Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poetry Month - Thom Gunn

today's poem




~ Excerpted from SELECTED POEMS, by Thom Gunn, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by the Estate of Thom Gunn. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Katy Lederer

That Everything's Inevitable
by Katy Lederer

That everything's inevitable.
That fate is whatever has already happened.
The brain, which is as elemental, as sane, as the rest of the processing universe is.
In this world, I am the surest thing.
Scrunched-up arms, folded legs, lovely destitute eyes.
Please insert your spare coins.
I am filling them up.
Please insert your spare vision, your vigor, your vim.
But yet, I am a vatic one.
As vatic as the Vatican.
In the temper and the tantrum, in the well-kept arboretum
I am waiting, like an animal,
For poetry.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Poetry Month - Charles Wright

today's poem



Excerpted from SESTETS, by Charles Wright, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Charles Wright. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his last book, Refusing Heaven, is now in his mid-eighties, still celebrating and sorrowing to the fullest. He has returned with an elegiac collection in which he reconsiders, as the figure of Ovid says in one of the poems, "White stone in the sunlight…Both the melody / and the symphony. The imperfect dancing / in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all."

****************************************

The Mistake

There is always the harrowing by mortality,
the strafing by age, he thinks. Always defeats.
Sorrows come like epidemics. But we are alive
in the difficult way adults want to be alive.
It is worth having the heart broken,
a blessing to hurt for eighteen years
because a woman is dead. He thinks of long
before that, the summer he was with Gianna
and her sister in Apulia. Having outwitted
the General, their father, and driven south
to the estate of the Contessa. Like an opera.
The fiefdom stretching away to the horizon.
Houses of the peasants burrowed into the walls
of the compound. A butler with white gloves
serving chicken in aspic. The pretty maid
in her uniform bringing his breakfast each
morning on a silver tray: toast both light
and dark, hot chocolate and tea both. A world
like Tosca. A feudal world crushed under
the weight of passion without feeling.
Gianna’s virgin body helplessly in love.
The young man wild with romance and appetite.
Wondering whether he would ruin her by mistake.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poetry Month - Sapphire

A poem from the 1999 volume Black Wings & Blind Angels, by Sapphire, who is also a novelist. (Her novel Push has recently been made as a movie entitled "Precious," a winner at Sundance which will be released in November.)

****************************************


Some Different Kinda Books

I
She asks why we always
read books about black people.
(I spare her the news she is black.)
She wants something different.
Her own book is written in pencil.
She painstakingly goes back & corrects
the misspelled words.
We write each day.
Each day the words look like
a retarded hand from Mars
wrote them.
Each day she asks me how
do you spell: didn't, tomorrow, done
husband, son, learning, went, gone . . .
I can't think of all the words she can’t spell.
It’s easier to think of what she can spell:
MY NAME IS CARMEN LOPEZ.
I am sorry I was out teacher.
My husband was sick.
You know I never miss school.
In that other program
I wasn't learning nothing.
Here, I'm learning so I come.
What's wrong with my husband?
I don't know. He's in the hospital. He's real sick
I was almost out the room
when I hear the nurse ask him,
Do you do drugs?
He say yes.
I say what!
I don’t know nuthin' 'bout no drugs.
I'm going off in the hospital.
He's sick.
I'm mad.
Nobody tells you nuthin'!
I didn't hear that nurse
I wouldn't know
nuthin'.
Huh?
Condoms? No, teacher.
He's my husband.
I never been with another man.

II
I think he got AIDS
he still don't tell me.
I did teacher. I tried
to read the chart at the hospital
but I couldn't figure out those words.
Doctor don't say, he say privacy.
The nurse tell me.
She's Puerto Rican. She say your husband
got AIDS.
I go off in the hospital.
Nobody tells me nuthin'.
He come home.
He say it's not true,
he's fine.
He's so skinny without his clothes
he try to hide hisself nekkid
don't want me to look.
I say you got to use
one of those things.
He say nuthin's wrong.
with him.

III
He stop sayin' that.
Now he just say he's gonna die
all the time
all the time
dying.
I say STOP that talk,
the doctor say you could
live a long time
my sister-in-law say,
he got it so you got it
it's like that.
I say, I don't got it,
my kids don't got it either.
Teacher, I need a letter for welfare
that I'm coming to school
on a regular basis.

IV
He's in P.R.,
before that he started messing around
again.
Over the Christmas holidays
he died.
That's where I was at
in P.R.
I'm fine. Yeah, I'm sure teacher.
What do I wanna do teacher?
I just wanna read some different
kinda books.



~ Knopf Poetry


Monday, April 27, 2009

Poetry Month - Norma Cole

We Address
by Norma Cole

…a lead pencil held between thumb and forefinger
of each hand forms a bridge upon which
two struggling figures, "blood all around"…


I was born in a city between colored wrappers

I was born in a city the color of steam, between two pillars, between pillars and curtains, it was up to me to pull the splinters out of the child's feet

I want to wake up and see you sea green and leaf green, the problem of ripeness. On Monday I wrote it out, grayed out. In that case spirit was terminology

In that case meant all we could do. Very slowly, brighter, difficult and darker. Very bright and slowly. Quietly lions or tigers on a black ground, here the sea is ice, wine is ice

I am in your state now. They compared white with red. So they hung the numbers and colors from upthrusting branches. The problem was light

Our friend arrived unexpectedly dressed in black and taller than we remembered. In the same sky ribbons and scales of bright balance

The problem and its history. Today a rose-colored sky. Greens vary from yellow to brown. Brighter than ink, the supposition tells the omission of an entire color

Which didn't have a musical equivalent. In those days the earth was blue, something to play. A person yearned to be stone

Clearly a lion or sphinx-like shape. The repetition of gesture is reiterated in the movement of ambient light on the windows, curtains, and on the facing wall, the problem

and its green ribbons. The hands almost always meet. Turquoise adrenaline illusions adjacent to memory, to mind. We address

memory, the senses, or pages on a double sheet, classical frontal framing. I want you to wake up now



~From the Academy of American Poets


New York Times Book Review - Poetry Chronicle

Unfortunately, it's not often the New York Times Book Review covers poetry, so this must be a poetry month gift to us readers, especially since one of the books covered is by my favorite poet, Charles Wright.

