I want things that make you grunt
April 13, 2010 6:14 AM   Subscribe

What's your favorite little-known poem?

I'm in a mood for discovering new poets. What poems have burrowed their way into you? But I've got a fairly alright history with poetry, so I'd like it especially if the poems weren't extraordinarily common.

(That leaves a lot of leeway, since even most award-winning poets aren't exactly well-known.)

I'll open up with two of my own favorites. Spice Night by Catherine Bowman is maybe the best sestina I've ever read, period. Richard Siken's Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out is long, but just heartbreakingly gorgeous.
posted by Rory Marinich to Media & Arts (72 answers total) 129 users marked this as a favorite

Try some James Tate.
posted by Area Control at 6:21 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Any specific poem?
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:22 AM on April 13, 2010

Michael Palmer's Sun

Write this. We have burned all their villages

Write this. We have burned all the villages and the people in them

Write this. We have adopted their customs and their manner of dress

Write this. A word may be shaped like a bed, a basket of tears or an X

posted by Chrischris at 6:22 AM on April 13, 2010

I shiver whenever I think of this poem.

Come Thunder (1967)
Christopher Okigbo

Now that the triumphant march has entered the last street corners,
Remember, O dancers, the thunder among the clouds . . .

Now that laughter, broken in two, hangs tremulous between the teeth,
Remember, O dancers, the lightning beyond the earth . . .

The smell of blood already floats in the lavender-mist of the afternoon.
The death sentence lies in ambush along the corridors of power;
And a great fearful thing already tugs at the cables of the open air,
A nebula immense and immeasurable, a night of deep waters--
An iron dream unnamed and unprintable, a path of stone.

The drowsy heads of the pods in barren farmlands witness it,
The homesteads abandoned in this century's brush fire witness it:
The myriad eyes of deserted corn cobs in burning barns witness it:
Magic birds with the miracle of lightning flash on their feathers . . .

The arrows of God tremble at the gates of light,
The drums of curfew pander to a dance of death;

And the secret thing in its heaving
Threatens with iron mask
The last lighted torch of the century . . .
posted by sallybrown at 6:27 AM on April 13, 2010

Robinson Jeffers, Hurt Hawks. I don't know how little-known it is, but I adore it.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:33 AM on April 13, 2010

Jobsite Wind
posted by Meatbomb at 6:36 AM on April 13, 2010

I was going to recommend Richard Siken, but you already know about him. The rest of his book, Crush, is equally beautiful and pulsing.
posted by pised at 6:36 AM on April 13, 2010

by Robert Herrick

WHENAS in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free ;
O how that glittering taketh me !
posted by caddis at 6:43 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love Neil Gaiman, especially "The Day the Saucers Came"

That Day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find out what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn’t notice because

That day, the day the saucers came, by some some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because

On the saucer day, which was zombie day, it was
Ragnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men’s nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because

On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants feefofummed across
the land and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because

That day, the saucer day, the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day,
the day the great winds came
And snows and the cities turned to crystal, the day
All plants died, plastics dissolved, the day the
Computers turned, the screens telling
us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
the Time Machine day,
You didn’t notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not even reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.
posted by nickhb at 6:44 AM on April 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

by Dean Young

Swimming pool full of brown leaves.
The jury files back into the courtroom.
The burning fuse wiggles like a mouse's tail.
Cymbals. Tadpoles. The bearded gods
who battled dragons with big hammers.
Arriving at the cafe, men with hatchets
in brown skirts. It is the time of fascism
then strangers kissing in the streets
and the time of fascism is over. For now.
The calm of the sea then an armada.
Certainly the meteor is on a deadline,
soon to begin a more sedentary life.
Oh those wild years on a deadline,
the morning full of headache looking
in a mirror that looks into a mirror
where indefinitely repeated is an apple tree
on a deadline, its fruit must be finished
by first frost, its buds not open before
the last. Hamlet on a deadline but
not sure which or where. Athens
on a Sparta deadline, swimming suit
an overcoat. Hurry calls one son
to the other across the country.
Running through the airport, running
even on the motorized walkways,
it's best not to carry much.
A great doubt then a great hope
then a certainty. Cymbals.
The longest day of the year,
sunset peacock flash. Ash.
In its DNA, each cell is on a curfew,
lights out, on tables the chairs
turned upside down. I missed my chance
with her thinks the boy hoping not
but being right. Never again
to be alone with her on the porch
cricket cricket cricket
while her boyfriend misbehaves
and a vengeful need ripens in her
as does a third watermelon daiquiri.
The ice melts in the glass, clinking.
The puppy is gone and in its place a dog
then the dog is gone. Friendship
on a deadline, suntans, milk.
The daughter helps her mother up the stairs.
You thought you'd never heal
but you almost did.
The little cart creaks down the street
pulled by a man talking to himself.
posted by rockstar at 6:59 AM on April 13, 2010

Margaret Atwood:

You Fit Into Me

You fit into me
Like a hook into an eye
A fishhook
An open eye

He's not at all unknown, but Philip Levine is great.

What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.
posted by OmieWise at 7:00 AM on April 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

(the painting is here)
posted by fire&wings at 7:01 AM on April 13, 2010

Hayden Carruth, "Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets"

Lisa Jarnot, "Ode"

Anselm Berrigan, "Token Enabler"

Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"
posted by aught at 7:12 AM on April 13, 2010

These are some favorites, though I have no idea how well known (or not well known) they are:

Mark Strand - The Tunnel

William Carlos Williams - Danse Russe

Richard Brautigan - The Beautiful Poem (NSFW?)

I Heard of a Man...
Leonard Cohen

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs
and clear his throat outside the door.

I Am Dying
Leonard Cohen

I am dying
because you have not
died for me
and the world
still loves you.

I write this because I know
that your kisses
are born blind
on the songs that touch you.

I don't want a purpose
in your life
I want to be lost among
your thoughts
the way you listen to New York City
when you fall asleep.

The Cinnamon Peeler
Michael Ondaatje

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.
posted by eunoia at 7:12 AM on April 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have a soft spot for Lord Byron's The Destruction of Sennacherib, because that was the poem I memorized and recited in my audition for the college forensics team. That was an awesome chapter of my life. Maybe it's just a personal thing for me, though I really enjoy the piece's meter, rhyme, and imagery too.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:15 AM on April 13, 2010

I have trouble appreciating most poetry I come across, and I found "Spice Night" amazing, so thanks.

For what it's worth, I remember reading this poem in a high school Existentialism class, and I ended up setting it to music in another class, also in high school. Here it is:

Mark Strand
Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.
posted by Busoni at 7:23 AM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ooooh poems.

I can't get enough of Thomas Lux. The following poem of his not only made me grunt, it made me unexpectedly weep like a baby the first (and probably second, and third) times I read it:

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

For some semitropical reason
when the rains fall
relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long

and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,
a reward for not loving

the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,
rats) creatures, if

you believe these things, then
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,
as individuals, would not turn up

again someday
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dreams—
they may tell the others

in a sign language
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s

that you are good,
that you love them,
that you would save them again.

Ahhh, yeah, that's good stuff. Also, there's a lot of poems translated from the Serbian that have had this effect on me. Here's eminent poet Desanka Maksimovic with one of her most famous poems (as translated by Charles Simic, who is well worth your attention as well):

Tsar Dušan,
I ask pardon
for women who were stoned,
for their accomplices
dark nights, smell of clover,
leaves where they fell
like quail or woodcock,
I ask for their scorned lives
for the pity not given them
and their heartache.

I ask pardon
for moonlight and rubies
of their skin,
and their dusks,
sudden showers,
unbraided hair,
for their arms like silver branches
for their loves undressed
and damned-
for all Maria Magdalenas

and finally, the best for last, this might be my all time favorite poem. It requires your morbid sensibilities to appreciate fully, but worth the effort.
posted by Aubergine at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

This is one of those threads where I won't be able to wrap it up neatly... I see someone already posted two contributions by Leonard Cohen, two of my favorites in fact, but I have to add a third:

Beneath my hands
your small breasts
are the upturned bellies
of breathing fallen sparrows.

Wherever you move
I hear the sounds of closing wings
of falling wings.

I am speechless
because you have fallen beside me
because your eyelashes
are the spines of tiny fragile animals.

I dread the time
when your mouth
begins to call me hunter.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want to summon the eyes and hidden mouths
of stone and light and water
to testify against you.

I want them to surrender before you
the trembling rhyme of your face
from their deep caskets,

when you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want my body and my hands
to be pools
for your looking and laughing.

And the thing about that poem for me is that, even if no one has ever thought that way about me, much less said so- even if no one will ever feel that way about me, or say so (and that's ok), the world is still a better place because someone once did feel that way about somene, and did say so, and so beautifully.
posted by Aubergine at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

I cut in two
A long November night, and
Place half under the coverlet,
Sweet-scented as a spring breeze.
And when he comes, I shall take it out,
Unroll it inch by inch, to stretch the night.

by Hwang Chin-i
posted by honey-barbara at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

permanently by kenneth koch

One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing ­­ for example, "Although it was a dark rainy day when the
Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and sweet expression on her face until the day I
perish from the green, effective earth."
Or, "Will you please close the window, Andrew?"
Or, for example, "Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window sill has changed color recently
to a light yellow, due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby."

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, "And! But!"
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat­­
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.
posted by anya32 at 7:42 AM on April 13, 2010

Interval with Erato, by Scott Cairns

The Hour and What Is Dead, Li-Young Lee

Messiah (Christmas Portions), Mark Doty

The Colonel, Carolyn Forché
posted by shakespeherian at 7:47 AM on April 13, 2010

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson
posted by raildr at 7:47 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

A Stephen Crane poem I have posted to Ask MeFi before:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

I love Crane's poetry in general; it's all acerbic, pithy, and poignant.

A man feared that he might find an assassin;
Another that he might find a victim.
One was more wise than the other.

posted by Lifeson at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


To what can our life on earth be likened?
To a flock of geese,
alighting on the snow.
Sometimes leaving a trace of their passage.

Su Dongpo
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:52 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many Zen death poems are really great
posted by newmoistness at 8:10 AM on April 13, 2010

- Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.
posted by falameufilho at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding the James Tate.

Never Again The Same

Speaking of sunsets,
last night's was shocking.
I mean, sunsets aren't supposed to frighten you, are they?
Well, this one was terrifying.
People were screaming in the streets.
Sure, it was beautiful, but far too beautiful.
It wasn't natural.
One climax followed another and then another
until your knees went weak
and you couldn't breathe.
The colors were definitely not of this world,
peaches dripping opium,
pandemonium of tangerines,
inferno of irises,
Plutonian emeralds,
all swirling and churning, swabbing,
like it was playing with us,
like we were nothing,
as if our whole lives were a preparation for this,
this for which nothing could have prepared us
and for which we could not have been less prepared.
The mockery of it all stung us bitterly.
And when it was finally over
we whimpered and cried and howled.
And then the streetlights came on as always
and we looked into one another's eyes?
ancient caves with still pools
and those little transparent fish
who have never seen even one ray of light.
And the calm that returned to us
was not even our own.
posted by rocket88 at 8:16 AM on April 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I found this one by searching on "egg salad poem." Sometimes I love the Internet.


