Friday, May 29, 2015

Poem for the Weekend: Franz Wright


Franz Wright and his father, the poet James Wright, are the only father-child combination to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His father won in 1972 and Franz in 2004 with his collection, Walking to Martha's Vineyard. Born in Vienna, Austria, Wright grew up in the Northwest, the Midwest and California. In addition to the Pulitzer, he received a Whiting Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Wright had problems with substance abuse and depression throughout his life. He died on May 14th at the age of 62. His obituary can be found here. The following poem is from his Pulitzer-winning collection.

On Earth

by Franz Wright (1953-2015)

     Resurrection of the little apple tree outside

     my window, leaf-
light of late
in the April
called her eyes, forget
but how
How does one go
about dying?
Who on earth
is going to teach me—
The world

is filled with people
who have never died

Friday, May 22, 2015

Poem for the Weekend: Sudeep Sen


Born in India, Sudeep Sen received a master's degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, New York. He was an international poet-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, and a visiting scholar at Harvard University. He divides his time between New Delhi, London, and New York. You can read more about him here

A Blank Letter

by Sudeep Sen                           

An envelope arrives unannounced from overseas
containing stark white sheets,

perfect in their presentation of absence.
Only a bold logo on top

revealed its origin, but absolutely nothing else.
I examined the sheets,

peered through their grains —
heavy cotton-laid striations —

concealing text, in white ink, postmarked India.
Even the watermark's translucence

made the script’s invisibility transparent.
Buried among the involute contours, lay sheets

of sophisticated pulp, paper containing
scattered metaphors — uncoded, unadorned,

untouched — virgin lines that spill, populate
and circulate to keep alive its breathings.

Corpuscles of a very different kind —
hieroglyphics, unsolved, but crystal-clear.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Patient Storytelling


We watched Remains of the Day again the other night. It’s a film that’s commendable in its own right, for its own reasons and successes within the medium, but one of the things I really appreciated about it, after all of these years, is the pace of the storytelling. From the opening shots, you know to adjust your posture. It’s a sinking-into-your-chair type of story, rather than a gripping-the-armrests affair. It’s the same patience on display in Ishiguro’s fine novel, which has no problem discussing the dusting of portraits in an estate’s library on the very first page of the book. Can you imagine the reactions if Ishiguro had to query his novel today? Dusting on the first page? Ruminations about a letter? The discussion of a butler’s duties? When does the STORY start??? they’d say.

Kent Haruf’s final novel will be released next week. Our Souls at Night was written during his final convalescence; he died last November from lung disease. The novel is said to be an homage to the love story with his wife Cathy. All of Haruf’s novels are set in small towns and in each, his characters are average people living, for the most part, quiet lives. It is this gift of bringing luminescence and deep resonance to the ordinary that was Haruf’s greatest gift. In his breakout novel, Plainsong, the daily routines of two elderly bachelors are relayed with great care and affection. This new novel focuses on older characters as well, a widow and widower who have agreed to lie together at night for companionship, and during these evenings, they examine their lives. I haven’t read the novel yet, but it is my most anticipated book of the year. But wait… Two old people resting in bed? When does the STORY start???

It seems to me, as it always has, that life takes place mostly in the spaces between dramatic events. Sometimes there are births and deaths; once in a while a trip changes your life or an unexpected romance develops. But most of us will pass through life without an accidental immersion into espionage or a true love bursting in to halt a misguided wedding. Most of us spend our lives gaining frequent sustenance from the small things: the grip of a hand, the discovery of a secret, the meeting of eyes across a room. It’s the unspoken and the spoken, and between these human exchanges, we have lots of time to ourselves, don’t we? There is dusting and laundry, early mornings and late nights of worry, and the mental gymnastics of what we could have and should have and would have said or done. So for me, patient storytelling has always been closer to the actuality of life; this, along with prose that suits its story, and characters with beating hearts. These are the stories that resonate most deeply with me.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Poem for the Weekend: Carol Ann Duffy

In 2009, Carol Ann Duffy accepted the post of Scotland's Poet Laureate, making her the first female Poet Laureate in the role's 400 year history. Information about her writing and life can be found here. She is best known for her love poems, which are often in the form of monologues, such as this one.
by Carol Ann Duffy
In the end,
it was nothing more
than the toy boat of a boy
on the local park’s lake,
where I walked with you.

But I knelt down
to watch it arrive,
its white sail shy
with amber light,
the late sun
bronzing the wave
that lifted it up,

my ship coming in
with its cargo of joy.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Poem for the Weekend: Delmore Schwartz


Delmore Schwartz lived a tumultuous life marked by a challenging childhood, addictions, and mental illness; he also possessed a dazzling intellect and was much admired by his contemporaries, including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Vladimir Nabokov. Alfred Kazin remembers the author as one who "believed in nothing so much as the virtue and reason of poetry." Read about Schwartz's life here.

Poem (In The Morning, When It Was Raining)

by Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966)

In the morning, when it was raining,
Then the birds were hectic and loudy;
Through all the reign is fall's entertaining;
Their singing was erratic and full of disorder:
They did not remember the summer blue
Or the orange of June. They did not think at all
Of the great red and bursting ball
Of the kingly sun's terror and tempest, blazing,
Once the slanting rain threw over all
The colorless curtains of the ceaseless spontaneous fall.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Poem for the Weekend: Jeffrey McDaniel


Author of five books of poetry and the recipient of an NEA fellowship, Jeffrey McDaniel teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. His poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and sometimes, he performs them live. You can watch another one here. But for my quiet, quiet week, here's this one:

The Quiet World

by Jeffrey McDaniel

In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred   
and sixty-seven words, per day.
When the phone rings, I put it to my ear   
without saying hello. In the restaurant   
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.
Late at night, I call my long distance lover,   
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.   

I saved the rest for you.
When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,   
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line   
and listen to each other breathe.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka