Week Two Reading: Fall 2016 CW Poetry

Poetry Movements

¥ Romanticism ¥ Modernism ¥ Imagism ¥ Dada ¥ Futurism ¥ Surrealism ¥ Harlem Renaissance ¥ Objectivism ¥ New Criticism ¥ Black Mountain School ¥ The Beats ¥ San Francisco Renaissance ¥ OuLiPo ¥ Confessional Poetry ¥ New American Poets ¥ New York School ¥ Reader-Response Theory ¥ Black Arts Movement ¥ Language Poetry ¥ New Formalism ¥ Lyric (Tradition and the Contemporary) ¥ New Historicism ¥ Conceptual Poetry ¥ Flarf ¥ Slam Poetry ¥ Elliptical Poetry ¥


A poetic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that turned toward nature and the interior world of feeling, in opposition to the mannered formalism and disciplined scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment era that preceded it. English poets such as William Wordsworth,Samuel Taylor Coleridge,John Keats,Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron produced work that expressed spontaneous feelings, found parallels to their own emotional lives in the natural world, and celebrated creativity rather than logic. Browse more Romantic poets.  Romantic poems are generally Lyric poems. Much of Modernism is a reaction and rejection of conventions of Romanticism.


A broadly defined multinational cultural movement (or series of movements) that took hold in the late 19th century and reached its most radical peak on the eve of World War I. It grew out of the philosophical, scientific, political, and ideological shifts that followed the Industrial Revolution, up to World War I and its aftermath. For artists and writers, the Modernist project was a re-evaluation of the assumptions and aesthetic values of their predecessors. It evolved from the Romantic rejection of Enlightenment positivism and faith in reason. Modernist writers broke with Romantic pieties and clichés (such as the notion of the Sublime) and became self-consciously skeptical of language and its claims on coherence. In the early 20th century, novelists such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf (and, later, Joseph Conrad) experimented with shifts in time and narrative points of view. While living in Paris before the war, Gertrude Stein explored the possibilities of creating literary works that broke with conventional syntactical and referential practices. Ezra Pound vowed to “make it new” and “break the pentameter,” while T.S. Eliot wrote The Waste Land in the shadow of World War I. Shortly after The Waste Land was published in 1922, it became the archetypical Modernist text, rife with allusions, linguistic fragments, and mixed registers and languages. Other poets most often associated with Modernism include H.D.,W.H. AudenHart CraneWilliam Butler Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Modernism also generated many smaller movements; see also AcmeismDadaFree verseFuturismImagism, Objectivism, Postmodernism, and Surrealism. Browse more Modern poets.

If you haven’t read “The Wasteland” please take a peek — below is the first section. You can find the entire poem here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47311


The Waste Land (section I)





  1. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,

My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,

And I was frightened. He said, Marie,

Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.

In the mountains, there you feel free.

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

                      Frisch weht der Wind

                      Der Heimat zu

                      Mein Irisch Kind,

                      Wo weilest du?

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

“They called me the hyacinth girl.”

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,

Had a bad cold, nevertheless

Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,

With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,

Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,

(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,

The lady of situations.

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,

And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,

Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,

Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find

The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.

I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.

Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,

Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:

One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!

“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!

“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”




An early 20th-century poetic movement that relied on the resonance of concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional poetic diction and meter. T.E. HulmeH.D., and William Carlos Williams were practitioners of the imagist principles as laid out by Ezra Pound in the March 1913 issue of Poetry (see A Retrospect” and “A Few Don’ts). Amy Lowell built a strain of imagism that used some of Pound’s principles and rejected others in her Preface to the 1916 anthology, Some Imagist Poets. Browse more imagist poets.


Note that Imagism doesn’t simply mean a poem that uses a lot of imagery — it’s a specific term related to a brief movement in the early part of the 20th century in which the poet tried to ONLY use imagery in a poem to create a kind of poem-photograph without any emotional language or abstract language.

Here are a few examples.

In a Station of the Metro



The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.



Sea Rose

BY H. D.


Rose, harsh rose,

marred and with stint of petals,

meagre flower, thin,

sparse of leaf,

more precious

than a wet rose

single on a stem—

you are caught in the drift.


Stunted, with small leaf,

you are flung on the sand,

you are lifted

in the crisp sand

that drives in the wind.


Can the spice-rose

drip such acrid fragrance

hardened in a leaf?




A movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire. The founders of this movement struck upon this essentially nonsense word to embody a simultaneously playful and nihilistic spirit alive among European visual artists and writers during and immediately after World War I. They salvaged a sense of freedom from the cultural and moral instability that followed the war, and embraced both “everything and nothing” in their desire to “sweep, sweep clean,” as Tristan Tzara wrote in his Dadaist Manifesto in 1920. In visual arts, this enterprise took the form of collage and juxtaposition of unrelated objects, as in the work of French artist Marcel Duchamp. T.S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s allusive, often syntactically and imagistically fractured poems of this era reflect a Dadaist influence. Dadaism had a major influence on surrealism.



An avant-garde aesthetic movement that arose in Italy and Russia in the early 20th century. Its proponents—predominantly painters and other visual artists—called for a rejection of past forms of expression, and the embrace of industry and new technology. Speed and violence were the favored vehicles of sensation, rather than lyricism, symbolism, and “high” culture. F. T. Marinetti, in his futurist Manifesto (1909), advocated “words in freedom”—a language unbound by common syntax and order that, along with striking variations in typography, could quickly convey intense emotions. Marinetti and other Italian futurists allied themselves with militaristic nationalism, which alienated their cause internationally following World War II. Russian futurist poets such as Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky profoundly influenced the development of Russian formalism, while in England the futurist movement was expressed as Vorticism by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis in their magazine BLAST. Listen to “Futurism and the New Manifesto” here. See also Mina Loy’s“Aphorisms on Futurism”.


Aphorisms on Futurism (1914)




Painter and poet Mina Loy has been associated with most of the literary and artistic movements of the early 20th century: dadaism, surrealism, futurism, feminism, modernism and post-modernism. While she aligned herself more closely with the visual arts, her reputation was primarily built on her writing.

She grew up in Munich, London, and Paris, and in 1907 moved to Florence, where she grew close to Filippo Marinetti, leader of the futurist movement there. The futurists, fueled by an impatience with a society they perceived as overly loyal to history, and as a result insufficiently active and innovative, hoped to apply recent advances in industry, machinery, and war to the literary and artistic communities. Impatient for the future, they advocated speed, aggression, industry, and struggle. The movement, which ran from 1909-1944, was marked by a series of manifestos published by its members.

Loy, a writer known for her frank embrace of female sexuality and feminist politics, joined the futurist movement in 1913, but she quickly encountered conflict regarding the movement’s perception of women. Her manifesto addresses those conflicts within a context of support for the movement’s forward-looking vision. Loy sees the female body as a site of resistance, and advocates affirmation and growth rather than destruction.

By 1915 Loy had left the movement, due to the misogyny and fascism she encountered there. Loy’s brief time with the futurists marks the greatest creative output of her career.  “Aphorisms on Futurism” was first published in photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work in January of 1914.


DIE in the Past
Live in the Future.

THE velocity of velocities arrives in starting.

IN pressing the material to derive its essence, matter becomes deformed.

AND form hurtling against itself is thrown beyond the synopsis of vision.

THE straight line and the circle are the parents of design, form the basis of art; there is no limit to their coherent variability.

LOVE the hideous in order to find the sublime core of it.

OPEN your arms to the dilapidated; rehabilitate them.

YOU prefer to observe the past on which your eyes are already opened.

BUT the Future is only dark from outside.
 into it—and it EXPLODES with Light.

FORGET that you live in houses, that you may live in yourself—

FOR the smallest people live in the greatest houses.

BUT the smallest person, potentially, is as great as the Universe.

WHAT can you know of expansion, who limit yourselves to compromise?

HITHERTO the great man has achieved greatness by keeping the people small.

BUT in the Future, by inspiring the people to expand to their fullest capacity, the great man proportionately must be tremendous—a God.

LOVE of others is the appreciation of oneself.

MAY your egotism be so gigantic that you comprise mankind in your self-sympathy.

THE Future is limitless—the past a trail of insidious reactions.

LIFE is only limited by our prejudices. Destroy them, and you cease to be at the mercy of yourself.

TIME is the dispersion of intensiveness.

THE Futurist can live a thousand years in one poem.

HE can compress every aesthetic principle in one line.

THE mind is a magician bound by assimilations; let him loose and the smallest idea conceived in freedom will suffice to negate the wisdom of all forefathers.

LOOKING on the past you arrive at “Yes,” but before you can act upon it you have already arrived at “No.”

THE Futurist must leap from affirmative to affirmative, ignoring intermittent negations—must spring from stepping-stone to stone of creative exploration; without slipping back into the turbid stream of accepted facts.

THERE are no excrescences on the absolute, to which man may pin his faith.

TODAY is the crisis in consciousness.

CONSCIOUSNESS cannot spontaneously accept or reject new forms, as offered by creative genius; it is the new form, for however great a period of time it may remain a mere irritant—that molds consciousness to the necessary amplitude for holding it.

CONSCIOUSNESS has no climax.

LET the Universe flow into your consciousness, there is no limit to its capacity, nothing that it shall not re-create.

UNSCREW your capability of absorption and grasp the elements of Life—Whole.

MISERY is in the disintegration of Joy;
Intellect, of Intuition;
Acceptance, of Inspiration.

CEASE to build up your personality with the ejections of irrelevant minds.

NOT to be a cipher in your ambient,
But to color your ambient with your preferences.

NOT to accept experience at its face value.

BUT to readjust activity to the peculiarity of your own will.

THESE are the primary tentatives towards independence.

MAN is a slave only to his own mental lethargy.

YOU cannot restrict the mind’s capacity.

THEREFORE you stand not only in abject servitude to your perceptive consciousness—

BUT also to the mechanical re-actions of the subconsciousness, that rubbish heap of race-tradition—

AND believing yourself to be free—your least conception is colored by the pigment of retrograde superstitions.

HERE are the fallow-lands of mental spatiality that Futurism will clear—

MAKING place for whatever you are brave enough, beautiful enough to draw out of the realized self.

TO your blushing we shout the obscenities, we scream the blasphemies, that you, being weak, whisper alone in the dark.

THEY are empty except of your shame.

AND so these sounds shall dissolve back to their innate senselessness.

THUS shall evolve the language of the Future.

THROUGH derision of Humanity as it appears—

TO arrive at respect for man as he shall be—

ACCEPT the tremendous truth of Futurism
Leaving all those



  • Mina Loy, “Aphorisms on Futurism” from The Last Lunar Baedeker, published by Jargon Press. Copyright © 1982 by Mina Loy.






An artistic philosophy that took hold in 1920s Paris and spread throughout the world in the decades that followed. André Breton outlined its aims in his Surrealist Manifesto (1924), affirming the supremacy of the “disinterested play of thought” and the “omnipotence of dreams” rather than reason and logic. Breton and his colleagues were inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis and its emphasis on the power of unconscious thought. Through “automatic writing” and hypnosis, artists could free their imaginations to reveal deeper truths. The French poets Charles BaudelaireArthur RimbaudGuillaume Apollinaire, and Pierre Reverdy embodied early surrealist principles, as did Peruvian poet César Vallejo. Surrealist practices were also used in the visual arts, particularly in the paintings of Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, and René Magritte, and in the films of Jean Cocteau. A second generation of surrealist writers emerged in other parts of the world, especially in Latin America; see the poems of Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz. The surrealist aesthetic has influenced modern and contemporary poets writing in English as well; James TateJohn Ashbery, and Michael Palmer are notable examples.



Harlem Renaissance

A period of musical, literary, and cultural proliferation that began in New York’s African-American community during the 1920s and early 1930s. The movement was key to developing a new sense of Black identity and aesthetics as writers, visual artists, and musicians articulated new modes of African-American experience and experimented with artistic forms, modernist techniques, and folk culture. Harlem Renaissance artists and activists also influenced French and Caribbean Négritude and Negrismo movements in addition to laying a foundation for future Black Arts champions like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka. Writing luminaries of the period include Langston HughesCountee CullenJames Weldon JohnsonClaude McKay, and Arna Bontemps. See Hughes’s article “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker”. Browse more Harlem Renaissance poets.

 Gwendolyn Brooks writes a bit after the Harlem Renaissance, at the tail end, but this seems like a good location for her.

Jessie Mitchell’s Mother
Into her mother’s bedroom to wash the ballooning body.
“My mother is jelly-hearted and she has a brain of jelly:
Sweet, quiver-soft, irrelevant. Not essential.
Only a habit would cry if she should die.
A pleasant sort of fool without the least iron. . . .
Are you better, mother, do you think it will come today?”
The stretched yellow rag that was Jessie Mitchell’s mother
Reviewed her. Young, and so thin, and so straight.
So straight! as if nothing could ever bend her.
But poor men would bend her, and doing things with poor men,
Being much in bed, and babies would bend her over,
And the rest of things in life that were for poor women,
Coming to them grinning and pretty with intent to bend and to kill.
Comparisons shattered her heart, ate at her bulwarks:
The shabby and the bright: she, almost hating her daughter,
Crept into an old sly refuge: “Jessie’s black
And her way will be black, and jerkier even than mine.
Mine, in fact, because I was lovely, had flowers
Tucked in the jerks, flowers were here and there. . . .”
She revived for the moment settled and dried-up triumphs,
Forced perfume into old petals, pulled up the droop,
Triumphant long-exhaled breaths.
Her exquisite yellow youth . . .
Gwendolyn Brooks, “Jessie Mitchell’s Mother” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1963 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Source: Selected Poems (1963)
A riot is the language of the unheard.
—martin luther king
John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,
all whitebluerose below his golden hair,
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.
Because the Negroes were coming down the street.
Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.
And not detainable. And not discreet.
Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot
itched instantly beneath the nourished white
that told his story of glory to the World.
“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered
to any handy angel in the sky.
But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old
averted doubt jerked forward decently,
cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,
and the desperate die expensively today.”
John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”
Gwendolyn Brooks, “Riot” from Blacks. Copyright © 1994 by Gwendolyn Brooks.
Source: Riot (Broadside Press, 1969)



A loosely affiliated group of American poets writing in the 1930s and ’40s. Harriet Monroe famously solicited an edition of Objectivist work for Poetry, guest-edited by Louis Zukofsky, which featured work by many of the poets later associated with the movement. The Objectivist poets, as described by Zukofsky, were influenced by the writing of Ezra Pound and took many cues from the earlier Imagists: both groups wrote poetry that featured highly concentrated language and imagery and terse vers libre. The Objectivists, however, focused on everyday life and language, treating the poem as an object itself and emphasizing sincerity and the poet’s clear vision of the world. Core Objectivist poets include ZukofskyGeorge OppenCarl RakosiLorine NiedeckerCharles Reznikoff, and the British poet Basil Bunting. Browse Objectivist poets.


Please read all these (mostly untitled) poems by Lorine Niedecker, followed by an excerpt from George Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous” – about being a part of mass society:


Poems by Lorine Niedecker from http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/niedecker/poems.html

These works, selected by Jenny Penberthy, are featured on the Electronic Poetry Center (the page at the link) courtesy of University of California Press.

My man says the wind blows from the south,
we go out fishing, he has no luck,

I catch a dozen, that burns him up,

I face the east and the wind’s in my mouth,

but my man has to have it in the south.

Black Hawk held: In reason
land cannot be sold,
only things to be carried away,
and I am old.

Young Lincoln’s general moved,
pawpaw in bloom,
and to this day, Black Hawk,
reason has small room.

The clothesline post is set
yet no totem-carvings distinguish the Niedecker tribe
from the rest; every seventh day they wash:
worship sun; fear rain, their neighbors’ eyes;
raise their hands from ground to sky,
and hang or fall by the whiteness of their all.


What horror to awake at night
and in the dimness see the light.
Time is white

mosquitoes bite
I’ve spent my life on nothing.


The thought that stings. How are you,

Nothing, sitting around with Something’s wife.
Buzz and burn

is all I learn
I’ve spend my life on nothing.


I’m pillowed and padded, pale and

puffing lifting household stuffing–
carpets, dishes

benches, fishes
I’ve spent my life in nothing.


Jesse James and his brother Frank

raided, robbed and rode away.
Said Frank to the rising Teddy R:

You’re my type, you’re okay.


Once on his way to a Shakespeare play

Frank was almost caught.


The gunnin Jameses and the writn Jameses-

two were taught and all were sought.


No killers were Frank and Jesse James,

they was drove to it. Their folks was proud.


Let no one imagine they were bad as kids-

brought up gentle in a bushwack crowd.


Along the river

wild sunflowers over my head

the dead who gave me life

give me this our relative the air

floods our rich friend



New-sawed clean-smelling house sweet cedar pink

flesh tint I love you

The wild and wavy event
now chintz at the window

was revolution . . .

to Miss Abigail Smith:
You have faults

You hang your head down
like a bulrush

you read, you write, you think
but I drink Madeira

to you
and you cross your Legs

while sitting.

How are the children?
If in danger run to the woods.

Evergreen o evergreen
how faithful are your branches


Poet’s Work



advised me:

Learn a trade


I learned

to sit at desk

and condense

No layoff

from this





In the transcendence of convalescence the translation of Bashô


I lay down

with brilliance I saw a star whistle

across the sky before dropping off



stood there

all body



blown off



showed up




is the head

of spring


Birch, sumac


the blast


You see here
the influence
of inference

Moon on rippled

‘Except as
and unless’

Cleaned all surfaces
and behind all solids
and righted leaning things

Considered then, becurtained
the metaphysics
of flight from housecleanings


My Life by Water


My life

by water–




first frog

or board


out on the cold








to wild green

arts and letters




my lettuce

One boat



pointed toward

my shore


thru birdstart




of the soft

and serious–





the alliance—

ships and plants


The take-for-granted bloom of our roadsides

Queen Anne’s Lace

Black Eyed Susans

rode the sea


‘Specimens graciously passed

between warring fleets’


And when an old boat rots ashore itself once living plant


it sprouts

Thomas Jefferson Inside

Winter when no flower

The Congress away from home

Love is the great good use one person

makes of another (Daughter Polly of the




Frogs sing–then of a sudden all their lights go out

The country moves toward violets

and aconites



Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws

Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land

May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace





Of Being Numerous: Sections 1-22





There are things

We live among ‘and to see them

Is to know ourselves’.


Occurrence, a part

Of an infinite series,


The sad marvels;


Of this was told

A tale of our wickedness.

It is not our wickedness.


‘You remember that old town we went to, and we sat in the ruined window, and we tried to imagine that we belonged to those times—It is dead and it is not dead, and you cannot imagine either its life or its death; the earth speaks and the salamander speaks, the Spring comes and only obscures it—’





So spoke of the existence of things,

An unmanageable pantheon


Absolute, but they say



A city of the corporations



In dreams


And images—


And the pure joy

Of the mineral fact


Tho it is impenetrable


As the world, if it is matter,

Is impenetrable.





The emotions are engaged

Entering the city

As entering any city.


We are not coeval

With a locality

But we imagine others are,


We encounter them. Actually

A populace flows

Thru the city.


This is a language, therefore, of New York





For the people of that flow

Are new, the old


New to age as the young

To youth


And to their dwelling

For which the tarred roofs


And the stoops and doors—

A world of stoops—

Are petty alibi and satirical wit

Will not serve.





The great stone

Above the river

In the pylon of the bridge




Frozen in the moonlight

In the frozen air over the footpath, consciousness


Which has nothing to gain, which awaits nothing,

Which loves itself





We are pressed, pressed on each other,

We will be told at once

Of anything that happens


And the discovery of fact bursts

In a paroxysm of emotion

Now as always.   Crusoe


We say was


So we have chosen.





Obsessed, bewildered


By the shipwreck

Of the singular


We have chosen the meaning

Of being numerous.





Amor fati

The love of fate


For which the city alone

Is audience


Perhaps blasphemous.


Slowly over islands, destinies

Moving steadily pass

And change


In the thin sky

Over islands


Among days


Having only the force

Of days


Most simple

Most difficult





‘Whether, as the intensity of seeing increases, one’s distance from Them, the people, does not also increase’

I know, of course I know, I can enter no other place


Yet I am one of those who from nothing but man’s way of thought and one of his dialects and what has happened to me

Have made poetry


To dream of that beach

For the sake of an instant in the eyes,


The absolute singular


The unearthly bonds

Of the singular


Which is the bright light of shipwreck





unable to begin

At the beginning, the fortunate

Find everything already here. They are shoppers,

Choosers, judges; . . . And here the brutal

is without issue, a dead end.