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Billy Collins
posted by ottereroticist at 8:16 AM on April 13, 2010 [11 favorites]

'Softest of Tongues', Vladimir Nabokov:

To many things I’ve said the word that cheats
the lips and leaves them parted (thus: prash-chai
which means “good-bye”) — to furnished flats, to streets,
to milk-white letters melting in the sky;
to drab designs that habit seldom sees,
to novels interrupted by the din
of tunnels, annotated by quick trees,
abandoned with a squashed banana skin;
to a dim waiter in a dimmer town,
to cuts that healed and to a thumbless glove;
also to things of lyrical renown
perhaps more universal, such as love.
Thus life has been an endless line of land
receding endlessly…. And so that’s that,
you say under your breath, and wave your hand,
and then your handkerchief, and then your hat.
To all these things I’ve said the fatal word,
using a tongue I had so tuned and tamed
that — like some ancient sonneteer — I heard
its echoes by posterity acclaimed.
But now thou too must go; just here we part,
softest of tongues, my true one, all my own….
And I am left to grope for heart and art
and start anew with clumsy tools of stone.

'Sisyphus', U. A. Fanthorpe

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus

Apparently I rank as one
Of the more noteworthy sights down here.
As to that, I can’t judge, having
No time to spare for tourists.

My preoccupations are this stone
And this hill. I have to push
The one up the other.

A trivial task for a team, an engine,
A pair of horses. The interest lies
Not in the difficulty of the doing,
But the difficulty for the doer. I accept this
As my vocation: to do what I cannot do.
The stone and I are

Close. I know its every wart, its ribby ridges,
Its snags, its lips. And the stone knows me,
Cheek, chin and shoulders, elbow, groin, shin, toe,
Muscle, bone, cartilage and muddied skinprint,
My surfaces, my angles and my levers.

The hill I know by heart too,
Have studied incline, foothold, grain,
With watchmaker’s patience.

Concentration is mutual. The hill
Is hostile to the stone and me.
The stone resents me and the hill.

But I am the mover. I cannot afford
To spend energy on emotion. I push
The stone up the hill. At the top

It falls, and I pursue it,
To heave it up again. Time not spent
On doing this is squandered time.

The gods must have had a reason
For setting me this task. I have forgotten it,
And I do not care.

'Ballplayer', Evie Shockley:

i cop a squat on a squared-off log,
to watch you ball on the community center court.
butt numb, i shift my weight

and shake mosquitos from my ankles,
but never take my eyes off the game.
yours follow the orange orb, your pupils
twin, brown moons reflecting its light.

your play is wild efficiency,
you are a four-pronged magic wand,
waving, as if agentless, in all directions at once.
an opponent dribbles the ball - now he sees it,

now he don't, it's gone, flown,
and you've given it its wings.
you are one-eighth of the shrieking rubber,

one-eighth of the growls and calls. you are
the delicious assist, the unerring pass.
you spread your skills out before me, a peacock
among pigeons, as if to say "all eyes on me,"

and make it worth my while.
a chill trails the sun west like a long, clammy train,
crawls over me and my makeshift bench,
over the emptying playground,

but stops at the edge of the concrete,
where eight men burning keep it at bay,
the way torches smoking around a patio

ward off insects. twilight rises like dark steam
from the dewy grass, but you don't see it.
the ball still lights the court
until the winning jumper sinks and puts it out.

then earth returns to view, and you jog over
to slap my palm and beam,
and receive the grin i give you like a trophy.
posted by Catseye at 8:17 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun's going down

whose secret we see in a children's game
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

Robert Duncan

...and many others by Duncan
posted by newmoistness at 8:25 AM on April 13, 2010

A few that have stuck with me:

Song by Adrienne Rich

Chant for All the People on Earth by Leslie Woolf Hedley

The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

That last link goes to the website for The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. It's a great way to hear a poem or two every day, plus interesting tidbits of literary history, all wrapped up in a tidy 5-minute show. (And I happen to love listening to Garrison Keillor's voice, but I suppose that's not true for everyone.) You can find it on your local public radio station, or else subscribe to the podcast.
posted by sigmagalator at 8:34 AM on April 13, 2010

by Gail Mazur

I lay down by the side of the road
in a meadow of bluebonnets, I broke
the unwritten law of Texas. My brother

was visiting, he'd been tired, afraid of
his tiredness as we'd driven toward Bremen,
so we stopped for the blue relatives

of lupine, we left the car on huge feet
we'd inherited from our lost father,
our Polish grandfather. Those flowers

were too beautiful to only look at;
we walked on them, stood in the middle
of them, threw ourselves down,

crushing them in their one opportunity
to thrive and bloom. We lay like angels
forgiven our misdeeds, transported

to azure fields, the only word for
the color eluded me -- delft, indigo,
sapphire, some heavenly word you might

speak to a sky. I led my terrestrial brother
there to make him smile, and this
is my only record of the event.

We took no pictures, we knew no camera
could fathom that blue. I brushed
the soft spikes, I fingered lightly

the delicate earthly petals, I thought,
This is what my hands do well
isn't it, touch things about to vanish.
posted by Skot at 8:49 AM on April 13, 2010

I used to listen to The Writer's Almanac in the mornings, back when I could sleep in. I copied a few of the poems I enjoyed, by Louis Jenkins, X.J. Kennedy, and Cathryn Essinger.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 AM on April 13, 2010

By Li-Young Lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked: I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

posted by Diagonalize at 9:07 AM on April 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

This might be too well-known but just in case:

Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
posted by sallybrown at 9:16 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gary Snyder's "Burning the Small Dead" is, for various reasons, one of my favorite poems.
posted by lydhre at 9:19 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are a handful from a little private blog I opened over 5 years ago just to collect some of my favorites when I need a boost. Some have lost something in formatting; forgive me, I don't know how to indent just-so here. Also, it's made me inconsolable the past month or so that at least two of these poets have passed away, ugh.

In general, when I think great underrated (yes, even for poetry) masters and their best work I immediately think of Gerald Stern's Leaving Another Kingdom, James Tate's very early (perhaps first?) book Absences (to be honest, it may be my favorite single book of poetry ever...it singes my hair, the things he was doing and figuring out about words, holy cow), Yusef Komunyakaa's I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head, and to a lesser extent Charles Simic's earlier, uniform-looking slim boxy volumes, Alice Notley (amazing), Tu Fu (super famous really, but still, not that well known to the random person in the US I'd say), Issa (my very favorite haiku poet, maybe because those haikus are so incredibly weirdly modern and un-haiku-like), Larissa Szporluk, Noelle Kocot, Ronald Koertge (more well known as a children's author), Elaine Equi, Jerome Sala, hm...

(And to know where I'm coming from so you have a sense of what kind of underrated poet I'd like in the first place, some more well known favorites of mine including Ashbery, Auden, Sexton, Williams, Bishop, and Cummings.)

Simic had a bunch of new poems in this season's Paris Review, btw, from his upcoming book. They were pretty good.

Outburst from a Chemical Sleep
John Rybicki

I want a watch
made from the bones
in God's hands,
a house with a chair
nailed to the roof,
and a dame
who cooks in the flesh,
with the shades up,
or the bet is off.


A Bouquet of Objects
Elaine Equi

Lovely to be
like a racehorse surrounded by flowers

but it is also lovely
to be surrounded by air and own pendants

and bracelets of soot.
Here is a factory made fresh by broken windows

and there is my muse
returning home with a pail of milk.

He brings me
down to earth where all poetry begins

with such beautiful hands
that I am forever doing nothing but thinking

of objects
and asking him to hold them.


What We Lost
Michael Ondaatje

The interior love poem
The deeper levels of the self
Landscapes of daily life

dates when the abandonment
of certain principles occurred.

The rule of courtesy -- how to enter
a temple or forest, how to touch
a master's feet before lesson or performance.

The art of the drum. The art of eye-painting.
How to cut an arrow. Gestures between lovers.
The pattern of her teeth marks on his skin
drawn by a monk from memory.

The limits of betrayal. The five ways
A lover could mock an ex-lover.

Nine finger and eye gestures
to signal key emotions.

The small boats of solitude.

Lyrics that rose
from love
back into the air

naked with guile
and praise.

Our works and days.

We knew how monsoons
(south-west, north-east)
would govern behaviour

and when to discover
the knowledge of the dead

hidden in clouds,
in rivers, in unbroken rock.

All this we burned or traded for power and wealth
from the eight compass points of vengeance

from the two levels of envy


When I Have Reached the Point of Suffocation
Gerald Stern

When I have reached the point of suffocation,
then I go back to the railroad ties

and the mound of refuse.
Then I can have sorrow and repentance,

I can relax in the broken glass
and the old pile of chair legs;

I am brought back to my senses
and soothed a little.

It is really the only place I can go
for relief.

The streets, the houses, the institutions,
and the voices that occupy them,

are too hard and ugly
for any happiness

and the big woods outside
too full of its own death---

I go to the stone wall,
and the dirty ashes,

and the old shoes,
and the daisies.

It takes years to learn how to look at the destruction
of beautiful things;

to learn how to leave the place
of oppression;

and how to make your own regeneration
out of nothing.


A Spiritual Experience
Ned O'Gorman

Handel's sister fainted when she
heard a chord Beethoven wrote; her
soul brushed against a hedgehog, her cheek-
bone shook. It was just too much
all round, nothing like her brother's
scaletta of tone sliding through
the eardrums.
A nun went to market. "I fear
an assault-" Her prickly soul
contorted on the tarmac. Riding
on the hood she saw God, who
tipped his millennium cap
and pointed to the steam pushing
from the engine.
The nun, whose mission had been
salad for the evening meal, fell
dead upon the wheel, crashed a
road divider, plunged into a field
and lay open to the broaching fire wheels


Unnatural State of
the Unicorn
Yusef Komunyakaa

Introduce me first as a man.
Don't mention superficial laurels
the dead heap up on the living.
I am a man. Cut me & I bleed.
Before embossed limited editions,
before fat artichoke hearts marinated
in rich sauce & served with imported wines,
before antics & Agnus Dei,
before the stars in your eyes
mean birth sign or Impression,
I am a man. I've scuffled
in mudholes, broken teeth in a grinning skull
like the moon behind bars. I've done it all
to be known as myself. No titles.
I have principles. I won't speak
on the natural state of the unicorn
in literature or self-analysis.
I have no birthright to prove,
no insignia, no secret
password, no fleur-de-lis.
My initials aren't on a branding iron.
I'm standing here in unpolished
shoes & faded jeans, sweating
my manly sweat. Inside my skin,
loving you, I am this space
my body believes in.


First Grade
Ron Koertge

Until then, every forest
had wolves in it, we thought
it would be fun to wear snowshoes
all the time, and we could talk to water.

So who is this woman with the gray
breath calling out names and pointing
to the little desks we will occupy
for the rest of our lives?


