“Clothing the Dead”
What is a locust?
Its head, a grain of corn; its neck, the hinge of a knife;
ts horns, a bit of thread; its chest is smooth and burnished;
Its body is like a knife handle;
Its hock, a saw; its spittle, ink;
Its underwings, clothing for the dead.
On the ground—it is laying eggs;
In flight it is like the clouds.
Approaching the ground it is rain glittering in the sun;
Lighing on a plant, it becomes a pair of scissors.
Walking, it becomes a razor;
Desolation walks with it.
—Traditional Malagasy poem
“I looked at the sky and the earth and straight ahead
and since then I’ve been writing a long letter to the dead
on a typewriter that doesn’t have a ribbon, only a horizon line
so the words beat in vain and nothing stays.”
“She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want to read the books immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines–not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master’s call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality.”
from “On Beauty: Sonnet L’Abbé”
“The physician and the poet can both be healers. They share a common goal in their efforts to maintain light and order against the chaos of darkness and disease, and to create or restore the beauty and harmony of health: in this quest, medicine serves the body, poetry the spirit.”
from “Literature and Medicine”
Poetic reverie is a cosmic reverie. It is an opening to a beautiful world, to beautiful worlds. It gives the I a non-I which belongs to the I: my non-I. It is this “my non-I” which enchants the I of the dreamer and which poets can help us share. For my “I-dreamer,” it is this “my non-I” which lets me live my secret of being in the world.”
found in The Poetics of Reverie
Surprise is a tool of a poet and great joy of a reader. Larry Levis surprises. “I’ve loved you / as a man loves an old wound / picked up in a razor fight // on a street nobody remembers. / Look at him: / even in the dark he touches it gently.” (“Wound”)
He taught at Cal-State, L.A., where I ended up in my last two years of college. I didn’t take poetry classes from him or anyone. I’m not sure I knew such things existed, even though I was an English major. I do remember one of his readings, though, and being lifted without knowing why, as if I’d had sex in my sleep.
found in “Larry Levis: the Graceful Surprise”
“Today, people say to me, ‘Do you like rap poetry?’ I say, ‘I don’t especially like it. I’m glad it exists.’ That may be the way some people want to hear poetry. It’s better to hear poetry any way than no way at all.”
–W. S. Merwin
from Interview in The Progressive (November 2010)
“Years ago, when I taught in the graduate program in writing at Columbia, the late Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was also on the faculty. Brodsky famously infuriated the students in his workshop on the first day of class, when he would announce that each student would be expected to memorize several poems (some lengthy) and recite them aloud. The students — even if they had known that Brodsky had learned English in dissenter’s exile in Russia by putting to heart the poems of Auden, among others — were outraged at first.
There was talk among students of refusing to comply with this requirement. Then they began to recite the poems learned by heart in class — and out of class. By the end of the term, students were “speaking” the poems of Auden and Bishop and Keats and Wyatt with dramatic authority and real enjoyment. Something had happened to change their minds. The poems they’d learned were now in their blood, beating with their hearts.”
–from “A Lost Eloquence” (Carol Muske-Dukes)
found in New York Times, 12/29/2002
“That’s one of the things that poetry — thanks to its technology of memory, its intuition technology — is engineered so well to do. When we commit a poem to memory and say it aloud, our breath quite literally embodies the poet’s words. In this instance, the poet’s name is Anonymous, that fabulous bard who also wrote so many great prayers and hymns and ballads and drinking songs. We will never know the identity of this poet, but in a certain sense we know the poet intimately, because the poem, and all the emotion and experience it contains, has been concentrated into something we can carry with us, inside us. And in so doing, we come to know ourselves more intimately as well, for the lines help remind us of who we are: creatures who are full of longing, who look for signs in the sky, who ask the things of the world, the very winds and stars, for large and small favors; creatures who chant and lament and rock rhythmically and turn those rhythms into memorable songs and stories and lullabies and charms; creatures who want winter to end and spring rains to turn things green again and to return to the ones we hold dear.”
–from “Does Memory Have a Future” (David Barber)
found in Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture, Spring 2006