Poetry Chronicle

Published: April 24, 2009

WHAT GOES ON
Selected and New Poems, 1995-2009.
By Stephen Dunn.
Norton, $24.95.

The speaker of Dunn’s recent poems is a regular guy cursed with an understanding of human nature more subtle than he’d prefer. A poem like “The Unsaid” succeeds not only because it nails its depiction of a couple stalled by miscommunication and reproach — “In the bedroom they undressed and dressed / and got into bed. The silence was what fills / a tunnel after a locomotive passes through” — but because the poem’s very existence squares its pathos: the speaker understands the problem perfectly but still can’t solve it. A typical Dunn poem opens up a basic human trouble — a body souring with age, a marriage souring with regret, a believer souring with doubt — meditates on it with equal parts seriousness and good humor, and finally offers not quite consolation but acceptance, a sense of having gained some measure of dignity simply by looking life in the eye. As is true of every other poet who ever lived, what’s best about Dunn is also what’s worst: in his case, a plainspoken, curlicue-­free lucidity (I actually want to say “wisdom,” but fear it makes Dunn sound square or folksy, faults he’s too sharp and wry to be accused of), which is a tonic in small doses but can cause numbness if consumed in quantity. “Please Understand” ends “I’ve never been able to tell / what’s worth more — what I want or what I have.” “What Men Want” ends “After the power to choose / a man wants the power to erase.” “Nature” ends, “Gray, then, was the only truth in the world.” I trust the poet’s every nuanced ambivalence but eventually find myself wishing — against my better instincts, and his — that he’d burn a house down or get baptized or anything else definitive and audacious.

MERCURY DRESSING
Poems.
By J. D. McClatchy.
Knopf, $25.

Has your companion ever reported some wonderful thing you said in your sleep, like “snowflake operator” or “funky nectarine”? I regret to inform you that no matter how clever you may have thought your unconscious self, McClatchy probably has you beat: the first line of his “Poem Beginning With a Line Spoken, I Am Told, in My Sleep” — “The names of every place were once so cold” — is in iambic pentameter. Given McClatchy’s formal virtuosity, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he jots his grocery lists in terza rima, too. Such exquisiteness sometimes seems merely an end in itself, as in “Indonesia,” which cleverly compares, for 30 lines and no good reason, an epidermal rash to an archipelago. “The Seven Deadly Sins” possesses a relentless elegance of expression, but many of its ideas are banal (“Dogged voluptuaries usually make straight / For the very thing they over and over have had, / Then vomit up the greedily swallowed bait”), grandiloquent (“When Francis of Assisi ate, / Ashes were his only spice. / The condiments in plump Cockaigne / Disguise the taste to help explain / Why temperance is a sacrifice / The belly’s meant to palliate”) or nonsensical (“From alley to boardroom, in coffee cup or coffer, / Not to accumulate but to count, to compare, / Brings down both the beggar and the millionaire”). McClatchy is most engaging when he’s got a story to tell instead of an idea to fuss with. “Trees, Walking” is a powerful and wonderfully strange account of the speaker’s relationship with his father (among many other things), and “Sorrow in 1944,” a sonnet sequence imagining how life might have turned out for the son of Madama Butterfly, represents the collection’s most focused and indispensable moment.

ONE SECRET THING
By Sharon Olds.
Knopf, $26.95.

Admirers of Olds’s poems will find more of them in this, her ninth collection. Olds selects intense moments from her family romance — usually ones involving violence or sexuality or both — and then stretches them in opposite directions, rendering them in such obsessive detail that they seem utterly unique to her personal experience, while at the same time using metaphor to insist on their universality. The speaker of “Home Theater, 1955” spends the poem’s first nine lines — a full quarter of its total length — describing the skimpy animal-themed bedclothes she wore as a child, then tells the story of a night her father became so violent her sister had to call for police officers, one of whom the speaker remembers glancing at her bare legs. In its final lines, the poem switches in a blink from autobiography to myth: “Soon after our father had struck himself down, / there had risen up these bachelors / beside the sink and stove, and the tiny / mastodons, and bison, and elk, the / beasts on my front and back, began, / atonal, as if around an early fire, to chant.” It’s a nifty move, but a pretty familiar one — Olds has been making it for almost 30 years — and in this book it’s too often too easy to see the epiphanies coming. When in the first lines of “Animal Dress” the poet’s daughter puts on her mother’s black sweater “with maroon creatures / knitted in,” you can tell you’re in for another Joseph Campbell moment in the poem’s final lines, and sure enough.

SESTETS
By Charles Wright.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.

Wright’s poems don’t bear down toward conclusions, they expand and evanesce as if in a valiant, impossible effort to comprehend and demonstrate Wittgenstein’s dictum that “the world is all that is the case.” Wright’s new collection of short poems is less a book unto itself than the next installment in a continuous poem he’s been writing for 40-odd years. “Description is expiation, / and not a place to hunker down in,” he writes. “It is a coming to terms with. / Or coming to terms without. / As though whatever we had to say could keep it real. / As though our words were flies, / and the dead meat kept reappearing.” These accounts of language as simultaneously a fond illusion and our only hope for a stable place to stake a claim on reality pose the problem Wright wisely resists pretending poetry can solve. Instead, he revels and finds a freedom in it: “Water remains immortal — / Poems can’t defile it, / the heron, immobile on one leg, / Stands in it, snipe stitch it, and heaven pillows its breast.” Trouble can arise when Wright’s open-endedness leads him to believe that any idea, no matter how ungainly or hackneyed, deserves a place in the poem, as in “Music for Midsummer’s Eve”: “Time is an untuned harmonium / That Muzaks our nights and days. / Sometimes it lasts for a little while, / sometimes it goes on forever.” I can swallow “Muzaks” with some effort, but those last two lines wouldn’t pass muster at Hallmark. Fortunately, few such clunkers disrupt Wright’s complex and contrary harmonies.