Point of Fidelity
Alice Notley

Taking a large bloody napkin upstairs
Then eat a blue heart-shaped valium
with a red dot on it

Why can't I live as I say
barren wilderness beauty I say?

offer a right poverty
sitting near my sandals
throw away these feelings I'm so easily tricked by
poems of smallness I'm so easily, others'
easy reception of a heart-mind
a simulacrum

Took the bloody napkin upstairs
then took a blue heart tranq

What's the name of the larger island?
Why am I still on the smaller one?
I'm not a story or life: if I
say that, I'm suddenly here
terror in this real poem

Bring the bloody napkin upstairs
Don't take the blue heart tranq

A great thing is of no importance
Hooked, and tricked, like a criminal
on greatness, a flourish a sound of a fiction

What is the true name
it's I not 'so she' 'so she'
Face the air and say I
Go past tears don't be 'moved'

There's catastrophe, a poem
"I keep seeing all those bodies"
Wrench back from a fiction
The bodies are really there then
Catastophe is in the real poem

Took the blue kotex upstairs
Took the bloody tranq

swallowed the heart
so I wouldn't have to be
"I keep seeing all those bodies"
Who am I responsible to?
A self, precisely, and "all those bodies"

Don't dance on the bodies
"What does she think she's doing
asking me to dance with her on his grave?"
I remember saying that once:
to accuse of the wish to dance
is almost to dance, to dance on the
mechanistic wrongdoer

mechanistic oneself, as if a character
in some stupid novel, perpetually, daily
reserving my real self
for a confrontation in the future

And so face it now face it
what I am, infinite and
"all those bodies"

Flashback to
a consecrated time a proper
instance in a wilderness:


This death is Egyptian
I wear an Egyptian dress
with black horizontal stripes
you even say "your dress is Egyptian"
when I perform your last rites
sprinkling you with drops of gin & tonic
and saying, "May the 14 pieces
of Osiris be joined together"
We laugh though you'll die the next day
Eleven years later I wonder
at using such a fiction, a fetish of Egyptian
exactly to be there, that moment.

Things we do together can be
true, actions true
"I keep seeing all those bodies"
Take the bloody napkin upstairs
Open the pupil, tranq-less in terror
hollowware hollowware
filled with self
Living is a poem,
ask an animal
What else is it doing there, sifting genes?
I take the bloody kotex upstairs
I don't have to put it in my trash
you trash will do too.


Small Countries
Dennis Nurkse

A man and a woman
are lying together
listening to news of a war.
The radio dial
is the only light in the room.
Casualties are read out.
He thinks, "Those are people
I no longer have to love,"
and he touches her hair
and calls her name
but it sounds strange to her
like a stone left over
from a house already built.


[In this world]
Kobayashi Issa

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.


lucille clifton

for mama

remember this.
she is standing by
the furnace.
the coals
glisten like rubies.
her hand is crying.
her hand is clutching
a sheaf of papers.
she gives them up.
they burn
jewels into jewels.
her eyes are animals.
each hank of her hair
is a serpent's obedient
she will never recover.
remember. there is nothing
you will not bear
for this woman's sake.


Anna Akhmatova

We don't know how to say good-bye--
We keep wandering arm in arm.
Twilight has begun to fall,
You are pensive and I keep still.

Let's go into a church--we will watch
A funeral, christenings, a marriage service,
Without looking at each other, we will leave...
What's wrong with us?

Or let's sit on the trampled snow
Of the graveyard, sighing lightly,
And with your walking stick you'll outline palaces
Where we will be together always.


On Living
Nazim Hikmet

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example--
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people--
even for people whose faces you've never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees--
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don't believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

Let's say we're seriously ill, need surgery--
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it's impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we'll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we'll look out the window to see if it's raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast. . .
Let's say we're at the front--
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We'll know this with a curious anger,
but we'll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let's say we're in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind--
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet--
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
--you have to feel this sorrow now--
for the world must be loved this much
if you're going to say "I lived". . .


Diagram of Pretty Please
Matthea Harvey

On skis, I criss-cross the plaza--
doorstep to stoplight, think to thought.

Let the thistle leave the forest discreetly
on the possum. Let the sweet buns

in the bakery window overlap
& smudge their icing. Inasmuch

as my arms are full of compass roses,
I know exactly where I'm going.

That's my love there in the swivel chair.
I'm the sugarbowl on wheels.


Blue Suede Shoes: A Fiction

Heliotrope sprouts from your shoes, brother,
their purplish color going Chianti
at the beginning of evening,
while you sit on the concrete step.
You curse, stand up, and come toward me.
In the lamplight, I see your eyes,
the zigzags of bright red in them.
"Bill's shot up," you say.
"Remember how he walked
on the balls of his feet like a dancer,
him, a boxer and so graceful
in his blue suede shoes?
Jesus, he coulda stayed home, Joe,
he coulda had the world by the guts,
but he gets gunned,
he gets strips of paper
tumbling out of his pockets like confetti."

Is Bea here? I say
and start for the house.
"No," you say. "This splits us, Joe.
You got money, education, friends.
You understand. I'm talking about family
and you ain't it.

The dock is my brother."
Lou, I say and step closer,
once I was fifteen, celestial.
Mom and Pop called me sweetheart
and I played the piano in the parlor
on Sunday afternoons.
There was ice cream.
Your girl wore a braid down the center of her back
The sun had a face and it was mine.
You loved me, you sonofabitch, everybody did.
In 1923, you could count the golden boys on your fingers
and I was one of them. Me, Joe McCarthy.
I gave up music for Justice,
divorce, and small-time litigation.
And you moved here to Cleveland--
baseball, hard work, beer halls,
days fishing Lake Erie,
more money than a man like you
could ever earn on a farm
and still not enough.
Pop died in bed in his own house
because of my money.
Share, he always said, you share
what you have with your family
or you're nothing. You got nobody, boys.
Will you cut me off now
like you did
when I could have helped my nephew,
when you hated the way he hung on to me,
the way he listened when I talked
like I was a wise man? Wasn't I?
I could already see a faint red haze
on the horizon;
a diamond-headed hammer
slamming down on the White House;
a sickle cutting through the legs
of every man, woman, and child in America.
You know what people tell me today,
they say, You whistle the tune, Joe,
and we'll dance.
But my own brother sits it out.

A man gets bitter, Lou,
he gets so bitter
he could vomit himself up.
It happened to Bill.
He wasn't young anymore.
He knew he'd had it
that night last July
lying on a canvas of his own blood.
After a few months, he ran numbers
and he was good at it, but he was scared.
His last pickup
he stood outside the colored church
and heard voices
and he started to shake.
He thought he'd come all apart,
that he couldn't muscle it anymore,
and he skimmed cream for the first time--
$10s, $20s.

You say you would have died in his place,
but I don't believe it.
You couldn't give up your whore on Thursdays
and Bea the other nights of the week,
the little extra that comes in off the dock.
You know what I mean.
The boys start ticking--
they put their hands in the right place
and the mouse runs down the clock.
It makes you hot,
but I just itch
and when I itch, I want to smash something.
I want to condemn and condemn,
to see people squirm,
but other times,
I just go off in a dream--
I hear the Mills Brothers
singing in the background,
Up a lazy river,
then the fog clears
and I'm standing at Stalin's grave
and he's lying in an open box.
I get down on top of him
and stomp him,
till I puncture him
and this stink rises up.
I nearly black out,
but I keep stomping,
till I can smell fried trout, coffee.
And Truman's standing up above me
with his hand out
and I wake up always with the same thought:
the Reds are my enemies.
Every time I'm sitting at that big table in D.C.
and so-and-so's taking the Fifth,
or crying, or naming names,
I'm stomping his soul.
I can look inside you, Lou,
just like I do those sonsofbitches.
You got a hammer up your ass,
a sickle in between your percale sheets?
Threaten me, you red-hearted bastard. Come on.
I'll bring you to heel.

Yesterday Bill comes by the hotel
and he sits on the bed, but he can't relax.
Uncle, he says, and points at his feet,
all I ever wanted was this pair of blue suede shoes,
and he takes out a pawn ticket,
turns it over in his hand, then he gets up,
and at the door holds it out to me
and says, Yes keep it.

Today I go down to the pawnshop
and this is what I get back--a .38.
Bill didn't even protect himself.
You have to understand what happened to him,
in a country like this,
the chances he had.

Remember Dorothy and the Yellow Brick Road?
There's no pot of gold at the end,
but we keep walking that road,
red-white-and-blue ears of corn
steaming in our minds: America,
the only thing between us
and the Red Tide.
But some of us are straw--
we burn up like Bill in the dawn's early light.
He didn't deserve to live.
This morning, when I heard he was dead,
I didn't feel anything.
I stood looking out the window at the lake
and I thought for a moment
the whole Seventh Fleet was sailing away beneath me,
flags waving, men on deck,
shining like bars of gold,
and there, on the bow of the last ship,
Dorothy stood waving up at me.
As she passed slowly under my window,
I spit on her.
She just stared at me,
as if she didn't understand.
But she did.
She gave up the Emerald City
for a memory.
I'd never do that, never.
I'm an American.
I shall not want.
There's nothing that doesn't belong to me.


you don't know what love is
Kim Addonizio

but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she'll try to eat solid food. She'll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she's headed, you know she'll wake up
with an ache she can't locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.


La Guardia, the Story
Jane Mead

A man in the clot of colors--which are people--
is holding a naked iris, is watching
the long line of faces unloading.
He holds the flower up to his chest, then
down at a tilt to his side--in one hand
behind his back makes a surprise.
He runs through his posture
now and again. He uses
one shoe at a time for standing.

The long line of faces--its trickle and blurt--
hurts me. He is watching for her face.

She must have sat at the back of the plane--
a seven-forty-seven, she's been smoking.
Perhaps something has happened that matters.
Perhaps what has happened is nothing--
but the face that arrives is never
the face that left us. Remember that.

I want to rest my head on his back,
on his blue flannel shirt. I imagine
her face which must arrive. I imagine
that she must not disappoint him.
Will I know her before he sees her?
What does their story mean to me?

I used to walk through Kensington gardens
every morning on my way to school
that winter we lived at Lancaster gate.
This is a story too--does it have meaning?
Is it about something that matters--does it
tell how the branches aged the white sky?
Is its secret in the fog or the red sun rising,
in the ducks on the Serpentine as seen
through a layer of mist? Can it explain
why my mother whimpered in her sleep that year?

In the frame story she walks off last,
sees the flower--hands up for a moment
for surprise before she takes it.

She gives him a small kiss and they head off
arm in arm in the direction marked "Baggage"
and "Ground Transportation," down the long hall
happily, until I can no longer see them.

This is the story as I saw it happen.
The story as I told it.

In their second story he waits with the iris
long after she doesn't arrive--
but for some other reason than for
so I can save him--she has been delayed--
perhaps by something inconsequential,
we don't know yet, but in the second story
she does not arrive. This is the story
as I imagine it--the story that exists.

