David Lehman |
for Jim Cummins
In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman,"
about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform.
like Wallace Stevens
in a seersucker summer suit.
To town came Ted Berrigan,
saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell.
But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's
latest: the Pulitzer.
A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell,
pour something into Donna's drink.
"In the Walt Whitman
Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan,
pulling on a Chesterfield.
Everyone laughed, except T.
I asked for directions.
"You turn right on Gertrude Stein,
then bear left.
Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine
and you're there," Jim said.
When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan
with cigarette ash in his beard.
Graffiti about Anne Sexton
decorated the men's room walls.
Beth had bought a quart of Walt
Donna looked blank.
"Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura
of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she
returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan.
Donna was candid.
"When the spirit of Ted Berrigan
comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell,
while he stood dejected at the xerox machine.
came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan
had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act.
"I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt
Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan.
The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine,
up a point and a half on strong earnings.
ended the day unchanged.
Analyst Richard Howard
recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton,
Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.
Barry Tebb |
Memories bursting like tears or waves
On some lonely Adriatic shore
Beating again and again
Threshings of green sea foam
Flecked like the marble Leonardo
Chipped for his ‘Moses’.
And my tears came as suddenly
In that dream, criss-crossed
With memory and desire.
Grandad Nicky had worked
Down the pits for a pittance
To bring up his six children
But nothing left over for more
Than a few nuts and an orange
For six Christmas stockings
So hopefully hung, weighted by pennies,
Stretched across the black mantle.
So Lawrence-like and yet not, grandad
A strict Methodist who read only a vast Bible
Hunched in his fireside chair insisting
On chapel three times on Sundays.
Only in retirement did joy and wisdom
Enter him, abandoning chapel he took
To the Friends or Quakers as they called them then
And somehow at seventy the inner light
Gruff but kind was my impression:
He would take me for walks
Along abandoned railways to the shutdown
Pipeworks where my three uncles
Worked their early manhood through.
It would have delighted Auden and perhaps
That was the bridge between us
Though we were of different generations
And by the time I began to write he had died.
All are gone except some few who may live still
But in their dotage.
After my mother’s funeral
None wanted contact: I had been judged in my absence
And found wanting.
Durham was not my county,
Hardly my country, memories from childhood
Of Hunwick Village with its single cobbled street
Of squat stone cottages and paved yards
With earth closets and stacks of sawn logs
Perfuming the air with their sap
In a way only French poets could say
And that is why we have no word but clich?
‘Reflect’ or ‘make come alive’ or other earthbound
Anglicanisms; yet it is there in Valery Larbaud
‘J’ai senti pour la premiere fois toute la douceur de vivre’-
I experienced for the first time all the joy of living.
I quote of their plenitude to mock the absurdity
Of English poets who have no time for Francophiles
Better the ‘O altitudo’ of earlier generations –
Wallace Stevens’ "French and English
Are one language indivisible.
That scent of sawdust, the milkcart the pony pulled
Each morning over the cobbles, the earthenware jug
I carried to be filled, ladle by shining ladle,
From the great churns and there were birds singing
In the still blue over the fields beyond the village
But because I was city-bred I could not name them.
I write to please myself: ‘Only other poets read poems’
Philip Levine |
People sit numbly at the counter
waiting for breakfast or service.
Today it's Hartford, Connecticut
more than twenty-five years after
the last death of Wallace Stevens.
I have come in out of the cold
and wind of a Sunday morning
of early March, and I seem to be
crying, but I'm only freezing
The waitress brings
me hot tea in a cracked cup,
and soon it's all over my paper,
and so she refills it.
slowly in The New York Times
that poems are dying in Iowa,
Missoula, on the outskirts of Reno,
in the shopping galleries of Houston.
We should all go to the grave
of the unknown poet while the rain
streaks our notebooks or stand
for hours in the freezing winds
off the lost books of our fathers
or at least until we can no longer
hold our pencils.
Men keep coming
in and going out, and two of them
recall the great dirty fights
between Willy Pep and Sandy Sadler,
between little white perfection
and death in red plaid trunks.
I want to tell them I saw
the last fight, I rode out
to Yankee Stadium with two deserters
from the French Army of Indochina
and back with a drunken priest
and both ways the whole train
smelled of piss and vomit, but no
one would believe me.
the true legends better left to die.