Joel Brouwer’s books of poems are “Exactly What Happened,” “Centuries” and, most recently, “And So.” He teaches at the University of Alabama.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry Month - Carl Phillips

today's poem


Excerpted from SPEAK LOW, by Carl Phillips, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Carl Phillips. All rights reserved.




Poetry Month - Taije Silverman

Terezin
by Taije Silverman

—a transfer camp in the Czech Republic


We rode the bus out, past fields of sunflowers
that sloped for miles, hill after hill of them blooming.

The bus was filled with old people.
On their laps women held loaves of freshly baked bread.
Men slept in their seats wearing work clothes.

You stared out the window beside me. Your eyes
were so hard that you might have been watching the glass.

Fields and fields of sunflowers.

Arriving we slowed on the cobblestone walkway.
Graves looked like boxes, or houses from high up.

On a bench teenage lovers slouched in toward each other.
Their backs formed a shape like a seashell.
You didn't want to go inside.

But the rooms sang. Song like breath, blown
through spaces in skin.

The beds were wide boards stacked up high on the walls.
The glass on the door to the toilet was broken.
I imagined nothing.

You wore your black sweater and those dark sunglasses.
You didn't look at me.

The rooms were empty, and the courtyard was empty,
and the sunlight on cobblestone could have been water,
and I think even when we are here we are not here.

The courtyard was flooded with absence.
The tunnel was crowded with light.
Like a throat. Like a—

In a book I read how at its mouth they played music,
some last piece by Wagner or Mozart or Strauss.

I don't know why. I don't know
who walked through the tunnel or who played or what finally
they could have wanted. I don't know where the soul goes.

Your hair looked like wheat. It was gleaming.

Nearby on the hillside a gallows leaned slightly.
What has time asked of it? Nights. Windstorms.

Your hair looked like fire, or honey.
You didn't look at me.

Grass twisted up wild, lit gold all around us.
We could have been lost somewhere, in those funny hills.

And the ride back—I don't remember.
Why was I alone? It was night, then. It was still morning.

But the fields were filled with dead sunflowers.
Blooms darkened to brown, the stalks bowed.
And the tips dried to husks that for miles kept reaching.
Those dreamless sloped fields of traveling husks.



~ From The Academy of American Poets

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetry Month - John Hollander

"Some Playthings," by the distinguished John Hollander, a poet for whom serious and light verse, the formal and the playful, flow forth in equal measure.

****************************************


Some Playthings

A trembling brown bird
standing in the high grass turns
out to be a blown

oakleaf after all.
Was the leaf playing bird, or
was it “just” the wind

playing with the leaf?
Was my very noticing
itself at play with

an irregular
frail patch of brown in the cold
April afternoon?

These questions that hang
motionless in the now-stilled
air: what of their

frailty, in the light
of even the most fragile
of problematic

substances like all
these momentary playthings
of recognition?

Questions that are asked
of questions: no less weighty
and lingeringly

dark than the riddles
posed by any apparent
bird or leaf or breath

of wind, instruments
probing what we feel we know
for some kind of truth.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Friday, April 24, 2009

Poetry Month - Adam Zagajewski

today's poem


Excerpted from ETERNAL ENEMIES, by Adam Zagajewski, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Adam Zagajewski. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Joshua Beckman

[In Colorado, In Oregon, upon]

by Joshua Beckman

In Colorado, In Oregon, upon
each beloved fork, a birthday is celebrated.
I miss each and every one of my friends.
I believe in getting something for nothing.
Push the chair, and what I can tell you
with almost complete certainty
is that the chair won't mind.
And beyond hope,
I expect it is like this everywhere.
Music soothing people.
Change rolling under tables.
The immaculate cutoff so that we may continue.
A particular pair of trees waking up against the window.
This partnership of mind, and always now
in want of forgiveness. That forgiveness be
the domain of the individual,
like music or personal investment.
Great forward-thinking people brought us
the newspaper, and look what we have done.
It is time for forgiveness. Dear ones,
unmistakable quality will soon be upon us.
Don't wait for anything else.



~ From the Academy of American Poets

Poetry Month - Jane Mayhall

Today we remember the poet Jane Mayhall, who died a few weeks ago at the age of ninety, and who wrote remarkable poems on such subjects as "Wastebaskets" ("in all that / heaven and debris, a lot of / my first gut ideas / were right") or an obsolete subway token found in a shoulder bag, a symbol of the long-burnished imponderables in a New York life. Born in 1918 in Louisville, Kentucky, Mayhall attended Black Mountain College, where she met and married the maverick Leslie George Katz, and came to New York with him to found the Eakins Press, an important publisher of specialized books of photography, art, and fine writing. (Their friends and colleagues in the fertile mid-century period in New York City included Walker Evans, James Agee, and Arthur Miller.) Mayhall wrote several books during her long bohemian marriage to Katz ("our courtship had the grace of / infidelities, myriad moods—/ so many skies"), but it was only in 2004, at the age of 85, that she published a full-length volume of verse, Sleeping Late on Judgment Day, which gathers her frank poems of wisdom and long love—notably, the poems of mourning and abiding passion she wrote to her husband in an outpouring of new work after his death in 1997.

****************************************


Notes For Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary

Lofty, but not above it.
How could anything so rash happen?
The Baptist ice-cream, and a pitiful living room.
The pastor in seersucker, red-faced,
bewildered as icons.

It was a wild decision, youth and Mercury
at our heels. The Parish didn't even have a piano.
But wedding strains, coached to overdo (and love
is private). The greatest concentration
was defiance.

Silence was the marriage ring we chose.
The cake I recall was Tastee brand,
you barely took my hand.
No urge for bridal costumes, heaven opening up
the purgatorial rites. And we

all stepped forth, in faith.
The worst disasters were golden givers of advice:
sausage makers. We liked to think of
living without a Name. And quandaries besmote—
like Oxymorons.

Because we didn't believe in obligations,
we never thought about divorce.
And we were blessed. Going to sleep with
you at night, to welcome the strange, uncoercive
incense of another day.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poetry Month - Toi Derricotte

In Knowledge of Young Boys
by Toi Derricotte


i knew you before you had a mother,
when you were newtlike, swimming,
a horrible brain in water.
i knew you when your connections
belonged only to yourself,
when you had no history
to hook on to,
barnacle,
when you had no sustenance of metal
when you had no boat to travel
when you stayed in the same
place, treading the question;
i knew you when you were all
eyes and a cocktail,
blank as the sky of a mind,
a root, neither ground nor placental;
not yet
red with the cut nor astonished
by pain, one terrible eye
open in the center of your head
to night, turning, and the stars
blinked like a cat. we swam
in the last trickle of champagne
before we knew breastmilk—we
shared the night of the closet,
the parasitic
closing on our thumbprint,
we were smudged in a yellow book.

son, we were oak without
mouth, uncut, we were
brave before memory.


~ From the Academy of American Poetry

Poetry Month - Adam Zagajewksi

today's poem


~ Excerpted from ETERNAL ENEMIES, by Adam Zagajewksi, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Adam Zagajewski. All rights reserved.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Poetry Montrh - Jim Powell

Jim Powell, a poet of California, has recently joined the Knopf family at our sister imprint, Pantheon, with a collection entitled Substrate. Powell's attention to the landscape and our place in it is crisply honed, as in today's selection, "The Pond." The poem is part of a series in which various feathered creatures and thoughts on the wing fly out of what Powell calls "the muses' birdcage," a phrase from the ancient Greek philosopher and poet Timon of Phlius.

****************************************


The Pond

On the back way
there are planks laid
across the swampy places,
jet black loam where water
pools in the dents,

a place on the path
I double back to
and catch myself returning
mirrored in a sheet
of water, the world

doubled back
in the glassy pool:
wind animates the leaves
and the glint shaken from them
winks flickering

in the pond dreaming
at the secret center
past the last screen
of ferns and creepers, bramble
entanglements

and periphrastic
evasions this place
a steady witness for
the rehearsal of a ghostly
life in signs

and tokens, clairvoyant
the way dreams
betray us to ourselves
in a changeling masquerade
uncovering

another nature
another self
to read in the face there
in the water till reflection
troubles the mirror.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Poetry Month - August Kleinzahler

today's poem


~ From SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY, by August Kleinzahler, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by August Kleinzahler. All rights reserved.



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poetry Month - Grace Paley

today's poem


Excerpted from FIDELITY, by Grace Paley, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by the estate of Grace Paley. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Keith Waldrop

The Luxury of Hesitation [excerpt from The Proof from Motion]
by Keith Waldrop


things
forgotten
I could


burn in hell forever


set the glass
down, our
emotion's moment


eyes vs sunlight


how removed
here, from
here


towards the unfamiliar and


frankincense forests
against the discerning light


everybody
sudden


frightful indeed, the sound of
traffic and
no appetite


the crowd


I would like to be
beautiful when
written




Click for a larger view > "Horse and Rider" by Keith Waldrop - From The Academy of American Poets


W. S. Merwin Wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Very cool - a poet I often enjoy very much.

Pleased by His Pulitzer, Surprised by Poetry

W. S. Merwin
W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin won his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday for “The Shadow of Sirius,” a collection that the Pulitzer board described in its citation as “luminous” and “often tender” — and that Merwin called a happy accident.

“It’s always assumed that you’ve planned everything in advance and that it all fell into place,” Merwin said, speaking by telephone from his home in Haiku, Hawaii. “If people are honest, very few gardens are exactly the way they were planned, if they were ever planned. They evolve, just like children grow up.” (And no, he said, the name of his current home does not refer to the three-lined metered Japanese poetry form, but means “break” and “straight up” in Hawaiian.)

He said that he always looked to be taken by surprise — “surprise that it happens at all and surprise that it works and that it’s complete.” After writing several new poems, he continued, “I suddenly think there are quite a few poems and I want to see if they have any relation to each other and begin to see what order they might be in and see if they really come to a collection. I wouldn’t make any rules about how it happens any more than you can do about what makes a birdsong complete or anything else.”

Shadow of Sirius book cover

“The Shadow of Sirius” was written without punctuation and in free verse, and its poems are among the most autobiographical of his career. They touch on themes of memory, wisdom and childhood.

“In the time when the conventions were much more obvious and abstract — the sonnet or the heroic couplet — it was pretty clear when something was complete,” Merwin said. “But it’s not so clear now. I don’t have any kind of religious principles about whether things should be rhymed, metered or free verse. A poem takes its own form and all of those things are good.”

Merwin described the collection as having a first section about childhood and remembering childhood, “not from a distance, but from inside.” The middle section is a collection of elegies to dogs, and the final section is about later life.

In a review, Publishers Weekly praised the volume — Merwin’s 21st, according to his publisher, Copper Canyon Press — as his “best book in a decade.”

Merwin said he continued to be taken by surprise by poems. “I have one written in my notebook,” he said. “I haven’t even typed it up yet. Maybe that’s a surprise waiting for me.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Poetry Month - Yusef Komunyakaa

today's poem



~ Excerpted from WARHORSES, by Yusef Komunyakaa, published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC in October 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Yusef Komunyakaa. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

Transit of Venus
by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

The actors mill about the party saying rhubarb
because other words do not sound like conversation.
In the kitchen, always, one who's just discovered
beauty, his mouth full of whiskey and strawberries.
He practices the texture of her hair with his tongue;
in her, five billion electrons pop their atoms. Rhubarb
in electromagnetic loops, rhubarb, rhubarb, the din increases.




~ From the Academy of American Poets


Poetry Month - Brooks Haxton

Today's selection is from Brooks Haxton's book They Lift Their Wings to Cry, a title that refers to the vibrating wings of the snowy tree cricket, who is a kind of poet, scratching out a ysterious music. As Haxton tells us in the title poem, "This poem also / cries, and hushes as your mind draws near."

****************************************


Storm

Cattle egrets in the dry grass waded
like white clerics at the hooves
of brood cows, heifers, and new calves.

Forked lightning. Calm.
The darkness in the cattle tank welled up
and flooded the reflection of the trees.

Turkey vultures wheeled, and wheeled away.
No swifts, no swallows, children gone indoors.
Rain seethed into the willowtops,

sky flashing, while the black bull
under the water locust glowed
with an inward surge of darkness.


~ From Knopf Poetry


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Poetry Month - Stephanie Hemphill

Knopf's books for young readers include many books of poetry by an old bedtime favorite, Jack Prelutsky (whose most recent title is The Swamps of Sleethe), and lately, an unusual verse portrait of Sylvia Plath entitled Your Own, Sylvia, which is a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book (given for excellence in young adult literature). Written by Stephanie Hemphill, the book is appropriate for high-school-aged readers and beyond, as it introduces Plath and her world through a chorus of voices around her—poems in the voice of her mother, Aurelia Plath; her "Grammy Schober"; her many boyfriends and teachers; various therapists and roommates through the years; her husband, Ted Hughes, and other significant fellow poets such as Ruth Fainlight and A. Alvarez. Today's selection is a poem in the imagined voice of Anne Sexton, who, along with Plath, Hemphill explains in one of many thorough marginal notes to the poems, participated in a seminar taught by Robert Lowell at Boston University in the fall of 1958 and spring of 1959, also attended by the poet George Starbuck. "Lowell introduced Sylvia to confessionalism, a kind of poetry defined by placing the literal Self at the center of the poem," Hemphill explains to young readers who may not know the term; she also usefully quotes the
memoirs of Anne Sexton, placing in context the ambition and developing sense of themselves that these poets had in their twenties. Sexton wrote that she had heard "Sylvia was determined from childhood to be great, a great writer at the least of it. I tell you, at the time I did not notice this in her. Something told me to bet on her but I never asked it why. I was too determined to bet on myself to actually notice where she was headed in her work."

****************************************


Robert Lowell's Poetry Class

Sylvia stretches her skin
to fit someone else’s bones—
her poems not yet her own.

George Starbuck, Syl, and I,
trinity of the master poet’s class,
drink martinis, chow potato chips

at the Ritz, until slightly blitzed.
Drinks making us more real,
we talk suicide until laughter

tears from our eyes.
Then we bunch into my car
for the Waldorf Cafeteria's

seventy-cent dinner,
none of us having a better
or demanding home life to return to.

I implore Sylvia to push herself,
pluck the drum of her heart
until it bleeds. Sometimes I think

Lowell praises Sylvia too much,
or maybe he just sees something
in her language that I cannot.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Poetry Month - Paul Guest

User's Guide to Physical Debilitation
by Paul Guest

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring d├ętente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.



~ From Academy of American Poets


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Poetry Month - Wallace Stevens & Donald Justice

Today we offer selections by two pillars of American poetry, reflecting on the American sublime: first, the poem with that title by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), and then a poem of memory by Donald Justice (1925-2004), whose work often describes the settings that defined who we were in the last century, with his own delicate sense of where the sublime was, perhaps, to be found. The work of both these poets is always in print, but an entirely new Selected Poems of Wallace Stevens will be available this coming August, edited by the Stevens scholar John N. Serio.

****************************************


The American Sublime
by Wallace Stevens

How does one stand
To behold the sublime,
To confront the mockers,
The mickey mockers
And plated pairs?

When General Jackson
Posed for his statue
He knew how one feels.
Shall a man go barefoot
Blinking and blank?

But how does one feel?
One grows used to the weather,
The landscape and that;
And the sublime comes down
To the spirit itself,

The spirit and space,
The empty spirit
In vacant space.
What wine does one drink?
What bread does one eat?


****************************************


Dance Lessons of the Thirties
by Donald Justice

Wafts of old incense mixed with Cuban coffee
Hung on the air; a fan turned; it was summer.
And (of the buried life) some last aroma
Still clung to the tumbled cushions of the sofa.

At lesson time, pushed back, it used to be
The thing we managed somehow just to miss
With our last-second dips and whirls—all this
While the Victrola wound down gradually.

And this was their exile, those brave ladies who taught us
So much of art, and stepped off to their doom
Demonstrating the fox-trot with their daughters
Endlessly around some sad and makeshift ballroom.

O little lost Bohemias of the suburbs!



~ From Knopf Poetry


Friday, April 17, 2009

Poetry Month - Sharon Olds

A poem of ending from Sharon Olds.

