When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
Lowell’s confessional work of the 1960s marked a sea change in American letters – then he fell out of favour. But on the eve of his centenary, his work offers an urgent political message in a time of Trump
‘I was born under the shadow of the Dome of the Boston State House,” wrote the poet Robert Lowell, “and under Pisces, the Fish, on the first of March, 1917.” With his aristocratic background – all the inherited furniture and ancestral portraits surrounding him as a child, as he recalled in the memoir 91 Revere Street – perhaps it’s no surprise, reading Lowell 100 years after his birth, that he was often preoccupied with the passing of time. “Thirty-one / Nothing done,” he writes in 1948. A decade later: “These are the tranquilized Fifties, / and I am forty.” In the elegiac Grandparents, he stands over his late grandfather’s billiards table and contemplates his own “life-lease”.
Lowell is best known for his fourth collection, Life Studies (1959). He abandoned the tight metrical forms of his earlier work for free verse, helping him articulate his experiences and the turbulence of postwar America. Radiant and unsettling, Lowell examines his parents’ unhappy marriage, his responses to their deaths and his bouts of manic depression, in a pioneering style of confessional writing (“the C-word,” as Michael Hofmann put it). His psychological insights are as sharp as the “locked razor” of Waking in the Blue; in the magnificent Skunk Hour, his clarity pierces the night: “My mind’s not right.”
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A sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
At six o’clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
–like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.
The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
would be very hot, seeing that the sun
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.
He stood for a minute alone on the balcony
looking over our heads toward the river.
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,
consisting of one lone cup of coffee
and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,
his head, so to speak, in the clouds–along with the sun.
Was the man crazy? What under the sun
was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!
Each man received one rather hard crumb,
which some flicked scornfully into the river,
and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.
I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle.
A beautiful villa stood in the sun
and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony
added by birds, who nest along the river,
–I saw it with one eye close to the crumb–
and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb
my mansion, made for me by a miracle,
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
working the stone. Every day, in the sun,
at breakfast time I sit on my balcony
with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee.
We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.
A window across the river caught the sun
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.
An early reminder that we’ll be discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. Read also: The passions of Elizabeth Bishop
There is a tip of forever
in the wait for the cut
when you fly low on rufous wings
and call out your court.
Crane-necked, we hear you
rattle through grass
hoping to mate before meadows
A line that might stop.
No crex comes back
before the machine
grinds in the gap.
What sight is right?
We hope to spy
while you scour the meadow,
high beak, high eye.
A Thickness of Particulars: The Poetry of Anthony Hecht
By Jonathan F. S. Post
Jonathan Post’s A Thickness of Particulars is the first book-length study of Anthony Hecht, one of the major American poets of the second half of the twentieth century. A Distinguished Professor of English at UCLA and the editor of Hecht’s Selected Letters (John Hopkins University Press, 2013), Post has lectured extensively on the poet at Yale and UCLA. The depth of his scholarship on Hecht is evident throughout this monograph, which emphasizes the “habitually dialectical quality of Hecht’s thinking,” his passion for poetic form, and his ability to write in complicated rhyming schemes without sacrificing an easy conversational tone.
Alternating between close readings of the poems, wherein Hecht’s work is placed in conversation with poetic giants W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and Elizabeth Bishop, and the poet’s private correspondence, Post provides a biographical context for understanding the complexity of Hecht’s impressive corpus. As the author points out, however, this is not biography per se, but rather a general introduction to Hecht’s poetry. In nine chapters arranged chronologically, Post’s narrative ranges from discussions of well-known individual poems to collections of early and late efforts, with additional chapters focusing on thematic angles such as the influence of Shakespeare and the poet’s ekphrastic verse.
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The poet has extended the ballad to an epic scale by coupling it with the lyric, the sonnet, writes Gabriel Fitzmaurice..
Brendan Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, on April 17th, 1936, the son of Tim Kennelly, publican and garage proprietor, and his wife Bridie Ahern, a nurse. Ballylongford is a small village like the other villages in the hinterland of Listowel in North Kerry.
To understand Kennelly and his poetry, you have to come to terms with the traditional culture of the area which Kennelly has translated into poetry, both intimate and epic. It’s flat land touching the River Shannon and the Atlantic. For the most part pasture land, it was, in Kennelly’s youth, mainly a farming community. The farmers, small farmers mostly, were generally not well off. But they loved to sing. At night they’d go to the local pub on bicycles or on foot (this was before the general availability of the car), drink “small ones” (whiskies) and pints of Guinness, and swap stories, news, songs and “recitations”.
Memory, in particular the poet’s memory, gathers these moments together. Kennelly’s was, and remains, a public house – Brendan heard these songs, stories and recitations regularly in the pub – not just imported songs (from the gramophone and radio – there was as yet no television) but local ballads too.