Is there any other possible story?

Walking home from school in the afternoons
I'd stop and sit by the Serpentine
and rub my fingers on the curbstone.
I loved the raw circles I made in their tips--
symmetrical and red as the skin
under the popped bubble of a blister.

Is there any other story possible?
Who must I be to complete it?

Make her exist.

I am stuck in the middle of the story,
not knowing if she will arrive.
I saw her face, this makes no difference--
there is a man at La Guardia
holding an iris. When I think of it
I cannot stop fearing for him.

How do you unlock a story? How
do you recognize the image--
the one that might change you?

If I put in the part about my mother
and step-father fighting, if I describe
--perfectly--his body in action,
his shadow on the wall behind him,
or add the bit about it all boiling down
to inquisitions in the rational morning--as in
whose dark anus holds the safe-box key--
will we have a story with a meaning?

There is a way to discover a truth
about anything you want to know.

I imagine there's a way to know what's real.

Listen--I walked through an empty park
every morning on my way to school
and knew that it was good to be human.

Some nights I make a killer pot of coffee--
I put on the music that I love,
and dance. Sometimes I dance for hours.

Go to your phonograph. Put on
Brandenburg Concerto number six.

This is about something very hard.
--This is about trying to live with that music
playing in the back of your mind.

--About trying to live in a world
with that kind of music.


last poem in the booklet, GOOD TIME
Tristan Tzara

blighted fruits
jagged walls
dead snow
polluted hours
locked steps
have broken up the streets
the disgrace of living
floods my eyes


Wait For Me
James Tate

A dream of life a dream of birth
a dream of moving
from one world into another

All night dismantling the synapses
unplugging the veins and arteries...

Hello I am a cake of soap
dissolving in a warm bath

A train with no windows and no doors
a lover with no eyes for his mask
--inside is the speed of life

Who can doubt the worth of it
each letter written is obsolete
before it finds its friend

Our life is shorter now
full of chaotic numbers
which never complete a day

It will be the same
as it has always been
and you are right to pack

your heart in ice
if you believe this.


Lisa Mueller

The modern biographers worry
"how far it went," their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone's eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address, not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving nothing to overhear.


Under the Bridge
Larissa Szporluk

You never know when somebody will
stick a little knife
in your heart and walk away--

and the handle that smells of his hand
vibrates by your breast
as he ducks through the trees

and minutes later blows like a shirt pin
across the frozen lake.
And you're all wet, and he's in love

with what he's done.
And because of the cut,
the distance of your life pours out,

and because of the clouds
like fat that surround you,
you don't hear

for a long time
the tom-tom beating
in the sky letting shadows

too heavy to be birds,
and yelling with a message
to forgive him

like the others did their father
under that bridge there
where ropes still linger

in remembrance of their necks,
where a flute in its case lies cold--
forgive him. Say

his name. It was only
power that he had to have,
and look what the one thrust gave him.


repeating the word girl
m loncar

writing a poem about the girl should never be better
than the girl than being with the girl

don't write the poem about the girl
unless you'd really rather be with the girl


Hanging Fire
Audre Lorde

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before morning
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed


Richard Brautigan

I changed her bedroom
raised the ceiling four feet,
removed all of her things
(and the clutter of her life)
painted the walls white,
placed a fantastic calm
in the room,
a silence that almost had a scent,
put her in a low brass bed
with white satin covers,
and I stood there in the doorway
watching her sleep, curled up,
with her face turned away
from me.


Memory Of France
Paul Celan

Together with me recall: the sky of Paris, that giant autumn crocus...
We went shopping for hearts at the flower girl's booth:
they were blue and they opened up in the water.
It began to rain in our room,
and our neighbour came in, Monsieur Le Songe, a lean little man.
We played cards, I lost the irises of my eyes;
you lent me your hair, I lost it, he struck us down.
He left by the door, the rain followed him out.
We were dead and were able to breathe.
posted by ifjuly at 9:34 AM on April 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

Looks like I got cut off, ack.

The last two:

Richard Brautigan

I changed her bedroom
raised the ceiling four feet,
removed all of her things
(and the clutter of her life)
painted the walls white,
placed a fantastic calm
in the room,
a silence that almost had a scent,
put her in a low brass bed
with white satin covers,
and I stood there in the doorway
watching her sleep, curled up,
with her face turned away
from me.


Memory Of France
Paul Celan

Together with me recall: the sky of Paris, that giant autumn crocus...
We went shopping for hearts at the flower girl's booth:
they were blue and they opened up in the water.
It began to rain in our room,
and our neighbour came in, Monsieur Le Songe, a lean little man.
We played cards, I lost the irises of my eyes;
you lent me your hair, I lost it, he struck us down.
He left by the door, the rain followed him out.
We were dead and were able to breathe.
posted by ifjuly at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stillness, by James Elroy Flecker

WHEN the words rustle no more,
And the last work's done,
When the bolt lies deep in the door,
And Fire, our Sun,
Falls on the dark-laned meadows of the floor;

When from the clock's last time to the next chime
Silence beats his drum,
And Space with gaunt grey eyes and her brother Time
Wheeling and whispering come,
She with the mould of form and he with the loom of rhyme,

Then twittering out in the night my thought-birds flee,
I am emptied of all my dreams:
I only hear Earth turning, only see
Ether's long bankless streams,
And only know I should drown if you
Laid not your hand on me.


There are Days by John Montague

THERE are days when
one should be able
to pluck off one's head
like a dented or worn
helmet, straight from
the nape and collarbone
(those crackling branches!)

and place it firmly down
in the bed of a flowing stream.
Clear, clean, chill currents
coursing and spuming through
the sour and stale compartments
of the brain, dimmed eardrums,
bleared eyesockets, filmed tongue.

And then set it back again
on the base of the shoulders:
well tamped down, of course,
the laved skin and mouth,
the marble of the eyes
rinsed and ready
for love; for prophecy?


A Meeting, by Wendell Berry

IN A dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: "How you been?"
He grins and looks at me.
"I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees."
posted by faineant at 9:56 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always recommend Anne Carson in threads like these! She's pretty intense and academic, but her poetry is so gorgeous. She's written entire novels in (loose, readable, lovely) verse. Check out Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:01 AM on April 13, 2010

Everything by Albert Goldbarth. One of my all-time favorites:


