What We Want
In a poem
but even more
they want something
easy to swallow -
not unlike a suddenly
in an otherwise
difficult and sometimes dissonant
even if it is only
for the moment
of hearing it.
- Mary Oliver
"Listen. Who writes the great books? It is not we who sign our names. What is an artist? He's a man who has antennae, who knows how to hook up to the currents which are in the atmosphere, in the cosmos; he merely has the facility for hooking on, as it were. Who is original? Everything that we are doing, everything that we think, exists already, and we are only intermediaries, that's all, who make use of what is in the air. Why do ideas, why do great scientific discoveries often occur in different parts of the world at the same time? The same is true of the elements that go to make up a poem or a great novel or any work of art. They are already in the air, they have not been given voice, that's all. They need the man, the interpreter, to bring them forth."
- Henry Miller
"An artist has got to be careful never to really arrive at a place where he thinks he's 'at' somewhere. You always have to realize that you're constantly in a state of becoming, you know? And as long as you can stay in that realm you'll sort of be all right."
- Bob Dylan
"A mind fed on words such as heaven, earth, dew, essence, cinnabar, moonlight, stillness, jade, pearl, cedar, and winter plum is likely to have a serenity not to be found in minds ringing with the vocabulary of the present age - computer, tractor, jumbo jet, speedball, pop, dollar, liquidation, napalm, overkill! Who would thrill at the prospect of rocketing to the moon in a billion-dollar spacecraft if he knew how to summon a shimmering gold and scarlet dragon at any time of the day or night and soar among the stars?"
- John Blofeld
live & learn
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.
What others found in art,
I found in nature. What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.
Winter was over. In the thawed dirt,
bits of green were showing.
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal -
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher -
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.
- Louise Glück
from 3. October
What Light Does
Today, I did nothing.
Light went on as usual,
throwing leaves against the white wall,
as if no one were watching, as if
there's no meaning in the trembling
of the leaves. Later, light moves
the leaves onto the tile floor,
and once I might have thought them
dancing, or that the shadow
of a thing is more beautiful
than the thing itself, but it's not,
it's just ordinary light, going about
its ordinary business. Now, evening is here,
and I've made it through another day
of shadows. This is not metaphor, or poetry,
it's how the unbearable is
a blade that gleams and remains
visible, long after light has gone.
- Patty Paine
I love these raw moist dawns with
a thousand birds you hear but can't
quite see in the mist.
My old alien body is a foreigner
struggling to get into another country.
The loon call makes me shiver.
Back at the cabin I see a book
and am not quite sure what that is.
- Jim Harrison
Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.
It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves - you may believe this or not -
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers
deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.
Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.
Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.
And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.
- Mary Oliver
My students look at me expectantly.
I explain to them that the life of art is a life
of endless labor. Their expressions
hardly change; they need to know
a little more about endless labor.
So I tell them the story of Sisyphus,
how he was doomed to push
a rock up a mountain, knowing nothing
would come of this effort
but that he would repeat it
indefinitely. I tell them
there is joy in this, in the artist's life,
that one eludes
judgment, and as I speak
I am secretly pushing a rock myself,
slyly pushing it up the steep
face of a mountain. Why do I lie
to these children? They aren't listening,
they aren't deceived, their fingers
tapping at the wooden desks -
So I retract
the myth; I tell them it occurs
in hell, and that the artist lies
because he is obsessed with attainment,
that he perceives the summit
as that place where he will live forever,
a place about to be
transformed by his burden: with every breath,
I am standing at the top of the mountain.
Both my hands are free. And the rock has added
height to the mountain.
- Louise Glück
"The poet is at the edge of our consciousness of the world, finding beyond the suspected nothingness which we imagine limits our perception another acre or so of being worth our venturing upon."