****************************************


To See My Mother

It was like witnessing the earth being formed,
to see my mother die, like seeing
the dry lands be separated
from the oceans, and all the mists bear up
on one side, and all the solids
be borne down, on the other, until
the body was all there, all bronze and
petrified redwood opal, and the soul all
gone. If she hadn't looked so exalted, so
beast-exalted and refreshed and suddenly
hopeful, more than hopeful—beyond
hope, relieved—if she had not been suffering so
much, since I had met her, I do not
know how I would have stood it, without
fighting someone, though no one was there
to fight, death was not there except
as her, my task was to hold her tiny
crown in one cupped hand, and her near
birdbone shoulder. Lakes, clouds,
nests. Winds, stems, tongues.
Embryo, zygote, blastocele, atom,
my mother's dying was like an end
of life on earth, some end of water
and moisture salt and sweet, and vapor,
till only that still, ocher moon
shone, in the room, mouth open, no song.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Poetry Month - Ted Mathys

The National Interest
by Ted Mathys

We are interested in long criminal histories
because we've never bedded down in a cellblock.
With the sibilance of wind through the swaying
spires of skyscrapers as my witness. When I say
cover your grenades I mean it's going to rain I mean
there is mischief in every filibuster of sun.

We are interested in rigorously arranging
emotions by color as we've never been fully
divested of blues. With drinking till my fingernails
hurt as my witness, with hurt as my witness.
When I say be demanding I mean be fully
individual while dissolving in the crowd.

We are interested in characters who murder
because we've never committed it or to it.
With an origami frog in a vellum crown spinning
on a fishing line from the ceiling as my witness.
When I say please kneel with me I mean between
every shadow and sad lack falls a word.

We are interested in ceaselessly setting floor joists
because we've never pulled a pole barn spike
from a foot. With bowing to soap your ankles
in the shower as my witness, lather as my witness.
When I say did you see the freckle in her iris I mean
the poem must reclaim the nature of surveillance.

We are interested in possessing others who possess
that which we possess but fear losing in the future.
With a fork as my witness. A dollop of ketchup,
hash brown, motion, with teeth as my witness.
When I say you I don't mean me I don't mean
an exact you I mean a composite you I mean God.

We are interested in God because we can't
possess God, because we can't possess you.
With a scrum of meatheads in IZOD ogling iPods
as my witness, technological progress as my witness.
When I say no such thing as progress in art I mean
"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"

We are interested in ambivalence as ribcages
resist being down when down, up when up.
With the swell of the argument and the moment
before forgiveness as my witness. When I say power
is exclusion I mean a box of rocks we don't
desire to deduce I mean knowing is never enough.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poetry Month - Angela Shaw

Children in a Field
by Angela Shaw

They don't wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
hurry
, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls. It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance-
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green. What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm. Let them go. Let them go traceless
through the high grass and into the willow-
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Poetry Month - Mark Strand

Two short poems that can be read as allegories of a poet's creative life, fifteen years apart in the career of Mark Strand. "The Midnight Club" originally appeared in his 1991 collection The Continuous Life; "I Had Been a Polar Explorer" in Man and Camel, in 2006.

****************************************


The Midnight Club

The gifted have told us for years that they want to be loved
For what they are, that they, in whatever fullness is theirs,
Are perishable in twilight, just like us. So they work all night
In rooms that are cold and webbed with the moon's light;
Sometimes, during the day, they lean on their cars,
And stare into the blistering valley, glassy and golden,
But mainly they sit, hunched in the dark, feet on the floor,
Hands on the table, shirts with a bloodstain over the heart.


* * * *


I Had Been a Polar Explorer

I had been a polar explorer in my youth
and spent countless days and nights freezing
in one blank place and then another. Eventually,
I quit my travels and stayed at home,
and there grew within me a sudden excess of desire,
as if a brilliant stream of light of the sort one sees
within a diamond were passing through me.
I filled page after page with visions of what I had witnessed—
groaning seas of pack ice, giant glaciers, and the windswept white
of icebergs. Then, with nothing more to say, I stopped
and turned my sights on what was near. Almost at once,
a man wearing a dark coat and broad-brimmed hat
appeared under the trees in front of my house.
The way he stared straight ahead and stood,
not shifting his weight, letting his arms hang down
at his side, made me think that I knew him.
But when I raised my hand to say hello,
he took a step back, turned away, and started to fade
as longing fades until nothing is left of it.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poetry Month - Carl Phillips

today's poem


Excerpted from SPEAK LOW, by Carl Phillips, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2008 by Carl Phillips. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Death Barged In
by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me
.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Poetry Month - Louise Gluck

today's poem


Excerpted from AVERNO, by Louise Gluck, published in February 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2007 by Louise Gluck. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Deborah Digges

We were saddened to learn of the death of Deborah Digges, who was
fifty-nine, this past weekend. Her books of poetry were Vesper
Sparrows (1986), Late in the Millenium (1989), Rough Music (1995), and
Trapeze (2004). In her memory, we offer "Greeter of Souls."

****************************************

Greeter of Souls

Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers.
Here souls pass, not one deified,
and sometimes this is terrible to know
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world,
siphoned like music through portals.
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless.
A memory of water.
The trees more beautiful not themselves.
Souls who have passed here, tired brightening.
Dumpsters of linen, empty
gurneys along corridors to parking garages.
Who wonders, is it morning?
Who washes these blankets?
Can I not be the greeter of souls?
What's to be done with the envelopes of hair?
If the inlets are frozen, can I walk across?
When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds,
do I put on the new garments?
On which side of the river should I wait?



~ From Knopf Poetry


Monday, April 13, 2009

Poetry Month - Maureen N. McLane

today's poem


Excerpted from SAME LIFE, by Maureen N. McLane, published in September 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2008 by Maureen N. McLane. All rights reserved.



Poetry Month - Kevin Young

In the aftermath of the sudden and unexpected loss of his father,
Kevin Young found himself composing a series of food odes—odes to
grits and crawfish and okra; an "Elegy for Maque Choux," a "Song of
Cracklin." Perhaps a way of feeding the unassuagable hunger of grief,
the poems form a symphony of family remembrance which stands at the
center of his latest volume, Dear Darkness.

