I first met Derek when I came to FSG in the mid-eighties, thirty years ago. He was in his vigorous fifties, teaching in Boston and writing the poems that would soon appear in The Arkansas Testament (1987), and, though I didn’t know it then, composing his magnum opus, Omeros, which we published in 1990.
I met Bill Knott in late 1968, or in early 1969, at William Corbett’s house, a gathering place for poets in Boston’s South End. I’d read Knott’s highly acclaimed first book, The Naomi Poems, from Big Table, in the spring of 1968. It was published under the pen name Saint Geraud (1940–1966). I was immediately struck, poleaxed, by the emotional power of the poems. Mostly short, intense lyrics, they were unlike anything I’d ever read and moved me to the bone. I felt, before I’d read Emily Dickinson’s famous comment, as if the top of my head was taken off. Many were love poems. Most were written in his early and mid twenties. There was urgency, a longing, a wild and plaintive high-note sound that was maybe particularly attractive to a twenty-two-year-old man. Forty-seven years later, as I stand on the terrible threshold of senescence, Knott’s poems still lift the hairs on the back of my neck. His anguished poems about the war in Vietnam were among the first I’d read on that subject, and I still believe them to be among the strongest. It is the war that my generation either can’t forget or refuses to remember (sometimes both).
THREE POEMS is the brainchild of Max Freeman, Brooklyn-based poet and filmmaker. Inspired by a film of Frank O’Hara reading “Having a Coke with You,” Max invites poets over to his studio to read three poems. For Poetry Month we matched Max with FSG poet Maureen McLane.
At one point in his Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke addresses the poet’s anxiety about solitude—specifically, the way in which solitude has allowed the poet to spend more time thinking about self-doubts, life’s insecurities, and a general fear and helplessness in the face of what seems unknowable.
I love the sense of buffeting by wind, birds, trees and some enigmatic power that leaves me feeling energized in ways that cannot be named.
Nothing was every more astute than W.C. Williams’s “A poem is a machine made of words.” (If it sounds cold or technocratic, think of the machine as a music box or a bicycle.) Schuyler’s little machine is more intricate than it looks. When the poet is Schuyler, and when we’re in “The Payne Whitney Poems,” questions like “Is this the moment?” and “Need I persist?” may be all playful footwork – or they may be The Big Question, and fraught.
Marianne Moore’s masterpiece “The Fish” is that rare poem that enters the mind through the front door and the back door at the same time. There’s not another poem that has its cake and eats it too like “The Fish” does. It luxuriates in its absence of the human.
Often considered one of James Wright’s most optimistic poems, “Two Hangovers” is appropriately two-minded and torn. Asking for a silence it doesn’t entirely want, it finds a joy it didn’t expect.
I first read Hamlet in Jamaica. The bleak daylight surrounding my high school Happy Grove was like the faded glow of an old photograph. Rain was expected; it never came. There might’ve been thunder, or that could just have been the pages turning in unison.
Like Ezra Pound’s Cantos, Christopher Logue’s “account” of the Iliad is an imagist epic. It is surely less various and original than its modernist precursors, but it can’t be matched for sheer pleasure. With plot and character given, Logue attends to local intensities and rhythmic development, offering us animated sequences of unfolding action.
I was introduced to C. K. Williams’s “Invisible Mending” twelve years ago when the poet read it aloud at a memorial service for one of his oldest friends, the artist Sam Maitin. His exquisitely evoked seamstresses cum fates, with their “amputating shears” and teeth that “nip away the raveled ends,” embodied our destiny and spoke to our loss. When Williams himself passed away last year, to was to this poem that I turned for solace.
Paul Celan’s language never tires. It is constantly propelling us through the webs of images in his poems. Celan uses language to break the conventional barriers of language itself.
Dream Song 29 is not an obviously optimistic poem. How could it be, when it begins, “There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart / só heavy”—and immediately, any reader whose heart has ever been burdened, brought low (and it is hard to imagine a Berryman reader whose heart has not), knows: this bodes ill.
At his best, Wang An-Shih has a way of taking small moments and projecting them out into the infinite. Consciousness tangles into itself, the human blends with the natural. Following Thoughts invokes an exciting kind of inter-objectivity.
Maureen N. McLane’s poem “Haunt” does just that. Or perhaps more accurately, it is itself haunted, by the two versions of the anonymous Child Ballad No. 26 (“The Three Ravens” / “The Twa Corbies”) that the author acknowledges as reference points in her notes.
Who could resist this invitation to eavesdrop on the fabulous? The title for Ange Mlinko’s most recent book, Marvelous Things Overheard is taken from a collection of anecdotes and wonders, falsely attributed to Aristotle, which explain, in tight descriptive units, marvels of the Mediterranean lands. Already in the title, two gaps have opened up between the world-as-we-find-it and the world-as-as-we-might-be-about-to-encounter-it.
In Cuba, poetry is in the air one breathes. It is in the music, in the humor, in the political debates, in the desire to be fully in the present and in the recognition that history is implacable. There is a poetry within, written by the islanders, and a poetry without, delivered by those in the island-outside-the-island. Needless to say, the two complement each other.
Politics is “a glove-puppet” of images twisting emotion twisting reason. What word-play, what music, what cargo! Duffy reminds us of the grave degradation of our political landscape. How can it be fixed? Dare we say POLITICS?
William James set the stage for his essays in Pragmatism by dividing philosophical temperaments into two sorts: the tender-minded and the tough-minded. Aleksandr Kushner’s poems decidedly fall into the tough-minded side, and yet are also loved in Russia for their tenderness and delicacy of feeling.
After an event this fall, I was asked if I could recommend any useful local workshops or writing groups to someone interested in becoming a poet. University programs wouldn’t do, as this person hadn’t yet written or even read much poetry, and anyway had no money. The arts center programs I’ve taught for are also expensive, as are workshops led by writers I know.