In my black rain coat I go back
out into the gray morning and dare
the cars on North Indemnity Boulevard
to hit me, but no one wants trouble
at this hour.
I have crossed
a continent to bring these citizens
the poems of the snowy mountains,
of the forges of hopelessness,
of the survivors of wars they
never heard of and won't believe.
Nothing is alive in this tunnel
of winds of the end of winter
except the last raging of winter,
the cats peering smugly from the homes
of strangers, and the great stunned sky
slowly settling like a dark cloud
lined only with smaller dark clouds.
David Lehman |
I could stare for hours
at her, the woman stepping
out of her bath, breasts
bare, towel around her waist,
before I knew she was you
in that one-bedroom in
the Village sunny and cold
that Friday we woke up
slowly & our breakfast table
arranged itself into
a still life with irises
in a vase and a peeled orange,
espresso cups and saucers
and The Necessary Angel by
Wallace Stevens, a little violet
paperback opened to page 58:
"the morality of the poet is
the morality of the right sensation.
David Wagoner |
He would leave early and walk slowly
As if balancing books
On the way to school, already expecting
To be tardy once again and heavy
With numbers, the unfashionably rounded
Toes of his shoes invisible beyond
The slope of his corporation.
He would pause
At his favorite fundamentally sound
Park bench, which had been the birthplace
Of paeans and ruminations on other mornings,
And would turn his back to it, having gauged the distance
Between his knees and the edge of the hardwood
Almost invariably unoccupied
At this enlightened hour by the bums of nighttime
(For whom the owlish eye of the moon
Had been closed by daylight), and would give himself wholly over
Backwards and trustingly downwards
And be well seated there.
He would remove
From his sinister jacket pocket a postcard
And touch it and retouch it with the point
Of the fountain he produced at his fingertips
And fill it with his never-before-uttered
Runes and obbligatos and pellucidly cryptic
Duets from private pageants, from broken ends
Of fandangos with the amoeba chaos chaos
Couchant and rampant.
Then he would rise
With an effort as heartfelt as a decision
To get out of bed on Sunday and carefully
Relocate his center of gravity
Above and beyond an imaginary axis
Between his feet and carry the good news
Along the path and the sidewalk, well on his way
To readjusting the business of the earth.
Dejan Stojanovic |
The sea was the house and the world was the nave
You were the sea and you were the nave
The nave was stormy, the sea was calm
While the house was waiting for the world
To come in by the navy of the sea
The sea was a nave, the world was a house
You were the nave in the sea—
The house and the world
The world was the navy in the sea
And the sea was the house
Ruth Stone |
Wallace Stevens says,
"A poet looks at the world
as a man looks at a woman.
I can never know what a man sees
when he looks at a woman.
That is a sealed universe.
On the outside of the bubble
everything is stretched to infinity.
Along the blacktop, trees are bearded as old men,
like rows of nodding gray-bearded mandarins.
Their secondhand beards were spun by female gypsy moths.
All mandarins are trapped in their images.
A poet looks at the world
as a woman looks at a man.
David Lehman |
If Ezra Pound were alive today
(and he is)
he'd be teaching
at a small college in the Pacific Northwest
and attending the annual convention
of writing instructors in St.
and railing against tenure,
is a ladder whose rungs slip out
from under the scholar as he climbs
upwards to empty heaven
by the angels abandoned
for tenure killeth the spirit
(with tenure no man becomes master)
Texts are unwritten with tenure,
under the microscope, sous rature
it turneth the scholar into a drone
decayeth the pipe in his jacket's breast pocket.
Hamlet was not written with tenure,
nor were written Schubert's lieder
nor Manet's Olympia painted with tenure.
No man of genius rises by tenure
Nor woman (I see you smile).
Picasso came not by tenure
nor Charlie Parker;
Came not by tenure Wallace Stevens
Not by tenure Marcel Proust
Nor Turner by tenure
With tenure hath only the mediocre
a sinecure unto death.
Unto death, I say!
Nature is constipated the sap doesn't flow
With tenure the classroom is empty
et in academia ego
the ketchup is stuck inside the bottle
the letter goes unanswered the bell doesn't ring.