****************************************

Ode to Pepper Vinegar

You sat in the tomb

of our family fridge
for years, without

fail. You were all

I wanted covering
my greens, satisfaction

I’ve since sought

for years in restaurants
which claimed soul, but neither

knew you nor

your vinegar prayer.
Baby brother

of bitterness, soothsayer,

you taught
me the difference between loss

& holding on. Next to the neon

of the maraschino cherries,
you floated & stayed

constant as a flame

on an unknown soldier’s grave—
I never did know

how you got here

you just were. Adrift
in your mason jar

you were a briny bit of where

we came from, rusty lid
awaiting our touch

& tongue—you were faith

in the everyday, not rare
as the sugarcane

my grandparents sent north

come Christmas, drained
sweet & dry, delicious, gone

by New Year's—

no, you were nearer,
familiar, the thump

thump of an upright bass

or the brass
of a funeral band

bringing us home.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Poetry Month - Rachel Contreni Flynn

Yellow Bowl
by Rachel Contreni Flynn

If light pours like water
into the kitchen where I sway
with my tired children,

if the rug beneath us
is woven with tough flowers,
and the yellow bowl on the table

rests with the sweet heft
of fruit, the sun-warmed plums,
if my body curves over the babies,

and if I am singing,
then loneliness has lost its shape,
and this quiet is only quiet.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Poetry Month - Jean Garrigue

A spring poem for Easter day by Jean Garrigue (1914-1972),
anthologized in the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets edition The Four
Seasons, edited by J. D. McClatchy.

****************************************

Spring Song II

And now my spring beauties,
Things of the earth,
Beetles, shards and wings of moth
And snail houses left
From last summer's wreck,
Now spring smoke
Of the burned dead leaves
And veils of the scent
Of some secret plant,

Come, my beauties, teach me,
Let me have your wild surprise,
Yes, and tell me on my knees
Of your new life.



~ From Knopf Poetry


Poetry Month - Yusef Komunyakaa

Excerpted from WARHORSES, by Yusef Komunyakaa, published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC in October 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Yusef Komunyakaa. All rights reserved.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Poetry Month - Dahlia Ravikovitch

Hovering at a Low Altitude
by Dahlia Ravikovitch
translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld

I am not here.
I am on those craggy eastern hills
streaked with ice
where grass doesn't grow
and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope.
A little shepherd girl
with a herd of goats,
black goats,
emerges suddenly
from an unseen tent.
She won't live out the day, that girl,
in the pasture.

I am not here.
Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain
a red globe flares,
not yet a sun.
A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly,
revolves in that maw.

And the little one rose so early
to go to the pasture.
She doesn't walk with neck outstretched
and wanton glances.
She doesn't paint her eyes with kohl.
She doesn't ask, Whence cometh my help.

I am not here.
I've been in the mountains many days now.
The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me.
Nothing can amaze me now.
I've seen worse things in my life.

I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover
very close to the ground.
What ever was she thinking, that girl?
Wild to look at, unwashed.
For a moment she crouches down.
Her cheeks soft silk,
frostbite on the back of her hand.
She seems distracted, but no,
in fact she's alert.
She still has a few hours left.
But that's hardly the object of my meditations.
My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably.
I've found a very simple method,
not so much as a foot-breadth on land
and not flying, either—
hovering at a low altitude.

But as day tends toward noon,
many hours
after sunrise,
that man makes his way up the mountain.
He looks innocent enough.
The girl is right there, near him,
not another soul around.
And if she runs for cover, or cries out—
there's no place to hide in the mountains.

I am not here.
I'm above those savage mountain ranges
in the farthest reaches of the East.
No need to elaborate.
With a single hurling thrust one can hover
and whirl about with the speed of the wind.
Can make a getaway and persuade myself:
I haven't seen a thing.
And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,
her palate is dry as a potsherd,
when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her
without a shred of pity.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Poetry Month - James Merrill

A Selected Poems of James Merrill (1926-1995) is now available in
paperback, edited by J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser. As ever, his
range astounds, and the poem below, from 1985, reminds us how timeless
and timely his work is.

******************************

Page from the Koran

A small vellum environment
Overrun by black
Scorpions of Kufic script—their ranks
All trigger tail and gold vowel-sac—
At auction this mild winter morning went
For six hundred Swiss francs.

By noon, fire from the same blue heavens
Had half erased Beirut.
Allah be praised, it said on crude handbills,
For guns and Nazarenes to shoot.
"How gladly with proper words," said Wallace Stevens,
"The soldier dies." Or kills.

God's very word, then, stung the heart
To greed and rancor. Yet
Not where the last glow touches one spare man
Inked-in against his minaret
—Letters so handled they are life, and hurt,
Leaving the scribe immune?



~ From Knopf Poetry


Friday, April 10, 2009

Poetry Month - Wayne Miller

Nocturne
by Wayne Miller

Tonight all the leaves are paper spoons
in a broth of wind. Last week
they made a darker sky below the sky.

The houses have swallowed their colors,
and each car moves in the blind sack
of its sound like the slipping of water.

Flowing means falling very slowly—
the river passing under the tracks,
the tracks then buried beneath the road.

When a knocking came in the night,
I rose violently toward my reflection
hovering beneath this world. And then

the fluorescent kitchen in the window
like a page I was reading—a face
coming into focus behind it:

my neighbor locked out of his own party,
looking for a phone. I gave him
a beer and the lit pad of numbers

through which he disappeared; I found
I was alone with the voices that bloomed
as he opened the door. It's time

to slip my body beneath the covers,
let it fall down the increments of shale,
let the wind consume every spoon.