- Guy Davenport
"Doubt is more intelligent than poetry, insofar as it tells malicious tales about the world, things we've long known but struggled to hide from ourselves. But poetry surpasses doubt, pointing to what we cannot know. Doubt is narcissistic; we look at everything critically, including ourselves, and perhaps that comforts us. Poetry, on the other hand, trusts the world, and rips us from the deep-sea diving suits of our "I"; it believes in the possibility of beauty and its tragedy. Poetry's argument with doubt has nothing in common with the facile quarrel of optimism and pessimism. The twentieth century's great drama means that we now deal with two kinds of intellect: the resigned and the seeking, the questing. Doubt is poetry for the resigned. Whereas poetry is searching, endless wandering. Doubt is a tunnel, poetry is a spiral. Doubt prefers to shut, while poetry opens. Poetry laughs and cries, doubt ironizes. Doubt is death's plenipotentiary, its longest and wittiest shadow; poetry runs toward an unknown goal. Why does one choose poetry while another chooses doubt? We don't know and we'll never find out. We don't know why one is Cioran and the other is Milosz."
- Adam Zagajewski
A Defense of Ardor
Woke up early this morning and from my bed
looked far across the Strait to see
a small boat moving through the choppy water,
a single running light on. Remembered
my friend who used to shout
his dead wife's name from hilltops
around Perugia. Who set a plate
for her at his simple table long after
she was gone. And opened the windows
so she could have fresh air. Such display
I found embarrassing. So did his other
friends. I couldn't see it.
Not until this morning.
- Raymond Carver
All of Us
Once you wanted to be someone else
or another thing altogether: an iris in April,
or its pistil, just that, a prayer so small
it was only rumored. What can it matter?
You know now your own life doesn't belong to you,
the way a child defects into his childhood
to discover it isn't his after all.
- Mary Ruefle
"We are all bound together in a tapestry that like the sea gives the impression of movement towards something but is actually just a maternal body of material...
The flowers buzz when the vibration of the bees stimulates their pistons and their molecules swell and their petals hum like cellos. Rocks are alive, the firstborn of the natural world, somber without will.
There is no freedom from this universe we were born into, because it is our vague source of sensation, our soul, the container of our guilt.
Skins liquefy in heat. And when a bald baby swallow dies on your palm, you feel warmth pouring over your skin, a kind of burning fountain that scalds you like pepper spray.
Do you think this is a sign of the spirit ripping its energy into you to carry to the other side? I do. There are no actual objects over there, no materials but unformed steaming clouds, colors that harmonize musically, no gravity exists but elasticity composed of invisible images."
- Fanny Howe
from 'The Child's Child'
The Needle's Eye: Passing through Youth
"When people talk about poetry as a project, they suggest that the road through a poem is a single line. When really the road through a poem is a series of lines, like a constellation, all interconnected. Poems take place in the realm of chance, where the self and the universal combine, where life exists. I can't suggest to you that going through a line that is more like a constellation than a road is easy - or that the blurring of the self and the universal doesn't shred a poet a little bit in the process. The terrain of a poem is unmapped (including the shapes of the trees along the constellation - road). A great poet knows never to expect sun or rain or cold or wind in the process of creating a poem. In a great poem all can come to the fore at once."
- Dorothea Lasky
Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
overflowing with blossom foam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
so Nature's wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It's been doing that all week:
and throwing it away,
and making more.
- Tony Hoagland
What Narcissism Means to Me
"In my small way, I preserved and cataloged, and dipped into the vast ocean of learning that awaited, knowing all the time that the life of one man was insufficient for even the smallest part of the wonders that lay within. It is cruel that we are granted the desire to know, but denied the time to do so properly. We all die frustrated; it is the greatest lesson we have to learn."
- Iain Pears
An Instance of the Fingerpost
"When you think about it, poets always want us to be moved by something, until in the end, you begin to suspect a poet is someone who is moved by everything, who just stands in front of the world and weeps and laughs and laughs and weeps (the mysteries, said Aristotle, are the saying of many ridiculous and many serious things)."
- Mary Ruefle
You could live a hundred years, it's happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
- Mary Oliver
from The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac (part 3)
How the light is sad.
How it will not leave us alone.
How we are tugged up staircases
by the way it angles across landings.
Or just our faces - tipped
to the clear, depleted sky.
How because of sunset, the imagination
headquarters in the west.
Spring in the north: all that
tawny grass and gravel and nothing
green to sop up the excessive honesty.
Outside our windows,
something like youth or promises.
How the wind blows right through them,
- Jan Zwicky
Songs For Relinquishing The Earth