This book saved my life.
This book takes place on one of the two small tagalong moons of Mars.
This book requests its author's absolution, centuries after his death.
This book required two of the sultan's largest royal elephants to bear it;
this other book fit in a gourd.
This book reveals The Secret Name of God, and so its author is on a death
This is the book I lifted high over my head, intending to smash a roach in
my girlfriend's bedroom; instead, my back unsprung, and I toppled
painfully into her bed, where I stayed motionless for eight days.
This is a "book." That is, an audio cassette. This other "book" is a screen
and a microchip. This other "book," the sky.
In chapter three of this book, a woman tries explaining her husband's
tragically humiliating death to their daughter: reading it is like walking
through a wall of setting cement.
This book taught me everything about sex.
This book is plagiarized.
This book is transparent; this book is a codex in Aztec; this book, written
by a prisoner, in dung; the wind is turning the leaves of this book: a
hill-top olive as thick as a Russian novel.
This book is a vivisected frog, and ova its text.
This book was dictated by Al-Méllikah, the Planetary Spirit of the Seventh
Realm, to his intermediary on Earth (the Nineteenth Realm), who
published it, first in mimeograph, and many editions later in gold-
stamped leather.
This book taught me everything wrong about sex.
This book poured its colors into my childhood so strongly, they remain a
dye in my imagination today.
This book is by a poet who makes me sick.
This is the first book in the world.
This is a photograph from Viet Nam, titled "Buddhist nuns copying
scholarly Buddhist texts in the pagoda."
This book smells like salami.
This book is continued in volume two.
He was driving — evidently by some elusive, interior radar, since he was
busy reading a book propped on the steering wheel.
This book picks on men.
This is the split Red Sea: two heavy pages.
In this book I underlined deimos, cabochon, pelagic, hegira. I wanted to use
This book poured its bile into my childhood.
This book defames women.
This book was smuggled into the country one page at a time, in tiny pill
containers, in hatbands, in the cracks of asses; sixty people risked their
lives repeatedly over this one book.
This book is nuts!!!
This book cost more than a seven-story chalet in the Tall Oaks subdivision.
This book — I don't remember.
This book is a hoax, and a damnable lie.
This chapbook was set in type and printed by hand, by Larry Levis's then-
wife, the poet Marcia Southwick, in 1975. It's 1997 now and Larry's
dead — too early, way too early — and this elliptical, heartbreaking poem
(which is, in part, exactly about too early death) keeps speaking to me
from its teal-green cover: the way they say the nails and the hair
continue to grow in the grave.
This book is two wings and a thorax the size of a sunflower seed.
This book gave me a hard-on.
This book is somewhere under those other books way over there.
This book deflected a bullet.
This book provided a vow I took.
If they knew you owned this book, they'd come and get you; it wouldn't
be pretty.
This book is a mask: its author isn't anything like it.
This book is by William Matthews, a wonderful poet, who died today, age
55. Now Larry Levis has someone he can talk to.
This book is an "airplane book" (but not about airplanes; mean to be read on
an airplane; also, available every three steps in the airport). What does it
mean, to "bust" a "block"?
This is the book I pretended to read one day in the Perry-Castañeda Library
browsing room, but really I was rapt in covert appreciation of someone
in a slinky skirt that clung like kitchen plasticwrap. She squiggled near,
and pointed to the book. "It's upside-down," she said.
For the rest of the afternoon I was so flustered, that when I finally left the
library... this is the book, with its strip of magnetic-code tape, that I
absentmindedly walked with through the security arch on the first day of
its installation, becoming the first (though unintentional) lightfingered
lifter of books to trigger the Perry-Castañeda alarm, which hadn't been
fine-tuned as yet, and sounded even louder than the sirens I remember
from grade school air raid drills, when the principal had us duck beneath
our desks and cover our heads — as if gabled — with a book.
The chemical formulae for photosynthesis: this book taught me that.
And this book taught me what a "merkin" is.
The cover of this book is fashioned from the tanned skin of a favorite slave.
This book is inside a computer now.
This "book" is made of knotted string; and this, of stone; and this, the gut
of a sheep.
This book existed in a dream of mine, and only there.
This book is a talk-show paperback with shiny gold raised lettering on the
cover. (Needless to say, not one by me.)
This is a book of prohibitions; this other, a book of rowdy license. They
serve equally to focus the prevalent chaos of our lives.
This book is guarded around the clock by men in navy serge and golden
braiding, carrying very capable guns.
This is the book that destroyed a marriage. Take it, burn it, before it costs
us more.
This book is an intercom for God.
This book I slammed against a wall.
My niece wrote this book in crayon and glitter.
This is the book (in a later paperback version) by which they recognized
the sea-bleached, battered, and otherwise-unidentifiable body of Shelley.
Shit: I forgot to send in the card, and now the Book Club has billed me
twice for Synopses of 400 Little-Known Operas.
This book is filled with sheep and rabbits, calmly promenading in their
tartan vests and bowties, with their clay pipes, in their Easter Sunday
salad-like hats. The hills are gently rounded. The sun is a clear firm
yolk. The world will never be this sweetly welcoming again.
This book is studded with gems that have the liquid depth of aperitifs.
This book, 1,000 Wild Nights, is actually wired to give an electr/ YOWCH!
This book I stole from Cornell University's Olin Library in the spring of
1976. Presumably, its meter's still running. Presumably, it still longs for
its Dewey'd place in the dim-lit stacks.
This book has a bookplate reminding me, in Latin, to use my scant time well.
It's the last day of the semester. My students are waiting to sell their
textbooks back to the campus store, like crazed racehorses barely
restrained at the starting gate.
This book caused a howl / a stir / a ruckus / an uproar.
This book became a movie; they quickly raised the cover price.
This book is the Key to the Mysteries.
This book has a bookplate: a man and a woman have pretzeled themselves into one lubricious shape.
This book came apart in my hands.
This book is austere; it's like holding a block of dry ice.
This Bible is in Swahili.
This book contains seemingly endless pages of calculus — it may as well be
in Swahili.
This is the book I pretended to read while Ellen's lushly naked body
darkened into sleep beside me. And this is the book I pretended to read
in a waiting room, once, as a cardiac specialist razored into my father's
chest. And THIS book I pretended having read once, when I
interviewed for a teaching position: "Oh yes," I said, "of course," and
spewed a stream of my justly famous golden bullshit into the conference
This book was signed by the author fifteen minutes before she died.
This is Erhard Ratdolf's edition of Johann Regiomontanus's astronomical
and astrological calendar (1476) — it contains "the first true title-page."
She snatched this book from a garbage can, just as Time was about to
swallow it out of the visible world irrevocably. To this day, her
grandchildren read it.
This book: braille. This one: handmade paper, with threads of the poet's
own bathrobe as part of the book's rag content. This one: the cover is
hollowed glass, with a goldfish swimming around the title.
This is my MFA thesis. Its title is Goldbarth's MFA Thesis.
This is the cookbook used by Madame Curie. It still faintly glows, seven
decades later.
This book is the shame of an entire nation.
This book is one of fourteen matching volumes, like a dress parade.
This is the book I'm writing now. It's my best! (But where should I send
This book doesn't do anyth / oh wow, check THIS out!
This is the book I bought for my nephew, 101 Small Physics Experiments.
Later he exchanged it for The Book of Twerps and Other Pukey Things, and
who could blame him?
This book is completely marred by the handiwork of the Druckfehlerteufel —
"the imp who supplies the misprints."
This book has a kind of aurora-like glory radiating from it. There should be
versions of uranium detectors that register glory-units from books.
We argued over this book in the days of the divorce. I kept it, she kept the
stained glass window from Mike and Mimi.
Yes, he was supposed to be on the 7:05 to Amsterdam. But he stayed at
home, to finish this whodunit. And so he didn't crash.
This book has a browned corsage pressed in it. I picked up both for a dime
at the Goodwill.
"A diet of berries, vinegar, and goat's milk" will eventually not only cure
your cancer, but will allow a man to become impregnated (diagrams
explain this) — also, there's serious philosophy about Jews who control
"the World Order," in this book.
This book reads from right to left. This book comes with a small wooden
top attached by a saffron ribbon. This book makes the sound of a lion, a
train, or a cuckoo clock, depending on where you press its cover.
I've always admired this title from 1481: The Myrrour of the Worlde.
This book is from the 1950s; the jacket says it's "a doozie."
This book is by me. I found it squealing piteously, poor piglet, in the back
of a remainders bin. I took it home and nursed it.
This book let me adventure with the Interplanetary Police.
I threw myself, an aspirant, against the difficult theories this book
propounded, until my spirit was bruised. I wasn't any smarter — just
This book is magic. There's more inside it than outside.
This is the copy of the Iliad that Alexander the Great took with him,
always, on his expeditions — "in," Thoreau says, "a precious casket."
Help! (thump) I've been stuck in this book all week and I don't know how
to get out! (thump)
This is the book of poetry I read from at my wedding to Morgan. We were
divorced. The book (Fred Chappell's River) is still on my shelf, like an
This book is stapled (they're rusted by now); this book, bound in buttery
leather; this book's pages are chemically-treated leaves; this book, the
size of a peanut, is still complete with indicia and an illustrated colophon
So tell me: out of what grim institution for the taste-deprived and the
sensibility-challenged do they find the cover artists for these books?
This book I tried to carry balanced on my head with seven others.
This book I actually licked.
This book — remember? I carved a large hole in its pages, a "how-to
magazine for boys" said this would be a foolproof place to hide my
secret treasures. Then I remembered I didn't have any secret treasures
worth hiding. Plus, I was down one book.
This book is nothing but jackal crap; unfortunately, its royalties have paid
for two Rolls-Royces and a mansion in the south of France.
This book is said to have floated off the altar of the church, across the
village square, and into the hut of a peasant woman in painful labor.
This is what he was reading when he died. The jacket copy says it's "a real
page-turner — you can't put it down!" I'm going to assume he's in
another world now, completing the story.
This book hangs by a string in an outhouse, and every day it gets thinner.
This book teaches you how to knit a carrying case for your rosary; this one,
how to build a small but lethal incendiary device.
This book has pop-up pages with moveable parts, intended to look like the
factory room where pop-up books with moveable parts are made.
If you don't return that book I loaned you, I'm going to smash your face.
This book says the famously saintly woman was really a ringtailed trash-
mouth dirty-down bitch queen. Everyone's reading it!
There are stains in this book that carry a narrative greater than its text.
The Case of _______. How to _______. Books books books.
I know great petulant stormy swatches and peaceful lulls of this book by
I was so excited, so jazzed up! — but shortly thereafter they found me
asleep, over pages six and seven of this soporific book. (I won't say by
And on her way back to her seat, she fell (the multiple sclerosis) and
refused all offered assistance. Instead, she used her book she'd been
reading from, as a prop, and worked herself pridefully back up to a
standing position.
They gave me this book for free at the airport. Its cover features an Indian
god with the massive head of an elephant, as brightly blue as a druid,
flinging flowers into the air and looking unsurpassably wise.
My parents found this book in my bottom drawer, and spanked the living
hell into my butt.
This book of yours, you tell me, was optioned by Hollywood for eighty-
five impossibajillion dollars? Oh. Congratulations.
They lowered the esteemed and highly-published professor into his grave.
A lot of silent weeping. A lot of elegiac rhetoric. And one man shaking
his head in the chill December wind dumbfoundedly, who said, "And he
perished anyway."
Although my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Hurd, always said "Whenever
you open a book, remember: that author lives again."
After this book, there was no turning back.
Around 1000 A.D., when the Magyars were being converted over to
Christianity, Magyar children were forced to attend school for the first
time in their cultural history: "therefore the Magyar word konyv means
tears as well as book."
This book, from when I was five, its fuzzy ducklings, and my mother's
voice in the living room of the second-story apartment over the butcher
shop on Division Street.... I'm fifty now. I've sought out, and I own
now, one near-mint and two loose, yellowing copies that mean to me as
much as the decorated gold masks and the torsos of marble meant to the
excavators of Troy.
This book is done.
This book gave me a paper cut.
This book set its mouth on my heart, and sucked a mottled tangle of blood
to the surface.
I open this book and smoke pours out, I open this book and a bad sleet
slices my face, I open this book: brass knuckles, I open this book: the
spiky scent of curry, I open this book and hands grab forcefully onto my
hair as if in violent sex, I open this book: the wingbeat of a seraph, I
open this book: the edgy cat-pain wailing of the damned thrusts up in a
column as sturdy around as a giant redwood, I open this book: the travel
of light, I open this book and it's as damp as a wound, I open this book
and I fall inside it farther than any physics, stickier than the jelly we
scrape from cracked bones, cleaner than what we tell our children in the
dark when they're afraid to close their eyes at night.
And this book can't be written yet: its author isn't born yet.
This book is going to save the world.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:10 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

All Those Ships That Never Sailed - Bob Kaufman

All those ships that never sailed
The ones with their seacocks open
That were scuttled in their stalls...
Today I bring them back
Huge and transitory
And let them sail

All those flowers that you never grew-
that you wanted to grow
The ones that were plowed under
ground in the mud-
Today I bring them back
And let you grow them

All those wars and truces
Dancing down these years-
All in three flag swept days
Rejected meaning of God-

My body once covered with beauty
Is now a museum of betrayal.
This part remembered because of that one's touch
This part remembered for that one's kiss-
Today I bring it back
And let you live forever.

I breath a breathless I love you
And move you

Remove the snake from Moses' arm...
And someday the Jewish queen will dance
Down the street with the dogs
And make every Jew
Her lover.

Something by George Oppen. Here are some excerpts from a longer piece called Of Being Numerous. Five Poems about Poetry is pretty good too.

Rimbaud's Enfance. I prefer the Paul Schmidt translation greatly, but couldn't find a complete text online. There's a full translation by someone else here but IMO that translation has no sense of musicality. Maybe that's more faithful to the original, but I don't care. I knows what I likes.
posted by juv3nal at 10:19 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams.


The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart by Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue
has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.


Delphiniums In A Window Box by Dean Young

Every sunrise, even stranger's eyes,
Not necessarily swans, even crows,
even the evening fusillade of bats.
That place where the creek goes underground,
how many weeks before I see you again?
Stacks of books, every page, character's
rages and poets' strange contraptions
of syntax and song, every song
even when there isn't one.
Every thistle, splinter, butterfly
over the drainage ditches. Every stray.
Did you see the meteor shower?
Did it feel like something swallowed?
Every question, conversation
even with almost nothing, cricket, cloud,
because of you I'm talking to crickets, clouds,
confiding in a cat. Everyone says,
Come to your senses, and I do, of you.
Every touch electric, every taste you,
every smell, even burning sugar, every
cry and laugh. Toothpicked samples
at the farmers market, every melon,
plum, I come undone, undone.
posted by joydivasian at 10:40 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been very fond of My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke since high-school. No, I've never been around any alcoholics and I've never been hit by an adult, but Roethke makes it impossible not to relate.

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
posted by halogen at 10:51 AM on April 13, 2010

Monet Refuses The Operation by Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
posted by Vibrissa at 11:00 AM on April 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Well, I would have said "The Walloping Window-Blind", but it seems that it's been set to music a number of times, and in fact Natalie Merchant has just done so. Still, though.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:06 AM on April 13, 2010

Outside of Australia I think this one is probably fairly unknown, and even though it was originally set up as a hoax I am quite fond of it.

Durer: Innsbruck, 1495

I had often, cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters –
Not knowing than that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dreams,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.

