Tag Archives: William Stafford

July

July is a good time for lying down in green grass, in a graveyard perhaps, like in Kazim Ali’s “July,” where there’s a pause before the next thing, and if you look at it long enough, with a friend, the sky changes —”came down in breaths to my lips and sipped me.”

In July, the windows are always open, as in William  Matthews’ “Morningside Heights, July,” and one hears, like it or not, “a clatter of jackhammers” and someone “yelling fuck in Farsi” and a couple having a break-up conversation, and it all makes one feel a little strange, “hollower than a bassoon.”

Albert Goldbarth’s “Sentimental” begins in July but winds up, with it’s wonderful-sounding language, (“What if some chichi streetwise junkass from the demimonde / gave forth with the story of orphans forced through howling storm / to the workhouse”) going quite elsewhere, as thoughts are wont to do. Continue reading

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Poor sons-a-bitching ducks

I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of John Logan before this morning, but I am now enamored. Of the poem “Three Moves,” at least, since that’s the only one of his I’ve yet read.

The rhymes! and the near-rhymes, how they spill down the page! “Remain, “friends” and “again” in the first four lines, the long single syllables of “call” and “soul.” And “grounds” and “brown” later, and then couplets here and there, “boats” and “floats,” and “night” and “all right.” But also in between there’s “damp” and “Frank” and “dares.” “Swill” and “spill” and “beautiful.” Say them out loud, they move the mouth wonderfully.

For instance, in the top half of the poem,

I have a friend named Frank—
the only one who ever dares to call
and ask me, “How’s your soul?”
I hadn’t thought about it for a while,
and was ashamed to say I didn’t know.
I have no priest for now.
Who
will forgive me then. Will you?
Tame birds and my neighbors’ boats.
The ducks honk about the floats…

Frank who asks you to be frank. (And isn’t it interesting Continue reading

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Triggering Books

My favorite ‘about writing’ book, which I re-read every 1-2 years, is Richard Hugo‘s Triggering Town. I think it’s possible that the world can be divided into writers whose favorite is Triggering Town, and writers who favor Anne Lamott‘s books (which I’ve picked up a couple times but never gotten far with, for whatever reason).

I often turn to Triggering Town when I’ve finished (well, ‘finished’ — I write at a fairly Bishopian pace, which is to say it takes years, most of the time, to really finish a poem) or at least paused on all the poems I had going. Hugo is so honest about the silliness of writing at all, and the realities of a writing life, abjectly honest, but reassuring too in his insistence on the essentialness of it. I shouldn’t have ever started marking passages I liked — almost the whole book’s underlined now.

Hugo says broad things like, “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything” and “You have to be silly to write poems at all” and also gives nuts-and-bolts tidbits, for instance,

A student may love the sound of Yeats’s “Stumbling upon the blood dark track once more” and not know that the single-syllable word with a hard consonant ending is a unit of power in English, and that’s one reason “blood dark track” goes off like rifle shots.

The only part of the book that seems dated now (it was published in 1979) Continue reading

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Quoting

Writers love to quote other writers about writing, particularly about the whys and hows of it — it’s kind of a thing. Joy Williams, at a symposium at Connecticut College with Tobias Wolff and Galway Kinnell years ago, even had a whole Rolodex with her, an actual Rolodex she brought with her to the podium so she could correctly quote other people when answering questions after the reading.

I’m no different of course. Some favorites:

I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.

A.E. Housman

It’s silly to suggest the writing of poetry as something ethereal, a sort of soul-crashing emotional experience that wrings you. I have no fancy ideas about poetry. It doesn’t come to you on the wings of a dove. It’s something you work hard at.

Louise Bogan

A poem is about something the way a cat is about a house.

Allen Grossman (I’ve seen it as “art is about” too.) Continue reading

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Vanitas Motel with a bad cold

Had a bad cold this week, so I reread Jon Loomis’ 1998 collection Vanitas Motel since it contains “Watching Wings of Desire With a Bad Cold,” one of those awesome you’ll-always-remember (and wish you wrote!) titles. And poem, for that matter. (Quick definition of vanitas painting, as I know not everyone’s parents were art history majors.)

Loomis’ poetry is tough, its situations blunt.

From “Divorce”:

Half-moon. Squidlight. Fog hung like a bedsheet
20 yards out. It’s a long walk across the breakwater—
gulls doze on the flats, hoping you’ll die. […]

From “Illness”:

Late December, dawn spreads like a rash
above the parking lot. Venus smokes itself down,
stubs itself out. The house is a whistle only I can hear—

From “Aubade at Your Hospital Window,” “Tuesday’s snow still with us, old pair/of underpants.”

Not tough-guy tough or down-and-out tough. Sure, there’s swearing, Continue reading

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