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Poems of the Week

Etheridge Knight wrote some of the only haiku I can stand in the American idiom. In addition to that, his ear was impeccable, and he was liable to go just about anywhere in a poem so that he invigorates the tradition of the conversational lyric and does so by using mixed registers of speech while avoiding both the political correctness and formulaic “Non-academic” traditions of spoken word. The list in second part of this poem shows how a poet can still use cursing and invective to maximum rhythmical advantage. This is a list, worthy of Whitman. Knight is not an “unschooled poet.” His training is in the whole array of American speech from the reflective, almost introverted poet, to the raucous street preacher. “All Fucked Up” represents true spoken word–not a slam formula.

Feeling Fucked Up
by Etheridge Knight

Lord she’s gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs–

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcom fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing

 

I was 14 years old when I read this poem. I found it in an anthology called New Poets of 1965, which I kept until it fell apart and no longer have a copy of. I did not know Robert Kelly’s work then. I did not know he was part of the first wave of deep imagists. I felt the twang of common ground in the somewhat Catholic imagery, and in my awakening sense of how Eucharistic reality might fit with my growing awareness of desire, my sexual desire. The poem made my horniness mystical, and my sense of the mystical twain with my passion–in all senses of the word passion.

I think what I like best about it is its ceremony, an almost liturgical feeling that moves as all good lyrical poetry moves on the precipice of the silly, the precious, and the absurd. I wore this poem out and memorized it, along with the Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets in the anthology, Kathleen Frazier’s poem in which she accepts her legs, and Gilford’s poem “The Abnormal is Not Courage.” 38 years later, and I still enjoy this poem, though now it does not come to me as a revelation, but as a memory of a voice I found true.

Poem for Easter

All women are beautiful as they rise
exultant from the ruins they make of us. . .
and this woman
who lies back
informing the sheets
has slain me with all day love
and now keeps vigil at the tomb of my desire
from which also she will make me rise
and come before her into Galilee
Rising I fall
and what does her beauty matter
except it is a darkness, sabbath,
where the church
our bodies
everywhere comes together
to kindle one small light
the unyielding, the flesh,
then Resurrection
The radio messiah
I know that my redeemer liveth
and he shall stand in the last days
up from this earth
beyond blasphemy
beyond misunderstanding.
Oh love, this hour will not let me name
They will say I make a sexual mystery of your passion
whereas we know, flesh rises
to apprehend one other mystery,
as the astonished lover’s eyes come open in his coming
to find that he is not alone.

dearest,

they told me a surgeon sat down in the hospital morgue

next to your body.
He yelled at the aide to get out.

His two sons had been your students.

–me, too, little-knowing–

Anyhow.
I’m always, my young fathers,
out in the air, loving you.
Water to water.

____________________________________________

Jean Valentine won the Yale Younger Poets Award for her first book,Dream Barker, in 1965. Her eleventh book of poetry is Break the Glass, just out from Copper Canyon Press. Her previous collection, Little Boat was published by Wesleyan in 2007. Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965–2003 was the winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Poetry. The recipient of the 2009 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, Valentine has taught at Sarah Lawrence, New York University, and Columbia.

A song cycle of David Shapiro’s sonnets called Unwritten has been written by the great young composer Mohammed Fairouz and will be played at Carnegie at Recital Hall on March 21st. Word on the street is that David Shapiro himself may play the coda.

Once I Walked Out

Once I walked out and the world
rushed to my side.  The willows bent

their willowy necks, tossed green hair hugely.
The hawk cried by the well.

The crows kept counting their kind.
Once I walked out and the sheep

bleated with sensitivity, touched
black muzzles to the grass.

I was followed by dogs, by flies,
by horses both curious and spiteful.

The field of beans worked its sums
under green, the corn licked the air to haze.

I said goodbye to the house
with its sagging porch, attic hung with bats.

Goodbye braided rug, rabbit hutch, corn popper, copper tub .
The green world greened around me—

Virginia creeper, crown vetch, thistle, mullein, sumac.
I was full in my limbs, my laugh, pinkish skin.

I swung my arms, pulled air into lungs—
pine pollen, dust mote, mold spore, atomized dew,

bright wheel of flame twisting in the heavens
flushing the eye with light.

