James Merrill: Playing our song

This is maybe my favorite James Merrill poem. And a good example of why I think all poetry is conceptual poetry, as all poetry is ‘language’ poetry — This is found language, formed by the poet into a lyric — even rhymed, poem. Maybe the last line is trite, but… #dontcare, this poem is fucking gorgeous. RADIO by James Merrill Behind grillwork (buff plastic In would-be deco style) The war goes on. With each further Hair’s-breadth turn of the dial: “Kids love it —” “Sex probe in Congress Triggers rage and denial,” The weatherman predicting Continued cold and rain, Then…

And looked back on love

Hotel Lautréamont, from 1992, is one of John Ashbery’s best books, in my opinion. These are my favorites. +++ STILL LIFE WITH STRANGER Come on, Ulrich, the great octagon of the sky is passing over us. Soon the world will have moved on. Your love affair, what is it but a tempest in a teacup? But such storms exclude strange resonance: The power of the Almighty reduced to its infinitesimal root hangs like the chant of bees, the milky drooping leaves of the birch on a windless autumn day — Call these phenomena or pinpoints, remote as the glittering trash…

James Longenbach

My favorite poem by James Longenbach, originally published in the New Yorker in 2008, and found in his new collection The Iron Key: On Beauty A sword held high above a goat’s head,Then the goat with no head—Calcutta, where my father was stationed in the war.Tiny black-and-white snapshots in a row. By the time his ship sighted AustraliaOne soldier had been burned in a vat of oatmeal,Another swept from the deck and drowned. What happened next was like a movie.Soldiers clambering through knee-high water to a beachWhere villagers have set up card tables,Platters of food—what foodThe camera doesn’t care about…

Christian Wiman

Two breathtaking poems by Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry. DoneMen living in the dark regardof their own facesin the night’s black panespause finally as if for air, and standing thereat desks or kitchen drainsare so ghosted by those spacesthey look into and are that something in them goes hard.They are their choices.They are what remains.And they stare and stare until a man who had their eyes, their hair,who answered to their namesand spoke with their voices,falls from them like a star. – from Hard Night, 2005 One Time 1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona Then I looked down into the lovely…

Let us compare then, you and I

I think it is undeniable that Frank O’Hara’s “To the Harbormaster” is based in some part on Shakespeare’s sonnet number 117. Either that, or we can just take comfort from the fact that the same metaphors have been used by two minds from across the ages to express the same idea. Sonnett 117by William Shakespeare Accuse me thus: that I have scanted allWherein I should your great deserts repay, Forgot upon your dearest love to call, Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day; That I have frequent been with unknown minds And given to time your own dear-purchased…

A small poem I am loving

It is a lovely day in Hanover and this is a lovely poem I am loving while missing the people who make this town what it used to be for me. This Room by John Ashbery The room I entered was a dream of this room.Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.The oval portraitof a dog was me at an early age.Something shimmers, something is hushed up. We had macaroni for lunch every dayexcept Sunday, when a small quail was inducedto be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?You are not even here.

Elizabeth Bishop

My favorite poems by the ever-graceful Elizabeth Bishop. Anaphoraby Elizabeth Bishop Each day with so much ceremonybegins, with birds, with bells,with whistles from a factory;such white-gold skies our eyesfirst open on, such brilliant wallsthat for a moment we wonder“Where is the music coming from, the energy?The day was meant for what ineffable creaturewe must have missed?” Oh promptly heappears and takes his earthly natureinstantly, instantly fallsvictim of long intrigue,assuming memory and mortalmortal fatigue. More slowly falling into sightand showering into stippled faces,darkening, condensing all his light;in spite of all the dreamingsquandered upon him with that look,suffers our uses and abuses,sinks…

My Favorite ‘Dream Songs’

Sometimes the neurotic aesthetic of Berryman’s Dream Songs just feels migrainous to me; other times it’s sublime. That said, I think these two poems are two of the best poems there are. Period. Dream Song 145by John Berryman Also I love him: me he’s done no wrongfor going on forty years — forgiveness time —I touch now his despair,he felt as bad as Whitman on his towerbut he did not swim out with me or my brotheras he threatened — a powerful swimmer, to take one of us alongas company in the defeat sublime,freezing my helpless mother:he only, very early…

My Favorite ‘Dream Songs’