They develop

Argument in order to speak, they become

unreal, unreal, life loses

solidity, loses extent, baseball’s their game

because baseball is not a game

but an argument and difference of opinion

makes the horse races. They are ghosts that endanger


One’s soul. There is change

In an air

That smells stale, they will come to the end

Of an era

First of all peoples

And one may honorably keep


His distance

If he can.





I cannot even now

Altogether disengage myself

From those men


With whom I stood in emplacements, in mess tents,

In hospitals and sheds and hid in the gullies

Of blasted roads in a ruined country,


Among them many men

More capable than I—


Muykut and a sergeant

Named Healy,

That lieutenant also—


How forget that? How talk

Distantly of ‘The People’


Who are that force

Within the walls

Of cities


Wherein their cars


Echo like history

Down walled avenues

In which one cannot speak.





The roots of words

Dim in the subways


There is madness in the number

Of the living

‘A state of matter’


There is nobody here but us chickens




He wants to say

His life is real,

No one can say why


It is not easy to speak


A ferocious mumbling, in public

Of rootless speech


George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous (1-22)” from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1968 by George Oppen.  Source: New Collected Poems(New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2008)


Continue reading here: http://writing.upenn.edu/~taransky/of_being_numerous_1968_oppen.pdf



New Criticism

Name given to a style of criticism advocated by a group of academics writing in the first half of the 20th century. New Criticism, like Formalism, tended to consider texts as autonomous and “closed,” meaning that everything that is needed to understand a work is present within it. The reader does not need outside sources, such as the author’s biography, to fully understand a text; while New Critics did not completely discount the relevance of the author, background, or possible sources of the work, they did insist that those types of knowledge had very little bearing on the work’s merit as literature. Like Formalist critics, New Critics focused their attention on the variety and degree of certain literary devices, specifically metaphor,irony, tension, and paradox. The New Critics emphasized “close reading” as a way to engage with a text, and paid close attention to the interactions between form and meaning. Important New Critics included Allan Tate,Robert Penn WarrenJohn Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, William Empson, and F.R. Leavis. William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley coined the term “intentional fallacy”; other terms associated with New Criticism include “affective fallacy,” “heresy of paraphrase,” and “ambiguity.”



Black Mountain School

A group of progressive poets who, in the 1940s and 1950s, were associated with the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. These poets, including Charles OlsonRobert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, promoted a nontraditional poetics described by Olson in 1950 as “projective verse.” Olson advocated an improvisational, open-form approach to poetic composition, driven by the natural patterns of breath and utterance. Browse more Black Mountain poets.

Charles Olson



Charles Olson was an innovative poet and essayist whose work influenced numerous other writers during the 1950s and 1960s. In his influential essay on projective (or open) verse, Olson asserts that “a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.” Form is only an extension of content and “right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand. . . . I take it that PROJECTIVE VERSE teaches, is, this lesson, that that verse will only do in which a poet manages to register both the acquisitions of his ear and the pressures of his breath.” Olson goes by ear, and his lines are breath-conditioned. The two halves, he says, are: “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE.” He believes “it is from the union of the mind and the ear that the syllable is born. But the syllable is only the first child of the incest of verse. . . . The other child is the LINE. . . . And the line comes (I swear it) from the breath. . . .” Robert Creeley explains thus: “What he is trying to say is that the heart is a basic instance not only of rhythm, but it is the base of the measure of rhythms for all men in the way heartbeat is like the metronome in their whole system. So that when he says the heart by way of the breath to the line, he is trying to say that it is in the line that the basic rhythmic scoring takes place. . . . Now, the head, the intelligence by way of the ear to the syllable—which he calls also ‘the king and pin’—is the unit upon which all builds. The heart, then, stands, as the primary feeling term. The head, in contrast, is discriminating. It is discriminating by way of what it hears.” Olson believes that “in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!” So, all the conventions that “logic has forced on syntax must be broken open as quietly as must the too set feet of the old line.”


Olson thus rejected “academic” verse, with its closed forms and alleged artifice. The Times Literary Supplement notes that “culture, civilization, history (except history as personal exploration as in Herodotus) and, above all, sociology, are dirty words for him.” Olson said: “It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature. . . . If he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way. . . . This is not easy. Nature works from reverence, even in her destructions (species go down with a crash). But breath is man’s special qualification as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts. . . . I keep thinking, it comes to this: culture displacing the state.” M. L. Rosenthal comments: “The problem is to get back to sources of meaning anterior to those of our own state-ridden civilization and so to recover the sense of personality and of place that has been all but throttled.”

Robert Duncan, in his essay “Regarding Olson’s ‘Maximus,’” writes: “Olson insists upon the active. Homo maximus wrests his life from the underworld as the Gloucester fisherman wrests his from the sea.” Olson’s striding poetic syllables, says Duncan, are “no more difficult than walking.” Duncan traces Olson’s aesthetics to nineteenth-century American sources: “I point to Emerson or to Dewey,” writes Duncan, “to show that in American philosophy there are foreshadowings or forelightings of ‘Maximus.’ In this aesthetic, conception cannot be abstracted from doing; beauty is related to the beauty of a archer hitting the mark.” A Times Literary Supplement reviewer observes that Olson’s style is at times a “bouncy, get-in-with-it manner,” often involving the “juxtaposition of a very abstract statement with a practical, jocular illustration of what the statement might imply.” Wrote Olson: “It’s as though you were hearing for the first time—who knows what a poem ought to sound like? until it’s thar? And how do you get it thar ezcept as you do—you, and nobody else (who’s a poet?. . .)”


Anyone familiar with contemporary poetry would agree with Robert Creeley when he calls Olson “central to any description of literary ‘climate’ dated 1958.” Olson’s influence extends directly to Creeley, Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Paul Blackburn, and, as Stephen Stepanchev notes, Olson’s projective verse “has either influenced or coincided with other stirrings toward newness in American poetry.” He himself owed a great deal toEzra PoundWilliam Carlos Williams, and Edward Dahlberg. The scope of Olson’s work is “as broad as Pound’s,” writes Kenneth Rexroth. It is not simple poetry, much of it being fragmentary and experimental. But it has, says Rosenthal, “the power of hammering conviction—something like Lawrence’s but with more brutal insistence behind it. It is a dogmatic, irritable, passionate voice, of the sort that the modern world, to its sorrow very often, is forever seeking out; it is not a clear voice, but one troubled by its own confusions which it carries into the attack.”


Olson did not consider himself “a poet” or “a writer” by profession, but rather that nebulous and rare “archeologist of morning,” reminiscent of Thoreau. He wrote on a typewriter. “It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pause, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one act indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.”


Charles Olson’s influential manifesto, “Projective Verse,” was first published as a pamphlet, and then was quoted extensively in William Carlos Williams’ Autobiography (1951). The essay introduces his ideas of “composition by field” through projective or open verse, which is a continuation of the ideas of poets Ezra Pound, who asked poets to “compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome,” and William Carlos Williams, who proposed in 1948 that a poem be approached as a “field of action.” Olson’s projective verse focuses on “certain laws and possibilities of the breath, of the breathing of the man who writes as well as of his listenings.”


Composition by field opposes the traditional method of poetic composition based on received form and measure. Olson sees the challenge of the transference of poetic energy from source to poem to reader, and the way in which that energy shifts at each juncture, as particularly of concern to poets who engage in composition by field, because the poet is no longer relying on a received structure as a propulsive force.


Harnessing poet Robert Creeley’s assertion that “form is never more than an extension of content” and Edward Dahlberg’s belief that “one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception,” Olson argues that the breath should be a poet’s central concern, rather than rhyme, meter, and sense. To listen closely to the breath, Olson states, “is to engage speech where it is least careless—and least logical.” The syllable and the line are the two units led by, respectively, the ear and the breath:

“the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE”


Olson argues against a lazy reliance on simile and description, which can drain a poem of energy, and proposes that syntax be shaped by sound rather than sense, with nuances of breath and motion to be conveyed to the reader through typographical means.


I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You



Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood

jewels & miracles, I, Maximus

a metal hot from boiling water, tell you

what is a lance, who obeys the figures of

the present dance


the thing you’re after

may lie around the bend

of the nest (second, time slain, the bird! the bird!

And there! (strong) thrust, the mast! flight

(of the bird

o kylix, o

Antony of Padua

sweep low, o bless

the roofs, the old ones, the gentle steep ones

on whose ridge-poles the gulls sit, from which they depart,

And the flake-racks

of my city!



love is form, and cannot be without

important substance (the weight

say, 58 carats each one of us, perforce

our goldsmith’s scale

feather to feather added

(and what is mineral, what

is curling hair, the string

you carry in your nervous beak, these

make bulk, these, in the end, are

the sum

(o my lady of good voyage

in whose arm, whose left arm rests

no boy but a carefully carved wood, a painted face, a schooner!

a delicate mast, as bow-sprit for




the underpart is, though stemmed, uncertain

is, as sex is, as moneys are, facts!

facts, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand

that they be played by, that they only can be, that they must

be played by, said he, coldly, the


By ear, he sd.

But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last,

that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen

when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?

when even our bird, my roofs,

cannot be heard

when even you, when sound itself is neoned in?

when, on the hill, over the water

where she who used to sing,

when the water glowed,

black, gold, the tide

outward, at evening

when bells came like boats

over the oil-slicks, milkweed


And a man slumped,


against pink shingles

o sea city)



one loves only form,

and form only comes

into existence when

the thing is born

born of yourself, born

of hay and cotton struts,

of street-pickings, wharves, weeds

you carry in, my bird

of a bone of a fish

of a straw, or will

of a color, of a bell

of yourself, torn



love is not easy

but how shall you know,

New England, now

that pejorocracy is here, how

that street-cars, o Oregon, twitter

in the afternoon offend

a black-gold loin?

how shall you strike,

o swordsman, the blue-red black

when, last night, your aim

was mu-sick, mu-sick, mu-sick

And not the cribbage game?

(o Gloucester-man,


your birds and fingers

new, your roof-tops,

clean shit upon racks

sunned on



with others like you, such

extricable surface

as faun and oral,

satyr lesbos vase

o kill kill kill kill kill


who advertise you




in! in! the bow-sprit, bird, the beak

in, the bend is, in, goes in, the form

that which you make, what holds, which is

the law of object, strut after strut, what you are, what you must be, what

the force can throw up, can, right now hereinafter erect,

the mast, the mast, the tender


The nest, I say, to you, I Maximus, say

under the hand, as I see it, over the waters

from this place where I am, where I hear,

can still hear

from where I carry you a feather

as though, sharp, I picked up

in the afternoon delivered you

a jewel,

it flashing more than a wing,

than any old romantic thing,

than memory, than place,

than anything other than that which you carry

than that which is,

call it a nest, around the head of, call it

the next second

than that which you

can do!