______________________________________________

Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage which received the Lambda Literary Award, and Voluntary Servitude, which was published in 2004 by Graywolf Press.  He teaches literature and writing at Bennington College in Vermont, and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Photo

Everyone in it dead now––Dad,
three, in a skirt––and I see her

again, the unnamed woman.  She
is me.  No one to introduce us:

Hello, Me. Unruly eyebrow woman,
eyes sepia but blue––they must be;

hair pulled slant, frame bent
lensward, skeptical mouth

smiling––I know you.  How did you
leash your mind, when you

looked through the small window
or stared through water

at your veined hand?

_______________________________________

Joan Larkin’s most recent collection, My Body: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press) received the Publishing Triangle’s Audre Lorde Award. She teaches in Drew University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Poetry and Poetry in Translation.
Packing Her Things

And I could nearly stand it—the stained blouses;
the nubs of drying lipsticks with their botched nose jobs;
the undershirts; the bras; the slips; the books.
I packed them away, like a dutiful child.
I did it dry-eyed, thinking, I could spend a day like this
in hell, and then at the back of the closet
I found her cache of gift bags—pretty foil bags;
tiny starred ones; slick big bags with cabbage roses—
the way we both squirrel them away. I never knew,
the way I cried when I saw her paintings for the first time,
or her secret collection of beaded purses.
Which part of the soul is handed down? Which part is its own?
Then I sank down on the bed and howled.
I wept like an orphaned child.

___________________________________________

Liz Rosenberg is the author of the novel Home Repair and five books of poems, most recently The Lily Poems from Bright Hills Press and Demon Love from Mammoth. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review and elsewhere. She teaches English at the State U of NY at Binghamton.

Epithalamium with Rust

I remember the dream of rust on its own vague terms:
dredging the canal as though it were oneself,
hoping for trinkets that fix life to a landscape of flowers and trash,
and settling for bothering the levee with a stick,
notching my time card in the holy city.

In the margins of sky and dust­­­­­––distance specific to the dream of distance––
the thought of water comes on like vanity.  It is error,
as are the certainties of children, to make much of the dumb bend of sun
on copper, to heed what God writes in the sand with his pretty little feet.

Crows flood from the factory shell and out over trump ground,
into the easy marriage of actuality and nothingness that is the long patina
of days, drunk on lawn seed and disquiet.
I remember it again, but differently.  Archipelagos of debris and glow,
stars fashioning what light benefits the dead…

_______________________________________________

Brandon Kreitler‘s poems have appeared in Boston Review, DIAGRAM, Web Conjunctions, Indiana Review, Eoagh, Sonora Review, and Maggy.  His criticism has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Proximity, and Village Voice among others.  He was a winner of the 2010 Discovery / “Boston Review” award and a finalist for the 2010 Ruth Lilly Fellowship.  A native of Arizona, he teaches at Queensborough Community College and is working on a manuscript of poems.

He’s like those children who take apart a clock in order to find out what time is

“Fog forgets.  Fog is forgetting.”
This was hard for the drunk man
on the shuddering train to say
clearly, but he managed in fits
and spurts—thoughts through
a kinked hose.  In a past life,

when you wiped the counters,
the dogs stared up with saucer
eyes from the hardwood floor
as if you were a cleaning deity.
I was in the kitchen, too, waiting.
You’d stare into the vacant lot

through a window on the socially
awkward sycamore disrobing amid
frozen beer bottles and losing lottery
tickets.  You were your own
undocumented fog.  Years pass.
I’m still an inverse of the spiritual—

still feeling merciless forgetting
can’t mean joining cosmic order.
Above, a building rakes sky
as if it were the obscure index
finger of want, losing its end
in a belly of low, concise cloud.

________________________________________________________

Evan Hansen lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is a public high school teacher.  He has work forthcoming in Issue 50 of The Cortland Review.

Symptoms of Island

Sometimes in the morning your hand
finds the dip in my side.  For the moment

we’ll call it happiness.  This does not
account for weeks spent cursing

the apple trees, their sticky bloom.
The man on the bus gaping

at my slack lip knew.  Plump dumb
stone in my mouth.  I’m sure of it.