Sometimes the neurotic aesthetic of Berryman’s Dream Songs just feels migrainous to me; other times it’s sublime. That said, I think these two poems are two of the best poems there are. Period. Dream Song 145by John Berryman Also I love him: me he’s done no wrongfor going on forty years — forgiveness time —I touch now his despair,he felt as bad as Whitman on his towerbut he did not swim out with me or my brotheras he threatened — a powerful swimmer, to take one of us alongas company in the defeat sublime,freezing my helpless mother:he only, very early…

A Measure of Perfection

‘Master, I asked, ‘after the great Judgmentwill these torments be greater, lessor will they stay as harsh as they are now? And he replied: ‘Return to your science,which has it that, in measure of a thing’s perfection,it feels both more of pleasure and of pain. ‘Although these accursed peoplewill never come to true perfection,they will never be nearer it than they are now.’ -Dante’s Inferno, Canto VI, trans. Hollander

Louise Bogan

Born in Maine, Louise Bogan (1897 -1970; imagine having lived those years) was admired by W.H. Auden and served as poetry editor of The New Yorker for decades. In her exquisite poems, intellect rules over emotion, and “beauty is wrested from dark places” as Auden put it. Here are my favorites. … A Tale This youth too long has heard the breakOf waters in a land of change.He goes to see what suns can makeFrom soil more indurate and strange. He cuts what holds his days togetherAnd shuts him in, as lock on lock:The arrowed vane announcing weather,The tripping racket…

Balance on the broken

These are two of my favorite poems, both of which work in a very similar way. I suppose you would call it Deep Image, or an incarnation thereof; clarity of image bordering on symbolism, punctuated by the searing honesty of a human voice. … Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota by James Wright Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, Asleep on the black trunk, Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house, The cowbells follow one another Into the distances of the afternoon. To my right,…

In Praise of Limestone

Perhaps my favorite Auden. Which is really saying something. In Praise of Limestone by W.H. Auden If it form the one landscape that we the inconstant onesAre consistently homesick for, this is chieflyBecause it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopesWith their surface fragrance of thyme and beneathA secret system of caves and conduits; hear these springsThat spurt out everywhere with a chuckleEach filling a private pool for its fish and carvingIts own little ravine whose cliffs entertainThe butterfly and the lizard; examine this regionOf short distances and definite places:What could be more like Mother or a fitter backgroundFor her…

Saturday of Winter Carnival, sigh

I’m a little bit drunk, in a conference room in Fairchild, with dozens and dozens of my poems laid out on the table, drawing diagrams and writing epigrams on a whiteboard, moving in and out of landscapes, frames of mind. Hilary is writing a chapter for her art history thesis on early modern portraiture, Andrew is working on his earth sciences thesis about core samples and climate change… I am working on my poems. Hah. Anyway, just need to record this moment in time when this I cannot think of another poem I have ever loved more than “To the…

Robert Lowell

All my favorite Robert Lowell poems in one place, just in case I need them. Which I often do. ON THE END OF THE PHONE My sidestepping and obliquities, unableto take the obvious truth on any subject—why do I do what I do not want to say,able to understand and not to hear?Your rapier voice—I have had so much—hundred words a minute, piercing and trilling…the invincible lifedrive of everything alive,ringing down silver dollars with each word….Love wasn’t what went wrong, we kept our daughter;What a good father is is no man’s boast—to be still friends when we’re no longer children….Why…

Poem (a la recherche du Gertrude Stein)

Objectively this is not one of his better poems, but I still love it right now. Enemies – “yours in you and mine in me” – le sigh. POEM (À LA RECHERCHE DU GERTRUDE STEIN) By FRANK O’HARA When I am feeling depressed and anxious and sullenall you have to do is take your clothes offand all is wiped away revealing life’s tendernessthat we are flesh and breathe and are near usas you are really as you are I become as Ireally am alive and knowing vaguely what isand what is important to me above the intrusionsof incident and accidental…

A poem I am loving

THE ADMISSIONby Marvin Bell If you love me,say so.Snow piles; bridges burnbehind me; Iimaginethat I am aloneand have notturned toward you sobefore. I forget openingsI had not thought ofturning toward,to tell you, and to tell youto tell me.The surroundings affect us;it is a causefor lovethat you call itsomething logical,taking pleasure inour findingourselves here.Tell me landscapesare frames of mind.I believe words have meaning.No gift will do.Tell me what it meansto you.