Charles Olson, “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You” from The Maximus Poems, published by the University of California Press. Copyright © 1983 by Charles Olson. Source: The Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1987)



I Know a Man



As I sd to my

friend, because I am


always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his


name, the darkness sur-

rounds us, what


can we do against

it, or else, shall we &


why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for


christ’s sake, look

out where yr going.


Robert Creeley, “I Know a Man” from Selected Poems of Robert Creeley. Copyright © 1991 by the Regents of the University of California.

Source: Selected Poems (1991)



The Language



Locate I

love you some-


where in

teeth and


eyes, bite

it but


take care not

to hurt, you


want so

much so


little. Words

say everything.



love you



then what


is emptiness

for. To


fill, fill.

I heard words


and words full

of holes


aching. Speech

is a mouth.


Robert Creeley, “The Language” from The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Copyright © 1992 by the Regents of the University of California.

Source: The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975 (University of California Press, 2006)



The Midnite Show



Red-Wigglers, Night-Crawlers

& Other Worms

look out

into the crapulous moonlight:

figures of women cascading through the Sunday night;

no beer in sight.

I remember the Night-blooming

Cereus by Dr. Thornton, Engraver, Blake’s

patron, it

hangs in the hall outside the bedroom

swaying hungrily like these

giant white goddesses of the dark grotto…

there are touring cars

and men with large guns

singing through the woods

behind us.


Jonathan Williams, “The Midnite Show” from Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Williams.

Source: Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)


Beat poets

A national group of poets who emerged from San Francisco’s literary counterculture in the 1950s. Its ranks included Allen Ginsberg,Lawrence FerlinghettiGregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, and Gary Snyder. Poet and essayist Kenneth Rexroth influenced the development of the “Beat” aesthetic, which rejected academic formalism and the materialism and conformity of the American middle class. Beat poetry is largely free verse, often surrealistic, and influenced by the cadences of jazz, as well by Zen and Native American spirituality. Browse more Beat poets.


The Window



you are my bread

and the hairline


of my bones

you are almost

the sea

you are not stone

or molten sound

I think

you have no hands

this kind of bird flies backward

and this love

breaks on a windowpane

where no light talks

this is not time

for crossing tongues

(the sand here

never shifts)

I think


turned you with his toe

and you will


and shine

unspent and underground


Diane di Prima, “The Window” from Pieces of a Song. Copyright © 1990 by Diane di Prima. Source: Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems (City Lights Books, 1990)




Sunflower Sutra



I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.

The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—

—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!

The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,

all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these

entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!

And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!

So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,

and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,

—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.


Berkeley, 1955


Allen Ginsberg, “Sunflower Sutra” from Collected Poems, 1947-1980. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg. Source: Selected Poems 1947-1995(2001)


San Francisco Renaissance

Not a single movement, but a constellation of writers and artists active in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of World War II. Poets associated with the San Francisco Renaissance include Kenneth RexrothRobert DuncanRobin BlaserJack Spicer, and Michael McClure. Though the poets wrote in different styles and often espoused different aesthetic and political views, all favored the Modernist tradition of innovation, and many were influenced by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain School. Donald Allen’s influential anthology The New American Poets included a section devoted to the “San Francisco Renaissance,” and many claim that by labeling the group, Allen in some way invented it. However, the poets writing in San Francisco at that time were active and influential across many genres, and often read and collaborated with one another.


(Jack Spicer was in our opening week packet)

My Mother Would Be a Falconress



My mother would be a falconress,

And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,

would fly to bring back

from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,

where I dream in my little hood with many bells

jangling when I’d turn my head.


My mother would be a falconress,

and she sends me as far as her will goes.

She lets me ride to the end of her curb

where I fall back in anguish.

I dread that she will cast me away,

for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.


She would bring down the little birds.

And I would bring down the little birds.

When will she let me bring down the little birds,

pierced from their flight with their necks broken,

their heads like flowers limp from the stem?


I tread my mother’s wrist and would draw blood.

Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.

I have gone back into my hooded silence,

talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.


For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me,

sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.

She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist.

She uses a barb that brings me to cower.

She sends me abroad to try my wings

and I come back to her. I would bring down

the little birds to her

I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.


I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood,

and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying.

She draws a limit to my flight.

Never beyond my sight, she says.

She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.

She rewards me with meat for my dinner.

But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.


Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me,

always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,

at her wrist, and her riding

to the great falcon hunt, and me

flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart

to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet,

straining, and then released for the flight.


My mother would be a falconress,

and I her gerfalcon raised at her will,

from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own

pride, as if her pride

knew no limits, as if her mind

sought in me flight beyond the horizon.


Ah, but high, high in the air I flew.

And far, far beyond the curb of her will,

were the blue hills where the falcons nest.

And then I saw west to the dying sun–

it seemd my human soul went down in flames.


I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,

until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,

far, far beyond the curb of her will


to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where the falcons nest

I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.

I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,

sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,

striking out from the blood to be free of her.


My mother would be a falconress,

and even now, years after this,

when the wounds I left her had surely heald,

and the woman is dead,

her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart

were broken, it is stilld


I would be a falcon and go free.

I tread her wrist and wear the hood,

talking to myself, and would draw blood.


Robert Duncan, “My Mother Would Be a Falconress” from Bending the Bow. Copyright © 1968 by Robert Duncan.  Source: Bending the Bow (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1968)


Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow



as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,

that is not mine, but is a made place,


that is mine, it is so near to the heart,

an eternal pasture folded in all thought

so that there is a hall therein


that is a made place, created by light

wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.


Wherefrom fall all architectures I am

I say are likenesses of the First Beloved

whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.


She it is Queen Under The Hill

whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words

that is a field folded.


It is only a dream of the grass blowing

east against the source of the sun

in an hour before the sun’s going down


whose secret we see in a children’s game

of ring a round of roses told.


Often I am permitted to return to a meadow

as if it were a given property of the mind

that certain bounds hold against chaos,


that is a place of first permission,

everlasting omen of what is.


Robert Duncan, “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” from The Opening of the Field. Copyright © 1960 by Robert Duncan. Source: Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)



An acronym for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Literature), a group of writers and mathematicians formed in France in 1960 by poet Raymond Queneau and mathematician François Le Lionnais. Unlike the Dada and surrealist movements, OuLiPo rejects spontaneous chance and the subconscious as sources of literary creativity. Instead, the group emphasizes systematic, self-restricting means of making texts. For example, the technique known as n + 7 replaces every noun in an existing text with the noun that follows seven entries after it in the dictionary. Notable members of this group include the novelists George Perec and Italo Calvino, poet Oskar Pastior, and poet/mathematician Jacques Roubaud.


Christian Bök’s Eunoia, which we looked at the first day of workshop, is definitely a rigorous OuLiPo poem.  You can find the whole poem here:





Confessional poetry


Vividly self-revelatory verse associated with a number of American poets writing in the 1950s and 1960s, including Robert LowellW.D. SnodgrassSylvia PlathAnne Sexton, and John Berryman. The term was first used by M.L. Rosenthal in a 1959 review of Life Studies, the collection in which Robert Lowell revealed his struggles with mental illness and a troubled marriage. Read an interview with Snodgrass in which he addresses his work and the work of others associated with confessionalism. Browse more poets who wrote confessional poems.



The Operation




After the sweet promise,

the summer’s mild retreat

from mother’s cancer, the winter months of her death,

I come to this white office, its sterile sheet,

its hard tablet, its stirrups, to hold my breath

while I, who must, allow the glove its oily rape,

to hear the almost mighty doctor over me equate

my ills with hers

and decide to operate.


It grew in her

as simply as a child would grow,

as simply as she housed me once, fat and female.

Always my most gentle house before that embryo

of evil spread in her shelter and she grew frail.

Frail, we say, remembering fear, that face we wear

in the room of the special smells of dying, fear

where the snoring mouth gapes

and is not dear.


There was snow everywhere.

Each day I grueled through

its sloppy peak, its blue-struck days, my boots

slapping into the hospital halls, past the retinue

of nurses at the desk, to murmur in cahoots

with hers outside her door, to enter with the outside

air stuck on my skin, to enter smelling her pride,

her upkeep, and to lie

as all who love have lied.


No reason to be afraid,

my almost mighty doctor reasons.

I nod, thinking that woman’s dying

must come in seasons,

thinking that living is worth buying.

I walk out, scuffing a raw leaf,

kicking the clumps of dead straw

that were this summer’s lawn.

Automatically I get in my car,

knowing the historic thief

is loose in my house

and must be set upon.



Clean of the body’s hair,

I lie smooth from breast to leg.

All that was special, all that was rare

is common here. Fact: death too is in the egg.

Fact: the body is dumb, the body is meat.

And tomorrow the O.R. Only the summer was sweet.


The rooms down the hall are calling

all night long, while the night outside

sucks at the trees. I hear limbs falling

and see yellow eyes flick in the rain. Wide eyed

and still whole I turn in my bin like a shorn lamb.

A nurse’s flashlight blinds me to see who I am.


The walls color in a wash

of daylight until the room takes its objects

into itself again. I smoke furtively and squash

the butt and hide it with my watch and other effects.

The halls bustle with legs. I smile at the nurse

who smiles for the morning shift. Day is worse.


Scheduled late, I cannot drink

or eat, except for yellow pills

and a jigger of water. I wait and think

until she brings two mysterious needles: the skills

she knows she knows, promising, soon you’ll be out.

But nothing is sure. No one. I wait in doubt.


I wait like a kennel of dogs

jumping against their fence. At ten

she returns, laughs and catalogues

my resistance to drugs. On the stretcher, citizen

and boss of my own body still, I glide down the halls

and rise in the iron cage toward science and pitfalls.


The great green people stand

over me; I roll on the table

under a terrible sun, following their command

to curl, head touching knee if I am able.

Next, I am hung up like a saddle and they begin.

Pale as an angel I float out over my own skin.


I soar in hostile air

over the pure women in labor,

over the crowning heads of babies being born.

I plunge down the backstair

calling mother at the dying door,

to rush back to my own skin, tied where it was torn.

Its nerves pull like wires

snapping from the leg to the rib.

Strangers, their faces rolling lilke hoops, require

my arm. I am lifted into my aluminum crib.



