University, reject the amateurish attack by Ms. Riley on our graduate students, and, by extension, on the black-studies academic enterprise, including those in other disciplines who contribute to black-studies scholarship. We stand in defense of academic freedom that promotes inquiry into the wide range of human experiences, political perspectives, and policy histories.
To write such disparaging comments about young scholars and their expressions of intellectual curiosity is cowardly, uninformed, irresponsible, repugnant, and contrary to the mission of higher education. We are barely one generation removed from when African-American students were completely denied entry into many colleges and universities in this country. This kind of distasteful attack on the current generation of black students represents the unfortunate…
May 3, 2012, 2:52 pm
As graduate students in Northwestern University’s department of African-American studies, we were thrilled with the informative and important article by Stacey Patton for The Chronicle of Higher Education that looked at the state of our discipline through the lens of an important academic conference bringing together the 11 African-American studies doctoral programs together for the first time.
So imagine our surprise when almost two weeks after The Chronicle’s original article appeared, The Chronicle’s Web site published a lazy and vitriolic hit piece by blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley that summarily dismisses our academic work while debasing us as something less than “legitimate scholars.” Riley then holds up our research as the reason African American Studies as a discipline should be “eliminated.”
Instead of taking her own advice given to her readers to “just read …
April 28, 2012, 3:00 am
From “The Brother Sonnets”
Cursed, first, cocked stink-eyed against
the wall of mother’s pelvis, he was born
hoofed, lion-headed, lizard-clawed,
wielding a wicked brush-back that felt like
something greater than it was. Greek
once, drab light, drabber tile, towel-wrapped
waist, I almost slayed him, a wild right
neither the gods nor I believed, caught him
looking mortal, unlike him. And unlike
me, radiant, I saw what it was, and just
as quick made him back into myth.
For this, if we were meant for anything.
He could set a fracture
because he is that good
or snap shut a trachea
because he is that other
good too. Press here,
a man says whatever
color he wants sky to be.
Here, a newborn quiets
hammocked in his palm.
Pure is what they call
science in the cool second
before it’s weaponized;
April 21, 2012, 5:16 am
First . . .
SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET 23
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burthen of mine own love’s might.
O! let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
Heather McHugh’s transliteration of Sonnet 23 (“As an unperfect actor on the stage”):
AS AUTHORS CAN’T PERFECT ONE AGENT
so e-agents can’t perfect an author.
His art (howbeit swapped shut) is his fire—…
April 14, 2012, 1:00 am
The world changed.
Books disappeared, replaced
by glowing screens.
Poems that mattered once
were gently laid to rest.
Once, the summer was
the summer, the fall the fall.
Outside, cars sat quietly at the curb,
puffy like soft sculptures,
or finned like giant fish.
a boy on a bicycle delivered
news of the world.
Then suddenly it all ended.
There was only the present
looping continuously on a screen,
but you couldn’t make sense of it.
Outside people still jogged,
walked their dogs, coffee
in one hand, a phone in the other.
Holding bright little gods,
they texted and twittered.
Vainly, you tried to recall
when everything had mattered,
when the summer was the summer,
the fall the fall. When people stood
on the sidewalk in the cool
of the evening quietly talking.
When a rolled newspaper hit
the door, mornings, afternoons,
delivered by a…
March 31, 2012, 1:03 am
By Lisa Russ Spaar
Jonathan Swift, who would in later life suffer from dementia, was keen on the importance of keeping a “commonplace book” in which a person might record insights, overheard bits, observations, excerpts from reading—a personal magpie anthology of things one does not want consigned to forgetfulness or oblivion.
Swift writes: “A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that ‘great wits have short memories’: and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own…
March 24, 2012, 1:13 pm
While Sylvia Plath Studies The Joy of Cooking On Her Honeymoon In Benidorm, Spain, Delmore Schwartz Reclines In The Front Seat Of His Buick Roadmaster
While Sylvia Plath studies The Joy of Cooking on her honeymoon in Benidorm, Spain,
Delmore Schwartz reclines in the front seat of his Buick Roadmaster
listening to a Giants game on the car radio.
The car’s parked on his farmland in Baptistown,
New Jersey, where obstinate plants attempt survival
at great odds, their vital spikes insulting and defending.
The thistle fans its prickly leaves,
the burdock hustles, miserly. Its dry-as death-seed
will outlast you, traveller, its dry-as-hope seedling will use you,
tenacious as the leftover god, the eye-of-the-needle-god,
the straggly one, the Shylock, who lent you your life,
who chose this desert wilderness for exile.
He manifests the empty field for you to wander.