-Ern Malley
posted by colfax at 11:11 AM on April 13, 2010

Oh! Also: David Ignatow:

For Yaedi

Looking out the window at the trees
and counting the leaves,
listening to a voice within
that tells me nothing is perfect
so why bother to try, I am thief
of my own time. When I die
I want it to be said that I wasted
hours in feeling absolutely useless
and enjoyed it, sensing my life
more strongly than when I worked at it.
Now I know myself from a stone
or a sledgehammer.

With the Sun's Fire

Are you a horror to yourself?
Do you have eyes peering at you
from within at the back of your skull
as you manage to stay calm, knowing
you are being watched by a stranger?
Be well, I am seated beside you,
planning a day's work. We are contending
with the stuff of stones and stars,
with water, air, with dirt, with food
and with the sun's fire.
posted by colfax at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

by Brad Leithauser

You will carry this suture
Into the future.
The past never passes.
It simply amasses.
posted by amyms at 12:00 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Russel Edson, The Fall:

There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding them out saying to his parents that he was a tree.
To which they said then go into the yard and do not grow in the living-room as your roots may ruin the carpet.
He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.
But his parents said look it is fall.

And Counting Sheep:

A scientist has a test tube full of sheep. He
wonders if he should try to shrink a pasture
for them.
They are like grains of rice.
He wonders if it is possible to shrink something
out of existence.
He wonders if the sheep are aware of their tininess,
if they have any sense of scale. Perhaps they think
the test tube is a glass barn ...
He wonders what he should do with them; they
certainly have less meat and wool than ordinary
sheep. Has he reduced their commercial value?
He wonders if they could be used as a substitute
for rice, a sort of wolly rice . . .
He wonders if he shouldn't rub them into a red paste
between his fingers.
He wonders if they are breeding, or if any of them
have died.
He puts them under a microscope, and falls asleep
counting them . . .
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Diane Lockward

The heart wants what the heart wants,
and what it wants is fire.
My friend Roz, six months into a relationship
with a seemly man, dumps him
and says, There’s no fireworks.
Roz wants the full-scale Grucci display—
her lover a licensed pyrotechnician,
Roman candles manually fired,
multi-color scenes, a barrage
of illuminations, the sky pulsing,
and always the Grand Finale.

Think of that woman in Colorado,
a forest ranger, who goes into the woods,
a letter from her estranged husband
clutched in her fist, a firestorm in her heart.
She reads the letter one last time,
strikes a match and kindles his words,
watches them shrivel.
Think of the entire forest in flames,
the blaze billowing and consuming,
trees surrendering to fire,
skeletons of timber, and charred remains.

And now I learn that silicone in the breasts
must be excised before cremation
or it blows up, liquefying to a dangerous substance,
destroying the crematorium.
I’d like to have breasts like that—
round and full, earth-tipped and tilted
heavenward, the kind that ignite and explode.
I’d like my breasts to burst into flame,
spreading like wildfire,
tongues of scarlet licking the walls.
I’d like breasts just that white-hot
as once they were under the touch
of my lover, so recently departed.
I’d like to burn the crematorium down.

Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

It Could Have Been
Clare Shaw
Last year, Carol Ann Duffy had a piece in the Guardian where several poets were invited to contribute pieces related to the ongoing war. This was one of those pieces.

Ali, son of Abdul. 16 months.
Rocket on house, Sadr City 16.5.2009.

Ali, but for some detail of history,
this day could have been yours.
It could have been you this morning,
stood at the end of your bed,
eyes still shut, arms held up for your mother,
who makes sun and all things possible,
who could, little Ali, be me.

Tony Edward Shiol, 5 years.
Kidnapped, found strangled, Shikan 12.05.2009.

If God had sneezed or been somehow distracted.
If that ray of light had shifted
and you had landed
with that small, metallic thrill of conception
as I walked down Euston Road,

then this could have been your morning.
It could have been me inhaling
your breath straight from sleep,
the smell of hot lake and woodsmoke, could
my tired arm under your neck.

Unnamed baby son of Haider Tariq Sain.
Car bomb, Nawab Street, Baghdad 7.04.2009.

It could have been you
shouting "carry"
at the far top stair of my stairs -

hello stairs
hello breakfast

- your feet in these shoes
which do not contain ants;

Unnamed daughter of Captain Saada Mohammed Ali.
Roadside bomb, Fallujah 20.4.2009.

biting soap
which smells good
but does not taste; watching
the unsteady wonder of bubbles;
throwing water up into the light.

Unnamed child of Haidar, male, aged 4.
Suicide bomber, Baghdad 4.1.2009.

then swimming:
your body held out in my hands;
the pear-shaped
weight of your head
safe away from the pool's sharp side

Sa'adiya Saddam, aged 8, female.
Shot dead by USA forces. Afak, 7/8 Feb, 2009.

It could have been me on that street
with you in my hands
and my hands red and wet
and my face is a shriek
and my voice is a house all on fire

But for geography,
but for biology,
but for the way
things happen,
it could have been

Unnamed female baby of the Abdul-Monim family.
Shot dead, Balal Ruz 22.1.2009.

you falling,
you holding your hand up for kissing.
posted by MeghanC at 12:11 PM on April 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

On the Death of Friends in Childhood
by Donald Justice

We shall not ever meet them bearded in Heaven,
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
Forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
Come, memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.
posted by amyms at 12:13 PM on April 13, 2010

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
-- William Butler Yeats

The first poem I ever memorized. And it tells a whole story in twenty-nine words.

I also quite like Once I Did Wetly Kiss Her On the Mouth, and many other poems by Beth Ann Fennelly.
posted by peagood at 2:21 PM on April 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

April 13, 1865
by David Berman

At first the sound had no meaning.
The shot came from the balcony,
as if the play had sprung an annex,
and I, John Sleeper Clarke,
pictured stars through oak scaffolds
as the news traveled over
the chairscape like a stain.

In that dark room lit by gas jets
the Welshman to my left conceded
the armrest we'd been fighting over
and doctors and half doctors
flowed into the scarlet aisles
to help.

I did not take to the image
of a bay mare waiting in the alley
or a manhunt through Maryland.

I remember standing up
as the others did,

and how the assassin was in mid-air
when the stagehands wheeled out clouds.

Resurrection Update
by James Galvin

And then it happened.
Amidst cosmic busting and booming
Gravity snapped,
That galactic rack and pinion.

Trees took off like rockets.
Cemeteries exploded.
The living and the dead
Flew straight up together.

Only up was gone. Up was away.
Earth still spun
As it stalled and drifted darkward,

An aspirin in a glass of water.
posted by cirripede at 2:38 PM on April 13, 2010

Snow by Jónas Hallgrímsson (tr. Dick Ringler)

Infinite snow dazzles my eyes
out to the northern and southern skies,
eastward, westward, endless and cold.
Individual - now be bold!

Death is white and unsullied snow.
The sentry heart resolves to go
calmly across the shroud outspread
to cover Earth in her faithful bed.

Mother, you ache with love for us,
Earth! you who bear a heavy cross
and labor with hues of light to enfold
life and death and heat and cold.

More about Jónas and translations of more of his poetry by Dick Ringler.

Silencio by Eugen Gomringer.
silencio silencio silencio silencio silencio
silencio silencio silencio silencio silencio
silencio silencio          silencio silencio
silencio silencio silencio silencio silencio
silencio silencio silencio silencio silencio

dying is fine)but Death by E. E. Cummings

dying is fine)but Death


wouldn't like

Death if Death

when(instead of stopping to think)you

begin to feel of it,dying
's miraculous

cause dying is

perfectly natural; perfectly
it mildly lively(but


is strictly
& artificial &

evil & legal)

we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us,o life! the sin of Death

Catullus 63 (tr. Lois J. Wright)

Over deep seas Attis in his swift boat bourne,
When with hurried foot he eagerly touched the Phrygian wood,
And approached the dark forests which encircled the place of (his) goddess,
He plucked out the weights of his genitals with a sharp flint.
So when she felt her member gone, without manhood,
Even now the ground of the earth staining with recent blood,
Seized with white hands the light drum,
Thy drum, Cybele, thy rites, mother,
And shaking the hollow hide of a bull with delicate fingers,
Began to sing tremulously to her companions.
Go, drive on to the high Gallae woods together!
Go together, roving cattle of the mistress of Dindymon,
Who, seeking a foreign place just as exiles,
Followed my way of life, led by me (to be) friends to me.
You were carried into the rapid and ferocious billows of the sea,
And you emasculated your body from excessive hatred of Venus;
You gladden your mistress by your hurried deviation.
Let late delay depart from (your) mind, go together, follow
To Phrygia, to the home of Cybele, to the woods of (your) goddess,
Where the voice of the cymbals sound, where the drums resound,
Where the Phrygian piper sings deeply on (his) curved reed pipe,
Where the heads of the ivy-wearing Maenads shake with force,
Where they shake with sharp ululations in the sacred observances,
Where the restless retinue of that goddess is accustomed to fly about,
For whom it is fitting to speed the three-step dance in our excitement.
At this same time Attis sang to her companions, the counterfeit woman (that he is).

Suddenly the orgiastic dancers ululate with trembling tongues,
The light tympani booms in reply, the hollow cymbal rings in answer.
Incited, the chorus drives on to green Ida with hurrying foot.
Frantic, as she advances breathing hard, restless, gasping for breath,
Attis, leader through the dense forests with accompanying tympani,
Just as an untamed heifer, young, avoiding the burden of the yoke,
Quickly follow the Gallae (their) swift-footed leader,
And so, tired, they touch the home of Cybele.
From excessive labor they seize sleep without Ceres (grain),
By this unsteadying exhaustion lazy sleep closes (their) eyes,
The rabid fury of the mind departs in soft repose;
But when the gold-faced Sun with eyes radiant,
Illuminated the clear ether, the hard ground, the wild sea,
And drives off the shades of night with energetic horses (the Sun’s chariot),
Then sleep departed from Attis abruptly, fleeing swiftly,
Whom the goddess Pasithea received in (her) trembling bosom.
So from soft repose quickly without uncontrolled emotion,
Attis went over in her own mind her deeds
And saw with clear mind who she might be without which (deed) and where (she might be),
With blazing soul she bore (herself) back again, returned to the shallow shore.
There looking at the vast sea with tearful eyes,
She spoke sadly to (her) country with so very miserable a voice.
“O Country, creatress of me, O Country, my mother (creator)!
I am wretched, forsaking the masters they know as fugitive slaves.
I have carried myself on foot to the forests of Ida
So that I might be near the snow and the frozen lairs of wild animals,
And approach all their hiding places in an excited (state).
Where in the world, or in which place may I place you, Country, I imagine?
I desire the pupils of my own eyes to aim my sight to you,