That afternoon you were a brisk,
starched thing.  We slipped out

the back way, screen door banging
cruel on my slim-boned grim.  Today,

like most days, my mind arrives
an island, tongue-numb, child wishes

ivied onto me.  God takes away,
it’s said.  Call it what you will.

_______________________________________________

Camille Rankine is the author of Slow Dance with Trip Wire, selected by Cornelius Eady for the Poetry Society of America’s 2010 New York Chapbook Fellowship. The recipient of a 2010 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, she is featured as an emerging poet in the fall 2010 issue of American Poet. Her poetry has appeared in American Poet, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM and POOL: A Journal of Poetry. She is Program and Communications Coordinator at Cave Canem Foundation and lives in New York City.

Poem in the Manner of Charles Bukowski

You do what you want,
I’ll do what I want,
and we’ll see which one of us
gets to the twenty-dollar window
in time for the fourth race at Del Mar.

On the goddamn radio
that’s always playing
in my bitch’s kitchen,
I heard some East Coast big-shot author
say he needs to jerk off before he can write.
All is I can say is fuck that shit.

I hate poets who beg you
to like them because you feel sorry for them.
Do not feel sorry for me.
I won on Bitches’ Brew in the fourth
and went home and drank
a fifth of bourbon
and got laid.

___________________________________________
David Lehman is the editor of The Oxford American Book of Poetry and series editor of The Best American Poetry. He teaches at The New School.

A special thanks to Brian Adams for letting us use his photos in this post. To see more of his work, visit his website at www.baphotos.com. To see more of his pictures of David Lehman, click here.

[Do you get any reception here?]

Do you get any reception here?
I think if you face West.
You await silent sadness to filter in.
Or if you shut it off you will be the same.
Cracked open and with a scar.
Light getting in through chinks at night.
Bits of information like a glorious blanket over the sky.
A window box of purple basil.
A dried chili in a bowl of water.
Blossoms exchanging news across the rooftops of the city.

____________________________________________

Matthew Rohrer teaches at NYU and is the author of A Plate of Chicken and Destroyer and Preserver (forthcoming), among other books of poetry.

Big Badness

A dead CEO admonishes me to do
what I love, which he can’t see me
doing. I need only a clean place to lie

around, to see a few decent things.
You’re lucky if you have half
of that, but which half. Also look

up to see everything has gone
a shade of purple which should
only last a few minutes but goes

on for an hour because of the clouds.
And why is that, an equinox
or its afterbirth staining everything

some of the other words there are
for purple. Go find them for me
and keep maybe one for yourself,

give them to me and invent more
and I will acquire them, hand over
the ones you were making and I will

tell the world I invented them. They are
mine (Lilac™, Violet™) and I will kill
you to impress upon you that I can.


________________________________________

Mark Bibbins teaches at The New School and Columbia. His books are The Dance of No Hard Feelings (Copper Canyon, 2009) and the Lambda Award-winning Sky Lounge. He is poetry editor of The Awl.

_______________________________________

M.A. Vizsolyi’s first book of poetry, The Lamp with Wings: Love Sonnets won The National Poetry Series, selected by Ilya Kaminsky, and is forthcoming in the fall 2011. He teaches ice hockey and ice skating lessons in Central Park, and lives in New York City with his wife, the poet, Margarita Delcheva.

Ode to the The

I liked that you were small and thick,
easy to recognize.  I think
I thought you were married to and, who was often
somewhere in the sentence, holding things
together, while you would be standing, a tin
soldier, the rifle barrel of your h
sticking up over your shoulder.  I felt a little
sorry for you, always announcing,
never the thing itself.  When I looked
you up, they said your meaning is “controlled
by the notion ‘previously recognized,
noticed or encountered,’” and your Indo-European
base is *-to-, and *-ta-, each of them
the’d with its asterisk.  O the,
I have never thanked you, guardian of the noun,
worker ant, moving things along as if
from underneath–river of the,
wheels of the.  Thank you for always
being yourself, never adding
a letter to make a scary face
from within the phrase.  All honor to thee,
enduring grammatical gristle, plain
flourish, stalwart bugler–the the of this song.

_______________________________________

Sharon Olds is the author of many books including Satan Says, which received the San Francisco Poetry Center Award and The Dead and the Living which was both the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983 and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her latest collection is Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002. Professor Olds holds the Erich Maria Remarque Professorship at NYU.