March 17, 2012, 1:37 pm
It was for you
alone I wrote the song
I sang into the screen and sent
to you alone, that someone else
then saw and sent among
their friends, their friends among
still others still beyond
me, omphalos node
of a lopsided system—
new lines of transmission
bloomed askew from spreading hubs—forgotten, though
each watched me sing as if to him or her
of you, your amor fati, face
across an asymptotic gap
in time awaiting our arriving late
by planes delayed by planes delayed,
your glance’s axis glancing off of mine
across the gate, above computers closed,
exhausted from all we’d watched thereon—
crashes, water drops and bullets shot
at ten thousand frames per second,
feats of song in blurred
glance that turned
to gaze to blazons
sung into my screen and seen
and seen through countless eyes alike aglaze
March 10, 2012, 11:53 am
It’s the murderer
who got away with it
sitting on a park bench
thinking about snow
and how it’s over. Little
out of dirt
to shriek hello. While
the babies wheel
by, absurdly bright. The old
men in amber. The light
on the steeples served up
in cones of white.
But something here
is not quite right:
in a little girl’s bonnet.
with a child’s wide smile.
Always, in spring
someone with regrets
she’s allowed herself
Eye at the keyhole.
Milk in the saucepan.
Strange wet kiss that went
on and on and on.
© by Laura Kasischke. Printed by permission of the author.
Laura Kasischke’s most recent collection of poetry is Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press 2011), winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. She has published seven…
March 3, 2012, 12:41 pm
Sure, go ahead and write that novel, if it keeps you from becoming a dull boy. But Elise Blackwell's still not going to invite you to sit in on her graduate workshop. (From "The Shining")
By Elise Blackwell
The only aspect of my job as an MFA director and creative writing professor that I dislike—aside from those “and then I woke up” stories freshmen sometimes write—is gatekeeping. Sometimes it feels like barring a door I’d rather open. The most painful no’s are those to the talented, committed, and qualified for whom we have too few jobs in our department or too few slots in our graduate program. Some of the other requests are getting easier to turn down.
About five years ago I wrote a satire of the writing life, or at least of a few versions of it. One of the book’s jokes was that…
February 25, 2012, 10:53 am
The saddest time in my life was also the time the most people said, you look beautiful.
There was a poet I would meet for coffee, he was married,
he wanted to know would I have an affair, would I, what was I doing,
he eyed my well-turned runner’s legs
There was a poet who killed herself
The last time I saw her she made a wide generous gesture, arms outswept,
in a room where people stood strapping tape on cartons full of books.
“Four dollars,” said the poet, swung
her arms as if she were walking through a field
of empty Saturday nothing-to-do—
The saddest time in my life was also the time I wrote about furniture,
the heavier the better.
A butcher block says live here.
Says fish on ice, knife marks, steady steady, loaves of bread.
I mailed myself back from a crater.
to the heavy legs of tables
waited for a place to change the ending.
February 18, 2012, 3:08 pm
Trained never to forget the all
-importance of control, his face
remembers always to suppress
each unintended syllable
and can’t. Hence the expressionless
expression he maintains, a dead
-pan scowl where umbrage shadows rage.
He hurts. It is his privilege,
or was: the ones who mocked or stared
grew into people of good will
who, patient, notice nothing as
the hard words flare and sting his eyes.
The Prayer Rope Knot
Each time the monk who learned this knot
had tied his own, a devil came
& loosened it. Eventually
the monk, just as the devil hoped,
got pissed; he couldn’t pray at all.
That night his angel wakened him
& taught him how to interweave
double strands into a web
of 7 crosses. Pulled tight,
they closed into this perfect knot
whereby the devil’s silently
upbraided, and the heart sings whole.
February 12, 2012, 10:57 am
This time we’ll come gloved & blind-
folded, we’ll arrive on time.
With bees in our hair,
with an escort of expiring swans.
We’ll appear to out-of-date & out-of-tune
violin music, we’ll lie on our side.
Wearing rotting lotus behind our ears,
musk between our thighs.
This time we’ll be tied down.
We’ll cry out.
We’ll only smoke if surprised
by tragedy’s approach, as it noses closer.
This time we’ll fall in love
with the blood color
of the sunset as we’re walking home
over the bridge that takes us
between here & there.
This time we’ll forget
how ancient Sarmatian lions go on
bearing marble messages for no one
who can understand their sarcophagus language,
forget sloths who climb so slow
they die before mating.
We’ll grow improvident & stop believing
there was ever such a thing
as alone, such a hard
nail in the…
February 5, 2012, 12:11 pm
By Lisa Russ Spaar
Anticipating winter, Rainer Maria Rilke begins the last stanza of his autumn poem “Herbstag” this way:
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lessen, lange Briefe schrieben . . .
(Whoever now has no house, by now will not build.
Whoever is alone now will stay alone,
will wait up, read, write long letters . . . )
Gaston Bachelard, who calls winter the “oldest of the seasons,” writes in The Poetics of Space: “Although at heart a city man, Baudelaire sensed the increased intimacy of a house when it is besieged by winter. In Les paradis artificiels he speaks of Thomas de Quincey’s joy when, a prisoner of winter, he read Kant, with the help of the idealism furnished by opium. The scene takes place in a cottage in Wales. ‘Isn’t it true that a pleasant…