Skull flat, here in my harness,

thick with shock, I call mother

to help myself, call toe to frog,

that woolly bat, that tongue of dog;

call God help and all the rest.

The soul that swam the furious water

sinks now in flies and the brain

flops like a docked fish and the eyes

are flat boat decks riding out the pain.


My nurses, those starchy ghosts,

hover over me for my lame hours

and my lame days. The mechanics

of the body pump for their tricks.

I rest on their needles, am dosed

and snoring amid the orange flowers

and the eyes of visitors. I wear,

like some senile woman, a scarlet

candy package ribbon in my hair.


Four days from home I lurk on my

mechanical parapet with two pillows

at my elbows, as soft as praying cushions.

My knees work with the bed that runs

on power. I grumble to forget the lie

I ought to hear, but don’t. God knows

I thought I’d die—but here I am,

recalling mother, the sound of her

good morning, the odor of orange and jam.


All’s well, they say. They say I’m better.

I lounge in frills or, picturesque,

I wear bunny pink slippers in the hall.

I read a new book and shuffle past the desk

to mail the author my first fan letter.

Time now to pack this humpty-dumpty

back the frightened way she came

and run along, Anne, and run along now,

my stomach laced like a football

for the game.


Anne Sexton, “The Operation” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr.  Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin, 1981)






You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.


Daddy, I have had to kill you.

You died before I had time——

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Frisco seal


And a head in the freakish Atlantic

Where it pours bean green over blue

In the waters off beautiful Nauset.

I used to pray to recover you.

Ach, du.


In the German tongue, in the Polish town

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

But the name of the town is common.

My Polack friend


Says there are a dozen or two.

So I never could tell where you

Put your foot, your root,

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.


It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.

And the language obscene


An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.

I began to talk like a Jew.

I think I may well be a Jew.


The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna

Are not very pure or true.

With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,


With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.

And your neat mustache

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——

Not God but a swastika


So black no sky could squeak through.

Every woman adores a Fascist,

The boot in the face, the brute

Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,


In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

But no less a devil for that, no not

Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.


I was ten when they buried you.

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you.

I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,

And they stuck me together with glue.


And then I knew what to do.

I made a model of you,

A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.

And I said I do, I do.


So daddy, I’m finally through.

The black telephone’s off at the root,

The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——

The vampire who said he was you


And drank my blood for a year,

Seven years, if you want to know.

Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart

And the villagers never liked you.


They are dancing and stamping on you.

They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.


Sylvia Plath, “Daddy” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)


Lady Lazarus



I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it——


A sort of walking miracle, my skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,

My right foot


A paperweight,

My face a featureless, fine

Jew linen.


Peel off the napkin

O my enemy.

Do I terrify?——


The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.


Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be

At home on me


And I a smiling woman.

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.


This is Number Three.

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.


What a million filaments.

The peanut-crunching crowd

Shoves in to see


Them unwrap me hand and foot——

The big strip tease.

Gentlemen, ladies


These are my hands

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,


Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.


The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.

I rocked shut


As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.



Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.


I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.


It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical


Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout:


‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.

There is a charge


For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart——

It really goes.


And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or a touch

Or a bit of blood


Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

So, so, Herr Doktor.

So, Herr Enemy.


I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby


That melts to a shriek.

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.


Ash, ash—

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——


A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.


Herr God, Herr Lucifer




Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.


Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)



Skunk Hour



(For Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island’s hermit

heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;

her sheep still graze above the sea.

Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer

is first selectman in our village;

she’s in her dotage.


Thirsting for

the hierarchic privacy

of Queen Victoria’s century,

she buys up all

the eyesores facing her shore,

and lets them fall.


The season’s ill—

we’ve lost our summer millionaire,

who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean

catalogue. His nine-knot yawl

was auctioned off to lobstermen.

A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.


And now our fairy

decorator brightens his shop for fall;

his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,

orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;

there is no money in his work,

he’d rather marry.


One dark night,

my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;

I watched for love-cars . Lights turned down,

they lay together, hull to hull,

where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .

My mind’s not right.


A car radio bleats,

“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear

my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,

as if my hand were at its throat. . . .

I myself am hell;

nobody’s here—


only skunks, that search

in the moonlight for a bite to eat.

They march on their soles up Main Street:

white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire

under the chalk-dry and spar spire

of the Trinitarian Church.


I stand on top

of our back steps and breathe the rich air—

a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail

She jabs her wedge-head in a cup

of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,

and will not scare.


Robert Lowell, “Skunk Hour” from Life Studies. Copyright © 1956, 1959 by Robert Lowell, renewed © 1987 by Harriet W. Lowell, Sheridan Lowell, and Caroline Lowell. Source: Life Studies (1987)



Confessional Poetry could be thought to have its descendant (though confessional poetry still continues to be written!) in Elliptical poetry, see below — which more mimics or enacts the mind in thought. Both are forms of Lyric Poetry.


New American Poets

The group of poets included in Donald Allen’s influential 1960 anthology of the same name. Allen’s anthology, which collected 15 years of American writing, divided its contributors into groups: the New York School (John AshberyBarbara GuestFrank O’Hara), the Black Mountain School (Charles OlsonRobert CreeleyDenise Levertov), the San Francisco Renaissance (Robert DuncanRobin BlaserJack Spicer), and the Beats (Allen GinsbergGary SnyderGregory Corso). Allen alleged that he was collecting the “third generation” of writers in the Modernist tradition, and his book is notable for presenting so many poets now recognized as leading figures of 20th-century poetry. The anthology’s impact was immediate, and it continues to be recognized as both a cultural document and a collection of the finest avant-garde writing of the period.





All others talked as if

talk were a dance.

Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet

would break the gliding ring.

Early I learned to

hunch myself

close by the door:

then when the talk began

I’d wipe my

mouth and wend

unnoticed back to the barn

to be with the warm beasts,

dumb among body sounds

of the simple ones.

I’d see by a twist

of lit rush the motes

of gold moving

from shadow to shadow

slow in the wake

of deep untroubled sighs.

The cows

munched or stirred or were still. I

was at home and lonely,

both in good measure. Until

the sudden angel affrighted me—light effacing

my feeble beam,

a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:

but the cows as before

were calm, and nothing was burning,

nothing but I, as that hand of fire

touched my lips and scorched my tongue

and pulled my voice

into the ring of the dance.


Denise Levertov, “Caedmon” from Breathing the Water. Copyright © 1987 by Denise Levertov. Source: Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)




What My House Would Be Like If It Were A Person


This person would be an animal.

This animal would be large, at least as large

as a workhorse. It would chew cud, like cows,

having several stomachs.

No one could follow it

into the dense brush to witness

its mating habits. Hidden by fur,

its sex would be hard to determine.

Definitely it would discourage

investigation. But it would be, if not teased,

a kind, amiable animal,

confiding as a chickadee. Its intelligence

would be of a high order,

neither human nor animal, elvish.

And it would purr, though of course,

it being a house, you would sit in its lap,

not it in yours.


Denise Levertov, “What My House Would Be Like If It Were A Person” from Poems 1972-1982. Copyright © 1978 by Denise Levertov. Source: Poems 1972-1982 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)


New York School

A group of poets aligned with the New York School of painting in the 1950s and ’60s. A diverse group of writers, the main figures of the New York School are Frank O’HaraJohn AshberyJames SchulyerKenneth Koch, and Barbara Guest. Influenced by relationships and collaborations with painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, and Larry Rivers, the New York School poets are known for their urbane wit, interest in visual art, and casual address. A second generation of New York School poets grew up in the 1960s and included Ted BerriganAlice NotleyRon Padgett, and Anne Waldman. Browse more New York School poets.


Frank O’Hara


Frank O’Hara was a dynamic leader of the “New York School” of poets, a group that included John Ashbery,Barbara GuestKenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. The Abstract Expressionist painters in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s used the title, but the poets borrowed it. From the beginning O’Hara’s poetry was engaged with the worlds of music, dance, and painting. In that complex of associations he devised an idea of poetic form that allowed the inclusion of many kinds of events, including everyday conversations and notes about New York advertising signs. Since his death in 1966 at age forty, the depth and richness of his achievements as a poet and art critic have been recognized by an international audience. As the painter Alex Katz remarked, “Frank’s business was being an active intellectual.” He was that. His articulate intelligence made new proposals for poetic form possible in American poetry.


After service aboard the destroyer USS Nicholas in the South Pacific during World War II, he entered Harvard (Edward Gorey was his roommate), first majoring in music but changing to English and deciding to be a writer. His first published work was some poems and stories in the Harvard Advocate. While living in Cambridge, O’Hara met poets Ashbery, who was on the editorial board of the Advocate, and V. R. “Bunny” Lang. In 1956 O’Hara was one of the original founders of the Poets Theater in Cambridge. On occasional visits to New York, he met Koch and Schuyler, as well as the painters who were likewise to be so much a part of his life, notably Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Michael Goldberg, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock. He was the first of the young New York Poets to write regular art criticism, serving as editorial associate for Art News, contributing reviews and occasional articles from 1953 to 1955. He had a long association with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, beginning as a clerk at the information and sales desk in the front lobby, later becoming an assistant curator at the museum and an associate curator of painting and sculpture in 1965, despite his lack of formal training. He was an assistant for the important exhibition, “The New American Painting,” which toured eight European cities in 1958-1959. This exhibition introduced the painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement to European audiences. The title of the exhibition was changed when Donald Allen used it as the title of his anthology The New American Poetry. While employed by the Museum of Modern Art, O’Hara was the curator or cocurator of nineteen exhibitions. He was an active and articulate spokesman for the new painting inside the major collecting museum in New York. He performed his administrative and curatorial duties surrounded by ceaseless conversation about art, poetry, music, and dance.


O’Hara’s work was first brought to the attention of the wider public, like that of so many others of his generation, by Allen’s timely and historic anthology, The New American Poetry (1960). It was not until O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was published in 1965 that his reputation gained ground and not until after his sudden death that his recognition increased. Now his reputation is secure as an important and even popular poet in the great upsurge of American poetry following World War II. His influence on the next generation of poets—including Bill Berkson, Alice Notley, and Ted Berrigan—was immense. He did not cultivate academic alliances or solicit editors and publishers. Painter John Button remarks: “When asked by a publisher-friend for a book, Frank might have trouble even finding the poems stuffed into kitchen drawers or packed in boxes that had not been unpacked since his last move. Frank’s fame came to him unlooked-for.” His recognition came in part because of his early death, the somewhat absurd and meaningless occasion of that death (he was run down by a beach taxi on Fire Island), the prominence and loyalty of his friends, the renown of his own personality, and above all, the exuberant writings themselves. His casual attitude toward his poetic career is reminiscent of the casual composition of many of the poems themselves. One of his poems, “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!),” for example, was written on the Staten Island Ferry en route to a poetry reading, and his most important statement of poetics, “Personism,” was written in less than an hour while Allen, who requested it, was on his way across town to pick it up. Koch touches upon this particular quality of O’Hara’s genius—his naturalness: “Something Frank had that none of the other artists and writers I know had to the same degree was a way of feeling and acting as though being an artist were the most natural thing in the world. Compared to him everyone else seemed a little self-conscious, abashed, or megalomaniacal.” When this quality entered his verse, his work was formally inventive and most compelling.


During his lifetime O’Hara was known as “a poet among painters,” part of a group of such poets who seemed to find their inspiration and support from the painters they chose to associate with, writing more art reviews and commentary than literary opinion. O’Hara published only two book reviews: one of poetry collections by friends Chester Kallman, Ashbery, and Edwin Denby; the other of John Rechy’s City of Night, 1963. His own art criticism, the major portion of which has been collected as Art Chronicles 1954-1966 (1975), helped to encourage the painters he liked best and maintain the public awareness of them, although in itself it is nowhere as brilliant as, for example, Rainer Maria Rilke‘s writings on Auguste Rodin or Charles Baudelaire’s on the Salon of 1846. Professional critics found O’Hara’s criticism too subjective and lacking in the disciplines of critical analysis. Hilton Kramer was particularly critical of O’Hara’s book Jackson Pollock (1959), claiming that the excessive praise and poetic writing spoiled the discussion of the paintings. O’Hara’s poetry itself is most painterly, making the best judgment of painting while participating in the actual techniques of abstract art.


O’Hara’s poetry, as it developed, joined the post-Symbolist French tradition with the American idiom to produce some of the liveliest and most personable poetry written in the 1950s and early 1960s. O’Hara incorporated Surrealistic and Dadaistic techniques within a colloquial speech and the flexible syntax of an engaging and democratic postmodernism. His special subject was the encounter of the active sensibility with the world about it through extravagant fantasy, a ready wit, and a detailed realism of feelings. The result, a unique blend of elements, has earned him a memorable place in American poetry. He hastened the development of an art form hitherto little practiced in English (The Waste Land [1922], for example, is seldom designated as authored by both Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot) that was to become popular in the later 1960s and 1970s among younger poets—the collaboration: O’Hara wrote poems with Ashbery, Koch, and Berkson; created “translations” from the French; produced a series of lithographs with Rivers, collages with Goldberg, comic strips with Joe Brainard, “Dialogues for Two Voices and Two Pianos” with composer Ned Rorem, and a movie with painter Alfred Leslie. He was the subject of portraits by many of his artist friends—an indication not only of his association with painters but also of the esteem in which the artists held him. His early death only contributed to his legend and kept alive his memory until the publication of his collected writings confirmed for many what a few, mostly his friends and fellow poets, already knew—that he was an immensely gifted poet.


most persistent interest was the image, in all its suddenness, juxtaposed with an equally unlikely image, following techniques not of Imagism but those perfected by the French Surrealists. This period of experimentation and learning (although the imitations and parodies continued) advanced into an interest in post-Symbolist French poetry, especially that of Guillaume Apollinaire and later Pierre Reverdy, along with the big-voiced, roaring surrealism of Vladimir Mayakovski. At the same time O’Hara’s innate Americanness was encouraged by writers such as William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore, together with the colloquial W. H. Auden, whom he felt to be an “American” poet in “his use of the vernacular.”


O’Hara was alert to all developments in his chosen art. Between 1952 and 1958 he either attended or participated in discussions of the new poetry and the new painting at the Abstract-Expressionist meeting place in New York called The Club. His essay,”Nature and New Painting,” indicating a surprisingly early familiarity with Charles Olson‘s “Projective Verse” essay (1950) before it became widely known later in the decade, was the subject of three panel discussions in January and February of 1955.”


Among the poems of this early period, “Oranges” stands out. A series of twelve prose poems (originally nineteen) written while he was home from Harvard during the summer of 1949, they are less the “pastorals” of their subtitle than a decidedly anti-Arcadian surrealistic parody beginning: “Black crows in the burnt mauve grass, as intimate as rotting rice, snot on a white linen field.” About twenty copies of the poems, with a painting by Hartigan on the cover, were later published on the occasion of an exhibit of Hartigan’s Oranges paintings. As Terence Diggory has demonstrated, Hartigan did twelve paintings for twelve O’Hara poems in the fall of 1952, and by so doing redefined her relationship to Abstract Expressionism and proposed a mode of “collaboration as a dialogue of multiple selves” between poets and painters that influenced poets and painters alike. The poems themselves do not even mention the word of the title, a cleverness the poet was well aware of.


O’Hara gives an account of the series in his more justly famous “Why I Am Not a Painter,” written in 1956:”


One day I am thinking of

a color: orange. I write a line

about orange. Pretty soon it is a

whole page of words, not lines.

Then another page. There should be

so much more, not of orange, of

words, of how terrible orange is

and life. Days go by. It is even in

prose, I am a real poet. My poem

is finished and I haven’t mentioned

orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call

it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery

I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.


When the Surrealists left Europe for America just before and during World War II, they injected Surrealism into American poetry and painting. O’Hara’s poem of 1953 is the leading example of an attempt to install the European model in contemporary writing, but as Koch writes in his review of The Collected Poems in the New Republic: “For all their use of chance and unconsciousness, Frank O’Hara’s poems are unlike Surrealist poetry in that they do not programmatically favor these forces (along with dreams and violence) over the intellectual and conscious. He must have felt the beauty and power of unconscious phenomena in surrealist poems, but what he does is to use this power and beauty to ennoble, complicate, and simplify waking actions.” The poem might be said to be, in light of the manner of composition and success of the later poems, overworked, trying too hard to assert the mode of composition. One need only compare the “Poem” beginning “Now the violets are all gone, the rhinoceroses, the cymbals”–the same catalogue of disparate objects–to see how, when the personality takes over, a true, more shareable lyricism flowers. Perloff wisely points out that when the two strands are merged–the surrealistic, with its endless variety and high-spirited inventiveness, and the personal, the spoken American, the colloquial narrative with its charming persona–O’Hara attains his triumph.”


The lyrical/narrative “I,” the “I” with verve and personality, the distinctive O’Hara persona, the “I” of what he himself called his “I do this I do that” poems, makes its appearance as early as “Music,” written in 1954. There too the persona is set upon a representational landscape of midtown Manhattan, where landmarks are called by name, as they exist in public reality (the Equestrian statue, the Mayflower Donut Shoppe, Bergdorf Goodman’s, Park Avenue itself). Just how personal and lyrical this “I” is can be seen in “To the Harbormaster,” a love poem written for Rivers that sustains the metaphor of a ship. Other poems from this period concern images of a different order, including movie stars such as James Dean, both a symbol and a victim of popular culture, to whom no less than four poems are dedicated. There is also the mock-heroic “To the Film Industry in Crisis,” addressed “to you, / glorious Silver Screen, tragic Technicolor, amorous Cinemascope, / stretching Vistavision and startling Stereophonic Sound, with all / your heavenly dimensions and rever berations and iconoclasms!” The mock epic continues later with the equally amusing “Ave Maria,” beginning: “Mothers of America / let your kids go to the movies!”


The poet is immersed in his mode, his monde. The perceptions and information follow along with the acts of seeing and thinking. The same is true of his poem of determined optimism dedicated to painter Mitchell (“Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s”), where happiness is “the least and best of human attainments,” or the cohesiveness of “Platinum, Watching TV, Etc.,” preserved in Poems Retrieved (1977), or the equally expansive poem to another painter friend titled “John Button Birthday.” These are all poems written when O’Hara was most at home in his world and at the full strength of his style. They are followed by a series of Odes (1960) and continue into his most productive years, 1959 and 1960. When he wrote them, it was another dawning in American poetry and he one of the chief instigators, as he knew himself in his “Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s,” when he wrote: “tonight I feel energetic because I’m sort of the bugle, / like waking people up. . . .”


The year 1959 was probably O’Hara’s best, when one of his most famous poems, “The Day Lady Died,” was written. Like Joel Oppenheimer‘s “Billie’s Blues,” this poem is a tribute to the jazz singer Billie Holiday. Told in terms of the unconnected events of normal living, with nothing revealed ahead of time, the powerful realization of an ending is suspended until events mount up and force the realization of great loss. The poem demonstrates the process of the poet finding in the non-causal relationships of events that a singular coherence precipitates strong emotions. It begins with a (possibly) feigned and protracted preoccupation with cultural paraphernalia and distractions of the quotidian but moves with suddenness to testify to the sanctity of human life and talent, and the eternality of art that is literally, mimetically, breathtaking. It moves through a series of choices until there are none, until the poet arrives face to face with the unchosen, the uninvited but inevitable, irreversible wonder of loss.

Death silences the trivia. The last line merges object into subject (at precisely “everyone”) in the flux of events in the continuous postmodernist universe. Writing in the simultaneous present, the poet seeks control over both time and timing–the arrival (or denial) of images, the coming (or postponing) of a conclusion, but the conclusion of the value of life and art comes because of the mounting of a series of transactions in the daily enterprise.

The series of love poems to dancer Vincent Warren–including “Les Luths,” “Poem (Light clarity avocado salad),” “Having a Coke With You,” and “Steps”–are all affirmative, delicate, precise, poems of frontal immediacy, heartfelt, with feeling no longer hidden behind a bravado of brilliant images and discordant segments. O’Hara moves out of the modernist mode of dada, surrealism, and cubism and into the postmodern advantage: a variety of techniques, which actually incorporate the salient gains of modernism while losing nothing of the flexibility and possibility of openness, the “going on your nerve” of “Personism.” At its worst or most excessive, his style lapses into giddiness, or what Stuart Byron calls “Queertalk.” While surely not limited to sexual ambiguity, the language of the poems is ripe with in-talk of the 1960s; these qualities are indeed dominant in O’Hara’s poems from the start. They also happen to be the reason for their great success.”


O’Hara is a poet of the city who concentrates on enacting the processes of the mind as it contacts reality. Perceiving reality and attempting to remodel it in poetic form, he is perceiving and thinking spatially in blocks of information, both personal and referential, as a way to demonstrate that the acts of poetry are fully engaged in the activities of loving people, interacting with historical as well as contemporary events.

— George F. Butterick, University of Connecticut
— Robert J. Bertholf, State University of New York at Buffalo


Ave Maria



Mothers of America

let your kids go to the movies!

get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to

it’s true that fresh air is good for the body

but what about the soul

that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images

and when you grow old as grow old you must

they won’t hate you

they won’t criticize you they won’t know

they’ll be in some glamorous country

they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you

for their first sexual experience

which only cost you a quarter

and didn’t upset the peaceful home

they will know where candy bars come from

and gratuitous bags of popcorn

as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over

with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg

near the Williamsburg Bridge

oh mothers you will have made the little tykes

so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies

they won’t know the difference

and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy

and they’ll have been truly entertained either way

instead of hanging around the yard

or up in their room

hating you

prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet

except keeping them from the darker joys

it’s unforgivable the latter

so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice

and the family breaks up

and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set


movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young


Frank O’Hara, “Ave Maria” from Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara. Source: The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1995)



The Day Lady Died


It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets

in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing


Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died” from Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara. Source: The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1995)


Poem [“Lana Turner has collapsed!”]



Lana Turner has collapsed!

I was trotting along and suddenly

it started raining and snowing

and you said it was hailing

but hailing hits you on the head

hard so it was really snowing and

raining and I was in such a hurry

to meet you but the traffic

was acting exactly like the sky

and suddenly I see a headline

lana turner has collapsed!

there is no snow in Hollywood

there is no rain in California

I have been to lots of parties

and acted perfectly disgraceful

but I never actually collapsed

oh Lana Turner we love you get up


Frank O’Hara, “Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]” from Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara.  Source: Lunch Poems (City Lights Books, 2014)


A Step Away from Them



It’s my lunch hour, so I go

for a walk among the hum-colored

cabs. First, down the sidewalk

where laborers feed their dirty

glistening torsos sandwiches

and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets

  1. They protect them from falling

bricks, I guess. Then onto the

avenue where skirts are flipping

above heels and blow up over

grates. The sun is hot, but the

cabs stir up the air. I look

at bargains in wristwatches. There

are cats playing in sawdust.


to Times Square, where the sign

blows smoke over my head, and higher

the waterfall pours lightly. A

Negro stands in a doorway with a

toothpick, languorously agitating.

A blonde chorus girl clicks: he

smiles and rubs his chin. Everything

suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of

a Thursday.

Neon in daylight is a

great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would

write, as are light bulbs in daylight.

I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S

CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of

Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.

And chocolate malted. A lady in

foxes on such a day puts her poodle

in a cab.

There are several Puerto

Ricans on the avenue today, which

makes it beautiful and warm. First

Bunny died, then John Latouche,

then Jackson Pollock. But is the

earth as full as life was full, of them?

And one has eaten and one walks,

past the magazines with nudes

and the posters for BULLFIGHT and

the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,

which they’ll soon tear down. I

used to think they had the Armory

Show there.

A glass of papaya juice

and back to work. My heart is in my

pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.


Frank O’Hara, “A Step Away from Them” from Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara.



Meditations in an Emergency




Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?

Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else for a change?

I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.

Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too, don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.

However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.

My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time; they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away. Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them still. If only I had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I would stay at home and do something. It’s not that I am curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it’s my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can spare myself little sleep.

Now there is only one man I love to kiss when he is unshaven. Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How discourage her?)

St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How am I to become a legend, my dear? I’ve tried love, but that hides you in the bosom of another and I am always springing forth from it like the lotus—the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, “to keep the filth of life away,” yes, there, even in the heart, where the filth is pumped in and courses and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in that department, that greenhouse.

Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!

It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.

“Fanny Brown is run away—scampered off with a Cornet of Horse; I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho’ She has vexed me by this Exploit a little too. —Poor silly Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her. —I wish She had a good Whipping and 10,000 pounds.” —Mrs. Thrale.

I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I’ll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley; you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.


Frank O’Hara, “Meditations in an Emergency” from Meditations in an Emergency. Copyright © 1957 by Frank O’Hara. Source: The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1995)






515 Madison Avenue

door to heaven? portal

stopped realities and eternal licentiousness

or at least the jungle of impossible eagerness

your marble is bronze and your lianas elevator cables

swinging from the myth of ascending

I would join

or declining the challenge of racial attractions

they zing on (into the lynch, dear friends)

while everywhere love is breathing draftily

like a doorway linking 53rd with 54th

the east-bound with the west-bound traffic by 8,000,000s

o midtown tunnels and the tunnels, too, of Holland

where is the summit where all aims are clear

the pin-point light upon a fear of lust

as agony’s needlework grows up around the unicorn

and fences him for milk- and yoghurt-work

when I see Gianni I know he’s thinking of John Ericson

playing the Rachmaninoff 2nd or Elizabeth Taylor

taking sleeping-pills and Jane thinks of Manderley

and Irkutsk while I cough lightly in the smog of desire

and my eyes water achingly imitating the true blue

a sight of Manahatta in the towering needle

multi-faceted insight of the fly in the stringless labyrinth

Canada plans a higher place than the Empire State Building

I am getting into a cab at 9th Street and 1st Avenue

and the Negro driver tells me about a $120 apartment

“where you can’t walk across the floor after 10 at night

not even to pee, cause it keeps them awake downstairs”

no, I don’t like that “well, I didn’t take it”

perfect in the hot humid morning on my way to work

a little supper-club conversation for the mill of the gods

you were there always and you know all about these things

as indifferent as an encyclopedia with your calm brown eyes

it isn’t enough to smile when you run the gauntlet

you’ve got to spit like Niagara Falls on everybody or

Victoria Falls or at least the beautiful urban fountains of Madrid

as the Niger joins the Gulf of Guinea near the Menemsha Bar

that is what you learn in the early morning passing Madison Avenue

where you’ve never spent any time and stores eat up light

I have always wanted to be near it

though the day is long (and I don’t mean Madison Avenue)

lying in a hammock on St. Mark’s Place sorting my poems

in the rancid nourishment of this mountainous island

they are coming and we holy ones must go

is Tibet historically a part of China? as I historically

belong to the enormous bliss of American death


Frank O’Hara, “Rhapsody” from Lunch Poems. Copyright © 1964 by Frank O’Hara. Source: The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1995)



Barbara Guest


by Judy Dater


Barbara Guest rose to prominence in the late 1950s as a member of an informal group of writers known as the New York school of poets whose membership included Frank O’HaraJohn Ashbery, andJames Schuyler. Their innovative approach to poetry was influenced by modern art, especially surrealism and abstract expressionism. Guest drew on her own background in art (she worked for Art Newsmagazine in the 1950s) to create poetry which Tyrus Miller in Contemporary Poets described as a tension-filled balance between “a lyric, or purely musical, impulse; and a graphic or painterly impulse.” Guest eventually moved away from these early influences; her recent works are more in line with the language poets, whose primary interest is the actual word and not so much the image it evokes. “My poems tend more to language than to ideas,” Guest told American Poetry Review‘s Mark Hillringhouse. Some of Guest’s works are collaborations with other artists, including Richard Tuttle and June Felter, in which words and drawings combine to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Guest’s interest in poetry developed while she was a college student in California, but flourished only after she had relocated to New York, which she told Hillringhouse “seemed like civilization [after] coming from the West Coast.” Guest found acceptance in the thriving New York City art scene of the 1950s, and as she told Hillringhouse, “I began to believe in my poetry, in its future.” Her influences ranged from the artists Jackson Pollock and Tony Smith to the writers Henry Miller (an acquaintance from California who suggested she move to New York) and Dorothy Richardson. Though she acknowledged the influence of the “gestural freedom” of abstract expressionism on her early work, she told Hillringhouse that she does not see this as a prominent motivation in her more recent work. Poets, not artists, tend to be Guest’s current influences; she named the French poet Anne Marie Albiach as “one of the finest writing poetry today,” and she once admitted to Contemporary Authors, “I drag my coattails in the dust of the Russian poets Akamatova and Mandelstam.” Criticizing the current prominence of “postmodern” art and lamenting the “decline of painting today” in the interview with Hillringhouse, Guest claimed that poetry “is the most interesting art form right now” because of its mission to expand the “modern tradition.”

Guest’s interest in the history of Imagism prompted her to write Herself Defined: The Poet H. D. and Her World, the biography of the original Imagist poet. Imagism developed in the years following World War I and is much less structured than poetry of the previous generation. Marked by a free-verse prose and succinct, vivid images, Imagism was popularized in Europe primarily through H. D., her husband Richard Aldington, and Ezra Pound. Through her access to unpublished documents, Guest painted a portrait of Hilda Doolittle, the woman that Pound—Doolittle’s childhood sweetheart—called “a tree-born spirit of the wood.”

In the volume of poetry Fair Realism, the narrative reveals Guest’s painterly nature, according to American Poetry Review contributor David Shapiro, who noted Guest’s “acute sense of landscape and landscape painting.” These are poems “suffused with a classical sense of history, literature, and mystical import,” commented Jessica Grim inLibrary Journal. Robert Long in his Southampton Press review of the Fair Realism praised Guest’s “stunning lyricism, her ability to leave everything out of a poem but the essential…. The silences in Guest’s poems are as important as the sound.” Commenting on the twenty-two page poem “Tuerler Losses” in which a poet laments the loss of two valuable wristwatches, Long summarized that “there is not other contemporary poet who has assembled this wide a range of effects, these different kind of ‘musicality’ and this visual variety into a single poem of such length and has made it hang together.”

Reinforcing Guest’s association with the language poets, Manousos claimed that Guest’s poetry is for “those who are moved by the play of language for its own sake.” Guest once told Contemporary Authors that she considers “American poets in their forties and fifties and in particular women poets (without being a feminist in literature) …to be writing the finest poetry today.” Shapiro lauded Guest as a poet distinguished in both “lyric and critical prose,” as well “as an important precursor of the ‘Language’ poets.” Shapiro continued, “When one looks at work Barbara Guest accomplished in the late 1950s and early 1960s, one finds pieces that often seem to have been written yesterday, if not tomorrow.”





“painting has no air . . .”
          —Gertrude Stein


That there should never be air

in a picture surprises me.

It would seem to be only a picture

of a certain kind, a portrait in paper

or glue, somewhere a stickiness

as opposed to a stick-to-it-ness

of another genre. It might be

quite new to do without

that air, or to find oxygen

on the landscape line

like a boat which is an object

or a shoe which never floats

and is stationary.