Being free for a brief time is my mind from the uncontrolled wild animal.
Shall I be carried from this my distant home into these woods,
From country, from goods, from friends, from parents shall I be absent?
Shall I be absent from the forum, wrestling places, running track and gymnasium?
Unhappy upon unhappy, evermore urgently my soul is protesting.
For what kind of figure is it which I will not have taken on?
I, a woman; I, an adolescent; I, ephebe (a young man); I, a boy.
I was a fine specimen of gymnast; I was the glory of wrestling,
For me the doors were crowded, for me the thresholds were warm,
For me a crown of flowers encircled (my) home,
Leaving my bedroom when the Sun might be rising.
Now may I accept being a handmaiden and slave to Cybele?
I, a Maenad; I, a part of my (former) self, a sterile man?
I, shall I inhabit cold green Ida, a region with a mantle of snow?
I, shall I live a life under high Phrygian columns,
Where a doe is living in the forest, where a wild boar is wandering in the forest?
Now, now it grieves me because of what I did.
Now, and now it causes regret.
The sound came forth from these rosy lips,
Carrying the new message to the twin ears of the gods.
Then Cybele loosening the yokes from the joined lions
And goading on the enemy of the cattle left, thus she said,
“Come”, says she, “come ferociously, make this passion drive (her);
Make it so that with the stroke of frenzy she may be carried back into the forests,
Who freely desires too much to flee my command.
Go, strike (your) backs with (your) tail, show your lashes;
Make (your) roaring resound with growls in the whole place.”
“I order you, shake your ruddy (mane) on brawny neck!”
This says threatening Cybele, and with her hand unties the yoke.
The wild animal himself stirs in his heart, urging himself on, moving swiftly,

Advances, roars, breaks the underbrush with marauding foot.
Then when he came to the damp place of the white shore,
And saw the tender Attis near the marble-like radiance of the sea,
He makes his attack. That crazed one fled into the wild woods;
There always for the entire extent of her life she was a slave.
Goddess, great goddess Cybele, goddess, mistress of Dindymon,
May all your fury be at great distance from me, mistress, and from my home.
Drive others frantic; Drive others rabid!

ernie, on the street, overhears lola, who has fallen off the wagon is walking home alone at 2:15 a.m. by Daphne Gottlieb

god grant me the heredity the hysterectomy god grant me to

excess to annex to invent the things I cannot

exchange courage to claim or chain the things I

clam and the wizard to know the defense.
posted by Kattullus at 4:52 PM on April 13, 2010


is where we turned around, surrendered to fate, gave in to defeat and
abandoned our journey at a town with three stoplights, one good mechanic
and a name of possibly oracular significance.

Which is how we came to consider calling the baby Delphos.

Which is why we never made it to Pennsylvania, never arrived to help J.B.
plant trees on the naked mountaintop he calls a farm, never hiked down the
brush-choked trail for groceries in the gnomic hamlet of Mann's Choice,
never hefted those truckloads of bundled bodies nor buried their delicate
rootling toes in the ice and mud of rocky meadows.

Blue spruce, black walnut, white pine, silver maple.

And that name! Mann's Choice. Finger of individual will poked in the face
of inexorable destiny.

Which is how we came to consider calling the baby Hamlet, Spruce or

But we didn't make it there. Never even got to Lima or Bucyrus, let alone
Martin's Ferry, let alone West Virginia, let alone the Alleghenies tumbled
across the state line like the worn-out molars of a broken-down plow horse
munching grass in a hayfield along the slate grey Juniata.

Because the engine balked.

Because the shakes kicked in and grew like cornstalks hard as we tried to
ignore them, as if we could push that battered blue Volvo across the wintry
heart of the Midwest through sheer determination.

Which is foolish.

And the man in Delphos told us so.

Fuel injector, he says. Can't find even a sparkplug for foreign cars in these
parts. Nearest dealer would be Toleda or Columbus, or down the road in
Fort Wayne.

Which is Indiana. Which is going backwards.

Which is why they drive Fords in Ohio.

Which is how we came to consider calling the baby Edsel, Henry, Pinto or

Which is why we spent the last short hour of evening lurching and
vibrating back through those prosperous bean fields just waiting for spring
to burst the green-shingled barns of Van Wert County.

Which is how we came to consider calling the baby Verna, Daisy,
Persephone or Soy.

By this time we're back on the freeway, bypassing beautiful downtown Fort
Wayne in favor of the rain forest at Exit 11, such is the cognomen of this
illuminated Babel, this litany, this sculptural aviary for neon birds, these
towering aluminum and tungsten weeds,

bright names raised up like burning irons to brand their sign upon the

Exxon, Burger King, Budgetel, Super 8.

Which is how we came to consider calling the baby Bob Evans.

Which is how we came to consider calling the baby Big Boy, Wendy, Long
John Silver or Starvin' Marvin.

Which is how we came to salve our wounds by choosing a slightly better
than average motel, and bringing in the Colonel to watch "Barnaby Jones"
while Elizabeth passes out quick as you like

leaving me alone with my thoughts and reruns

in the oversized bed of an antiseptic room on an anonymous strip of
indistinguishable modules among the unzoned outskirts of a small
midwestern city named for the Indian killer Mad Anthony Wayne.

Which is why I'm awake at 4 a.m. as the first trucks sheet their thunder
down toward the interstate.

Which is when I feel my unborn child kick and roll within the belly of its
sleeping mother, three heartbeats in two bodies, two bodies in one blanket,
one perfect and inviolable will like a flower preparing to burst into bloom,

and its aurora lights the edge of the window like nothing I've ever seen.

-- by Campbell McGrath
posted by daikon at 7:19 PM on April 13, 2010

Archibald MacLeish

Will it last? he says.
Is it a masterpiece?
Will generation after generation
Turn with reverence to the page?
Birdseye scholar of the frozen fish,
What would he make of the sole, clean, clear
Leap of the salmon that has disappeared?
To be, yes! — whether they like it or not!
But not to last when leap and water are forgotten,
A plank of standard pinkness in the dish.
They also live
Who swerve and vanish in the river.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:30 PM on April 13, 2010

Overheard on a Saltmarsh by Harold Munro

Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?

Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?

Give them me.


Give them me. Give them me.


Then I will howl all night in the reeds,

Lie in the mud and howl for them.

Goblin, why do you love them so?

They are better than stars or water,

Better than voices of winds that sing,

Better than any man’s fair daughter,

Your green glass beads on a silver ring.

Hush I stole them out of the moon.

Give me your beads, I desire them.


I will howl in a deep lagoon

For your green glass beads, I love them so.

Give them me. Give them.


Only, read the poem from the link. I can't get the formatting to look right here, and it makes a difference somehow. This poem just spoke to me.
posted by Night_owl at 10:03 AM on April 14, 2010

This cruel age has deflected me,
like a river from its course.
Strayed from its familiar shores,
my changeling life has flowed
into a sister channel.
How many spectacles I've missed:
the curtain rising without me,
and falling too. How many friends
I never had the chance to meet.
Here in the only city I can claim,
where I could sleepwalk and not lose my way;
how many foreign skylines can I dream,
not to be witnessed though my tears.
And how many verses have I failed to write!
Their secret chorus stalks me
close behind. One day, perhaps,
they'll strangle me.
I know beginnings, I know endings, too,
and, life-in-death, and something else
I'd rather not recall just now.
And a certain woman
has usurped my place
and bears my rightful name,
leaving a nickname for my use,
with which I've done the best I could.
The grave I go to will not be my own.
But if I could step outside myself
and contemplate the person that I am,
I should know at last what envy is.

-Anna Akhmatova
posted by colfax at 11:47 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

To Posterity by Bertolt Brecht.
posted by vsync at 12:51 PM on April 14, 2010

Diary/Blog by Tan Lin

Here's the 1st stanza (all [sic]):
Monday You are part of the incompleteness of
my afternoon. The lessons of, the motivational speakers of, etc. etc.
come upstairs. They see me at my desk.
They raise the oceans
one half of three degrees over a twenty year old's life.
They take coffee apart. Like it's two. The articulation, it comes
apart, too. A mother do this. A daughter do this. Everyone who is near me
smell like anise.
This is the only poem I have ever really connected with, and so in that sense maybe it belongs in a thread about "poems for people who dislike poetry." But since that thread isn't here and this one is I'm going to write in this one.

And also I know you didn't ask for a commentary but I feel like it.

Cuz this poem is about the performance of writing and I suppose being emotional while trying to write and maybe it's not working out so hot. Maybe I love it because I'm a writer and I can't get out of that headspace, but also because despite the fact that it's been done to death by every terrible, lazy metafictionist, it is still so seductive to break the 4th wall while you're writing, especially if you're Writing While Emotional (WWE) and be like fuck it, I'm trying to write a poem but I can't even finish a thought because I hate myself too much or am too sad, but still I don't think that should disqualify me from being in this conversation/tradition we call literature, should it? And of course what a self-indulgent lazy POV but you know if everyone spurns it we never get to see what a really beautiful execution of it would look like. And this is that.

To me it reads like the work of someone who is smart and also a bit lazy and also kind of pretty disillusioned with the possibilities of writing but also kind of an old hand at all the tricks and manipulations that you pick up through a lifetime of working away at the craft despite everything.

It is old-handy but it is also hypercasual and colloquial, not just in its lexicon but its speechy syntax: "I nonetheless I / have been thinking of you at dinner I mean / eating dinner".

Also you know when you read something and it's just like "this person is inside my head and is using my own voice to speak to me"? But that's just me.

I don't want to overinterpret it for you but the lynchpin of the whole poem is "Saturday you get / married.", although it's easy to miss kind of because nothing else seems to relate to it. You get lines like "I know Google because it has completed my attention." But then you get lines like "Yeah. / All I've done today is drink and read your emails."

"All I've done today is drink and read your emails."

This line, it's too easy so it's like cheating and who cares about it because it took no work no consideration of prosody or interesting word choice or say rhyme. But it is the best line in the world and the interesting part of it is the decision to include it in a poem, to say "This is my art. My art is not about prosody/word choice/rhyme. Maybe I've made some other art that has more sophisticated craftsmanship going on but in this particular piece the decision to spurn that stuff speaks to how I was feeling when I wrote it and so is therefore the substance of the communication. "All I've done today is drink and read your emails" also says, at least to me, "(and fuck trying to think up a clever way of expressing it)."

Anyway. I could go on. But before stopping I'll just talk about the ending for 1 sec, which includes the lines
And I am very attracted to your eye lids and the minutes
and the chairs that think they are
volcanoes in your eyes and I think
you are standing between something I see and
something I don't. But I don't really have
the chair when this occurs.
I love this. It's I guess the most complex metaphysical conceit in a poem that is littered with quasi-throwaway/joke metaphyical one-liners, like "I think of myself as a restaurant in Chelsea that wakes up at two a.m. and goes / to a restaurant in Chelsea." On first reading of this "chair" business my own lazy brain was like "what? fuck this it's some crazy poemy bullshit that doesn't make sense" but because Lin had won me over so completely by the time I'd reached this point (the end), and because it's positioned at the end and so seems kind of important, I took the time to read it over again and try to figure it out.