My voice unhinging itself from light,
my voice landing in its cradle—.
How terrifying a payphone is

hanging at the end of its cord.
Which is not to be confused with sleep—
sleep gives the body back its mouth.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Poetry Month - Mei-Yao Ch'en

An Excuse For Not Returning the Visit of a Friend
by Mei-Yao Ch'en
translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Do not be offended because
I am slow to go out. You know
Me too well for that. On my lap
I hold my little girl. At my
Knees stands my handsome little son.
One has just begun to talk.
The other chatters without
Stopping. They hang on my clothes
And follow my every step.
I can't get any farther
Than the door. I am afraid
I will never make it to your house.



~ From the Academy of American Poets


Shambhala Sun - The Vomit of a Mad Tyger: The Spiritual Autobiography of Allen Ginsberg

I loved this article when I read in the magazine, and I think any Ginsberg fan will love it as well. The piece really looks at his Buddhist practice, but it's not really possible to separate that from his poetry. So this article becomes a look at the spiritual poetics of Ginsberg, one of our greatest poets.

The Vomit of a Mad Tyger

The Spiritual Autobiography of Allen Ginsberg

By

The Shambhala Sun presents this exclusive auto-biographical account from the late poet and cultural icon Allen Ginsberg, narrating his spiritual journey from Blake to the Buddha.


We’ll begin at the beginning, because what I’d like to do is trace what spiritual inklings I had that led to interest in Tibetan Buddhism and guru relationship.

I was in love with a high school fellow who went off to Columbia College when he graduated a half-term before me in Central High School in Patterson, New Jersey. So I decided to go to Columbia College instead of Montclair State Teachers College, where all of my family had gone. Out of some kind of devotion I broke away from the traditional pattern of my family but I didn’t have money, so I had to take a scholarship entrance exam. On the ferry between Hoboken and New York I got down on my knees and made a vow that if I were admitted to Columbia, I would do everything I could to save mankind. It was a naive bodhisattva’s vow out of fear of not getting into Columbia.

Around the time I got into school, I ran into William Burroughs and Lucian Carr and Jack Kerouac. We became friends. Our conversation between 1945 and 1948 was recollections of our own childhood inklings, including the big question, “How big was the universe?” I think Kerouac and I had a sense of panoramic awareness of the vastness of space. So the question, how big was the “unborn,” arose. Or, how vast was the space we were in, and what was the mystery of the universe?

That led to a lot of conversations and inquiries with marijuana and wandering around the city considering the look of the buildings and the appearance of the facades of Times Square, particularly. Times Square seen as a stage set with a facade that could vanish at any second. That impression of the apparent material of the universe as “real,” but at the same time “unreal” in some way or other, either because we were high, or because time would dissolve the “seen,” or maybe some trick of the eyeball reveals the “facade” as empty.

So we began talking about what in 1945 we called a New Consciousness, or a New Vision. As most young people probably do, at the age of fifteen to nineteen, whether it’s punk or bohemia or grunge or whatever new vision adolescents have, there is always some kind of striving for understanding and transformation of the universe, according to one’s own subjective, poetic, generational inspiration.

That led to an exploration of the otherwise rejected world of junkies around Times Square and the underworld. The world of drugs—which had a slight effect in transforming consciousness or altering moods and was presumed to be a kind of artistic specimen trial—I found quite harmless and useful as an educational experience, though some of my contemporaries did get hung up, like Burroughs—although the main problem seemed to be alcohol more than any other.


In 1948 I Had some kind of break in the normal modality of my consciousness. While alone living a relatively solitary vegetarian contemplative life, reading St. John of the Cross, Plotinus some, notions of “alone with the Alone,” or “one hand clapping,” or The Cloud of Unknowing, or Plato’s Phaedrus, and William Blake, I had what was, for me, an extraordinary break in the normal nature of my thought when something opened up.

I had finished masturbating, actually, on the sixth floor of a Harlem tenement on 121st Street looking out at the roofs while reading Blake, back and forth, and suddenly had a kind of auditory hallucination, hearing Blake—what I thought was his voice, a very deep, earthen tone, not very far from my own mature tone of voice, so perhaps a projection of my own latent physiology—reciting a poem called “Sunflower,” which I thought expressed some kind of universal longing for union with some infinite nature. The poem goes:

Ah, Sun-flower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done:
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded within snow
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

I can’t interpret it exactly now, but the impression that I had at the time was of some infinite yearning for the infinite, finally realized, and I looked out the window and began to notice the extraordinary detail of intelligent labor that had gone into the making of the rooftop cornices of the Harlem buildings. I suddenly realized that the world was, in a sense, not dead matter but an increment or deposit of living intelligence and action and activity that finally took form—the Italian laborers of 1890 and 1910, making very fine copper work and roofcomb ornament as you find along the older tenement apartment buildings.

As I looked at the sky, I wondered what kind of intelligence had made that vastness, or what was the nature of the intelligence that I was glimpsing, and felt a sense of vastness and of coming home to space I hadn’t realized was there before but which seemed old and infinite, like the Ancient of Days, so to speak. But I had no training in anything but Western notions and didn’t know how to find a vocabulary for the experience. So I thought I had seen “God” or “Light” or some Western notion of a theistic center, or that was the impression at the time.

That got me into lots of trouble, because I tried to explain it to people and nobody could figure out what I was saying. They thought I was nuts, and in a way, I was. Having no background and no preparation, I didn’t know how to ground the experience in any way that either could prolong it or put it in its place, and certainly didn’t know any teachers whom I could have consulted at Columbia University at the time, although D.T. Suzuki was there.

My first experience with Blake was quite heavenly, but the second experience, about a week later, was just the opposite. At the Columbia bookstore looking around and thinking about this and that, suddenly a sense of sea change of my consciousness overtook me again, and I got scared because everyone in the bookstore looked like some sort of wounded, neurotic, pained animal with the “marks of weakness and marks of woe” on their faces that Blake speaks of in “London.”

A night later, wandering around the Columbia campus, it happened again with a poem called “The Sick Rose,” which goes:

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

And I had a sense of the black sky coming down to eat me.
Go read the whole article.