Now, I don't want to get all Bolsheviky here, but it's my impression that that last sentence is like total scandal in the world of literary criticism. Taking into consideration the level of engagement with the text at various points? Considering 'the text's ability to draw the reader in' as integral to its aesthetic system and not just germane to a recommendation? Maybe I'm uninformed but I have never read criticism like that; and it makes sense that I haven't, because most literary artists haven't made art that it would make sense to critique like that. The really compelling thing about Lin's poem, for me, is that it incorporates these things other writers don't: that we are tempted away easily by other things, that our fingers linger near the Alt+Tab. Yes, other writers try to be interesting, but to me it usually gets translated into their artistic practice in the form of something along the lines of "MAKE IT REAL GOOD AND INTERESTING. ALWAYYYS!" This poem incorporates that need into its inner workings in a way that is a bit more complex and subtle. It made me, quasi-paradoxically, take the time to really read that last bit, to generate an interpretation of its weird metaphor that made sense to me. Like I was like "ok, the chair, right, maybe something he saw reflected in her eyes..."

I'm not gonna walk through that whole thing but I will say that even though the result wasn't the most deft or illuminating thing, Lin induced me to go through this process that, because of its sort of half-assed/amateur/not-brilliant-ness, but ultimate serviceable-ness, made me feel like I was connecting with someone who maybe wasn't on their best day, but was still genuinely trying to connect and express, and he won't let the most heartbreaking event of his life and a lack of serendipitous inspiration stop him from talking about what it feels like. And that is inspiring art, even if the medium is semi-uninspired poetry.
posted by skwt at 12:49 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

A poem for Simon Armitage, by John Osborne (and if you haven't read any of Simon Armitage's stuff, START IMMEDIATELY. I suggest you start here.)

Simon, I work at Anglia Windows
and no-one there has heard of you,
you were not on the GCSE syllabus when we were at school.
That is why I am hiding bits of your poems around the office

like treasure hunt clues.
Now people find you in filing cabinets
couplets scribbled in the margins
of company reports
symbolism on spreadsheets
half rhymes in ring binders.

I quote lines of your best poems
when I’m replying to group emails
It makes it much less tedious,
I saw the girl I sit next to
appreciating a well crafted simile
I had set on her computer as a screensaver
when she had gone to the toilet.

I've even been outside
I chalked entire stanzas
out in the car park
I hope this does not infringe
on copyright.
I hacked into the Anglia Intranet
people from the Technical Department
now find samples of your new collection
where Installation Procedures used to be
Alan Medlicott is going to be furious.

And I know people here aren’t going to bleed Waterstones dry
of the works of Simon Armitage
but there might be something for someone to think about
when they’re at home, at night, making tomorrow’s sandwiches.
posted by curiousorange at 2:52 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lesser known poem by a very well known poet (the third stanza is one of my all time favorites):

MEXICO ROOFTOP by Jack Kerouac

It's blue--with a pink movie neon
E-changing in the jungle sky
where rats havent chanced to swamp
the mudstilt builders, but Who climbed,
the builders, and made it the High Plateau

So's on October Fullmoon Nights, a palm
hairs in the scene, and Aztec Temple
apartment house arches stare
with a premeditated ogling glare
with light-holes & pool-puddles

And the dog barks at Stars--they
are pretty quiet--Tho all kinds
drams and whistlers hongkong the noise
of the street the stars are as faint
and as happy as they glow

In Sweet Canada or Carthage below,
in Rome and in Sisyphus bosom
--Urk, the brown strange glare
of modernized Mexican architecture
housingprojects cant be deAztecfied

It's blue--with day yellows night lemon
and daywhites nightpale
the color of chalk at a chalk quarry
or gravel in hell--the walls
of Jurgurtha never as grim

I guess, as the walls of that side
of the building--but music reforms
the scene, atch or tortay, poor leetles
Mexican lovers boys draining
out their corazon for love of the sun

Awright, this poem's a failure--
Throw it in a drawer

And one from my favorite beat poet:


I lived here nearly 5 years before I could
meet the middle western day with anything approaching
Dignity. It's a place that lets you
understand why the Bible is the way it is:
Proud people cannot live here.

The land's too flat. Ugly, sullent and big it
pounds men down past humbleness. They
Stoop at 35 possibly crining from the heavy and
terrible sky. In country like this there
Can be no God but Jahweh.

In the mills and refineries of its south side Chicago
passes its natural gas in flames
Bouncing like bunsens from stacks a hundred feet high.
The stench stabs at your eyeballs.
The whole sky green and yellow backdrop for the skeleton
steel of a bombed-out town.

Remember the movies in grammar school? The goggled men
doing strong things in
Showers of steel-spark? The dark screen cracking light
and the furnace door opening with a
Blast of orange like a sunset? Or an orange?

It was photographed by a fairy, thrilled as a girl, or
a Nazi who wished there were people
Behind that door (hence the remote beauty), but Sievers,
whose old man spent most of his life in there,
Remembers a "nigger in a red T-shirt pissing into black sand."

It was 5 years until I could afford to recognise the ferocity.
Friends helped me. Then I put some
Love into my house. Finally I found some quiet lakes
and a farm where they let me shoot pheasant.

Standing in the boat one night I watched the lake go absolutely flat. Smaller than raindrops, and only
Here and there, the feeding rings of fish were visible 100 yards away - and the Blue Gill caught that afternoon
Lifted from its northern lake like a tropical! Jewel in its ear
Belly gold so bright you'd swear he had a
Light in there. His colour faded with his life. A small green fish...

All things considered, it's a gentle and undemanding
planet, even here. Far gentler
Here than any of a dozen other places. The trouble is
always and only with what we build on top of it.

There's nobody else to blame. You can't fix it and you
can't make it go away. It does no good appealing
To some ill-invented Thunderer
Brooding over some unimaginable crag.

It's ours. Right down to the last small hinge it
all depends for its existence
Only and utterly upon our sufferance.

Driving back I saw Chicago rising in its gases and I
knew again that never will the
Man be made to stand against this pitiless, unparallel
monstrosity. It
Snuffles on the beach of its Great Lake like a
blind, red, rhinoceros.
It's already running us down.

You can't fix it. You can't make it go away.
I don't know what you're going to do about it.
But I know what I'm going to do about it. I'm just
going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I'm not around
feeding it anymore.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:20 AM on April 15, 2010

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust too.

John Masefield.

Joys that sting

C S Lewis

Oh doe not die," says Donne, "for I shall hate
All women so." How false this sentence rings.
Women? But in a life made desolate
It is the joys once shared that have the stings.

To take the old walks alone, or not at all,
To order one pint where I ordered two,
To think of, and then not make, the small
Time-honoured joke (senseless to all but you);

To laugh (oh, one'll laugh), to talk upon
Themes that we talked upon when you were there,
To make some poor pretence of going on,
Be kind to one's old friends, and seem to care,

While no one (O God) through the years will say
The simplest, common word in just your way.

“As I dig for wild orchids
In the autumn fields.
It is the deeply bedded root
that I desire,
Not the flower.”

- Izumi Shiku, Japan (974-1034) -
posted by twirlypen at 8:34 PM on April 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've had all of these on my wall at some point:

"Kindergarten Open House, Observing Art," Neil Carpathios

"Tulips," Mark Halperin

"At the Smithville Methodist Church," Stephen Dunn (MAJOR grunter, if I ever knew one)

"You Can't Get the Facts until You Get the Fiction," Richard Jackson (this man should be better known)

I'd advise reading Poetry Daily regularly--I found three out of four of these there for the first time, and have been introduced to other poets I enjoy as well.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:31 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Suddenly this defeat.
This rain.
The blues gone gray
And the browns gone gray
And yellow
A terrible amber.
In the cold streets
Your warm body.
In whatever room
Your warm body.
Among all the people
Your absence
The people who are always
Not you.

I have been easy with trees
Too long.
Too familiar with mountains.
Joy has been a habit.
This rain.

- Jack Gilbert
posted by punchtothehead at 7:29 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Though not known for his poetry, I keep coming back to his non-existent book for some reason.

All of us are travelers lost,
our tickets arranged at a cost
unknown but beyond our means.
This odd itinerary of scenes
--enigmatic, strange, unreal--
leaves us unsure how to feel.
No postmortem journey is rife
with more mystery than life.

Tremulous skeins of destiny
flutter so ethereally
around me--but then I feel
its embrace is that of steel.

On the road that I have taken,
one day, walking, I awaken,
amazed to see where I have come,
where I'm going, where I'm from.

This is not the path I thought.
This is not the place I sought.
This is not the dream I bought,
just a fever of fate I've caught.

I'll change highways in a while,
at the crossroads, one more mile.
My path is lit by my own fire.
I'm going only where I desire.

On the road that I have taken,
one day, walking, I awaken.
One day, walking, I awaken,
on the road that I have taken.

Dean Koontz
posted by prufrock at 3:47 PM on April 18, 2010

This is just an excerpt from brother, when you died/the name of the constellation by Letta Neely:

The first long months after you passed from harlem
to the next world
I could not remember anything except the wilting memories:
the wheelchair, the lesions, the yellow snot, the fact that we
didn't type up your poetry, the earth wind and fire box set you
had at your old aptment that I wanted, a trip we didn't take to
fire island, the day I forgot to bring the pink lemonade snapple
you were craving. I blocked out stars and charted only your
death which made your life unnavigable.

This morning I am filled with a great recollection:
You wrote love poems for straight Blk men and they said,
"Thank You." You led a life of curved notes and spirals and
deep bellied groans of pleasure and pain. You prayed with the
new morning, read the Holy Koran and you believed in Allah
and you loved life and you sashayed and you strutted and you
held men in your arms and you went down on men and men
danced with you in clubs and you cried if they left and if you
thought you might be able to love somebody you glowed and
you fucked men and you made love to men and when a fine
man walked into a room, you turned your head and you made
spells with childhood rhymes in your poetry which is still
delicious and now that I am remembering your living, your
death pales in comparison.
It is a million light years away from your laughter.

posted by Eshkol at 6:33 PM on April 18, 2010

(Title unknown)

Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.

F.I. Tyutchev
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:39 PM on April 19, 2010

Think About Your Troubles

Sit beside the breakfast table
Think about your troubles
Pour yourself a cup of tea
And think about the bubbles

You can take your teardrops
And drop them in a teacup
Take them down to the riverside
And throw them over the side
To be swept up by a current
And taken to the ocean
To be eaten by some fishes
Who were eaten by some fishes
And swallowed by a whale
Who grew so old
He decomposed

He died and left his body
To the bottom of the ocean
Now evverybody knows
That when a body decomposes
The basic elements
Are given back to the ocean

And the sea does what it oughta
And soon there's salty water
(That's not too good for drinking)
'Cause it tastes just like a teardrop
(So they run it through a filter)
And it comes out from a faucet
(And is poured into a teapot)
Which is just about to bubble
Now think about your troubles

Harry Nilsson
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:41 PM on April 19, 2010

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem
Bob Hicok

My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think

praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what's happening,

it's what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
I like the idea of different

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I've never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb

but couldn't hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother's belly
she had to scream out.

Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,

in all of the lives we are, it's with hands that are dying
and resurrected.
When I don't touch you it's a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.
posted by pleasebekind at 10:11 AM on May 17, 2010

W.S. Merwin

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
posted by pleasebekind at 10:13 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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