Still there

are certain illnesses that require

air, lots of it. And there are nervous

people who cannot manufacture

enough air and must seek

for it when they don’t have plants,

in pictures. There is the mysterious

traveling that one does outside

the cube and this takes place

in air.


It is why one develops

an attitude toward roses picked

in the morning air, even roses

without sun shining on them.

The roses of Juan Gris from which

we learn the selflessness of roses

existing perpetually without air,

the lid being down, so to speak,

a 1912 fragrance sifting

to the left corner where we read

“La Merveille” and escape.


Barbara Guest, “Roses” from The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Guest and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (Wesleyan University Press, 2008)



Finnish Opera



Grass grew long in the story.



Pieces clung to bedclothes. In the night he believed he grew taller.

Grass covered the dream of a serpent, eyes sunk in his head, tail of silk clover. The dream translated into silver tone. More serpent heads and the

dream turned into an opera.


It was the opera that made the dreamer famous. Location of opera could be

in any country, could be Antarctica, more likely Finland, where they believe

in silk clover, it is gold in a land of starved desire for summer.


The opera had a clover leaf copied in porcelain by Aalto, the famous

designer, who sewed the clover leaf into a white curtain. He designed a

window for the man when he looks out to sea in his serpent costume.


This opera that begins with a dream traveled

to Rome and Zagreb, traveled across continents, once by camel. The travels became more famous than

the opera. People began to forget whether the grass really had grown long,

and where the serpent came from.


The opera was called by another name and included a gold limousine.

Somewhere in Oceania they added mermaid elves.



Barbara Guest, “Finnish Opera” from Miniatures and Other Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Guest. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Miniatures and Other Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2002)






The simple contact with a wooden spoon and the word

recovered itself, began to spread as grass, forced

as it lay sprawling to consider the monument where

patience looked at grief, where warfare ceased

eyes curled outside themes to search the paper

now gleaming and potent, wise and resilient, word

entered its continent eager to find another as

capable as a thorn. The nearest possession would

house them both, they being then two might glide

into this house and presently create a rather larger

mansion filled with spoons and condiments, gracious

as a newly laid table where related objects might gather

to enjoy the interplay of gravity upon facetious hints,

the chocolate dish presuming an endowment, the ladle

of galactic rhythm primed as a relish dish, curved

knives, finger bowls, morsel carriages words might

choose and savor before swallowing so much was the

sumptuousness and substance of a rented house where words

placed dressing gowns as rosemary entered their scent

percipient as elder branches in the night where words

gathered, warped, then straightened, marking new wands.



Barbara Guest, “Words” from Selected Poems (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995). Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Selected Poems (1995)




The Crystal Lithium



The smell of snow, stinging in nostrils as the wind lifts it from a beach

Eve-shuttering, mixed with sand, or when snow lies under the street lamps and on all

And the air is emptied to an uplifting gassiness

That turns lungs to winter waterwings, buoying, and the bright white night

Freezes in sight a lapse of waves, balsamic, salty, unexpected:

Hours after swimming, sitting thinking biting at a hangnail

And the taste of the—to your eyes—invisible crystals irradiates the world

“The sea is salt”

“And so am I”

“Don’t bite your nails”

and the metal flavor of a nail—are these brads?—

Taken with a slight spitting motion from between teeth and whanged into place

(Boards and sawdust) and the nail set is ridged with cold

Permanently as marble, always degrees cooler than the rooms of air it lies in

Felt as you lay your cheek upon the counter on which sits a blue-banded cup

A counter of condensed wintry exhalations glittering infinitesimally

A promise, late on a broiling day in late September, of the cold kiss

Of marble sheets to one who goes barefoot quickly in the snow and early

Only so far as the ash can—bang, dump—and back and slams the door:

Too cold to get up though at the edges of the blinds the sky

Shows blue as flames that break on a red sea in which black coals float:

Pebbles in a pocket embed the seam with grains of sand

Which, as they will, have found their way into a pattern between foot and bedfoot

“A place for everything and everything in its place” how wasteful, how wrong

It seems when snow in fat, hand-stuffed flakes falls slow and steady in the sea

“Now you see it, now you don’t” the waves growl as they grind ashore and roll out

At your feet (in boots) a Christmas tree naked of needles

Still wound with swags of tarnishing tinsel, faintly alarming as the thought

Of damp electricity or sluggish lightning and for your health desiring pains

The wind awards: Chapped Lips: on which to rub Time’s latest acquisition

Tinned, dowel shaped and inappropriately flavored sheep wool fat

A greasy sense-eclipsing fog “I can’t see

Without my glasses” “You certainly can’t see with them all steamed up

Like that. Pull over, park and wipe them off.” The thunder of a summer’s day

Rolls down the shimmering blacktop and mowed grass juice thickens the air

Like “Stir until it coats the spoon, remove from heat, let cool and chill”

Like this, graying up for more snow, maybe, in which a small flock

Of—sparrows?—small, anyway, dust-kitty-colored birds fly up

On a dotted diagonal and there, ah, is the answer:

Starlings, bullies of birdland, lousing up

The pecking order, respecters of no rights (what bird is) unloved (oh?)

Not so likeable as some: that’s temperate enough and the temperature

Drops to rise to snowability of a softness even in its scent of roses

Made of untinted butter frosting: Happy Name Day, Blue Jay, staggering

On slow-up wings into the shrunk into itself from cold forsythia snarl

And above these thoughts there waves another tangle but one parched with heat

And not with cold although the heat is on because of cold settled all

About as though, swimming under water, in clearly fishy water, you

Inhaled and found one could and live and also found you altogether

Did not like it, January, laid out on a bed of ice, disgorging

February, shaped like a flounder, and March with her steel head pocketbook,

And April, goofy and under-dressed and with a loud laugh, and May

Who will of course be voted Miss Best Liked (she expects it),

And June, with a toothpaste smile, fresh from her flea bath, and gross July,

Flexing itself, and steamy August, with thighs and eyes to match, and September

Diving into blue October, dour November, and deadly dull December which now

And then with a surprised blank look produces from its hand the ace of trumps

Or sets within the ice white hairline of a new moon the gibbous rest:

Global, blue, Columbian, a blue dull definite and thin as the first day

Of February when, in the steamed and freezing capital cash built

Without a plan to be its own best monument its skyline set in stacks

Like poker chips (signed “Autodidact”), at the crux of a view there crosses

A flatcar-trailer piled with five of the cheaper sort of yachts, tarpaulined,

Plus one youth in purple pants, a maid in her uniform and an “It’s not real

Anything” Cossack hat and coat, a bus one-quarter full of strangers and

The other familiar fixings of lengthening short days: “He’s outgrown them

Before you can turn around” and see behind you the landscape of the past

Where beached boats bask and terraced cliffs are hung with oranges

Among dark star-gleaming leaves, and, descending the dizzying rough stairs

Littered with goat turd beads—such packaging—you—he—she—

One—someone—stops to break off a bit of myrtle and recite all the lines

Of Goethe that come back, and those in French, “Connais-tu … ?” the air

Fills with chalk dust from banged erasers, behind the February dunes

Ice boats speed and among the reeds there winds a little frozen stream

Where kids in kapok ice-skate and play at Secret City as the sun

Sets before dinner, the snow on fields turns pink and under the hatched ice

The water slides darkly and over it a never before seen liquefaction of the sun

In a chemical yellow greener than sulphur a flash of petroleum by-product

Unbelievable, unwanted and as lovely as though someone you knew all your life

Said the one inconceivable thing and then went on washing dishes: the sky

Flows with impersonal passion and loosening jet trails (eyes tearing from the cold)

And on the beach, between foam frozen in a thick scalloped edging so like

Weird cheek-mottling pillowcase embroidery, on the water-darkened sand the waves

Keep free of frost, a gull strangles on a length of nylon fishline and the dog

Trots proudly off, tail held high, to bury a future dinner among cut grass on a dune:

The ice boats furl their sails and all pile into cars and go off to the super market

Its inviting foods and cleansers sold under tunes with sealed in memory-flavor

“Hot House Rhubarb” “White Rock Girl” “Citrus Futures” “Cheap Bitter Beans” and

In its parking lot vast as the kiss to which is made the most complete surrender

In a setting of leaves, backs of stores, a house on a rise admired for being

Somewhat older than some others (prettier, too?) a man in a white apron embraces a car

Briefly in the cold with his eyes as one might hug oneself for warmth for love

—What a paint job, smooth as an eggplant; what a meaty chest, smooth as an eggplant

—Is it too much to ask your car to understand you? the converse isn’t and the sky

Maps out new roads so that, driving at right angles to the wind, clouds in ranks

Contrive in diminishing perspective a part of a picture postcard of a painting

Over oak scrub where a filling station has: gas, a locked toilet (to keep dirt in)

A busted soda pop machine, no maps and “I couldn’t tell you thet” so

The sky empties itself to a color, there, where yesterday’s puddle

Offers its hospitality to people-trash and nature-trash in tans and silvers

And black grit like that in corners of a room in this or that cheap dump

Where the ceiling light burns night and day and we stare at or into each

Other’s eyes in hope the other reads there what he reads: snow, wind

Lifted; black water, slashed with white; and that which is, which is beyond

Happiness or love or mixed with them or more than they or less, unchanging change,

“Look,” the ocean said (it was tumbled, like our sheets), “look in my eyes”


James Schuyler, “The Crystal Lithium” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1993 by James Schuyler.  Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1993)



The Bluet



And is it stamina

that unseasonably freaks

forth a bluet, a

Quaker lady, by

the lake? So small,

a drop of sky that

splashed and held,

four-petaled, creamy

in its throat. The woods

around were brown,

the air crisp as a

Carr’s table water

biscuit and smelt of

cider. There were frost

apples on the trees in

the field below the house.

The pond was still, then

broke into a ripple.

The hills, the leaves that

have not yet fallen

are deep and oriental

rug colors. Brown leaves

in the woods set off

gray trunks of trees.

But that bluet was

the focus of it all: last

spring, next spring, what

does it matter? Unexpected

as a tear when someone

reads a poem you wrote

for him: “It’s this line

here.” That bluet breaks

me up, tiny spring flower

late, late in dour October.


James Schuyler, “The Bluet” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1988 by James Schuyler. Source: Selected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1988)



One Train May Hide Another



(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)


In a poem, one line may hide another line,

As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.

That is, if you are waiting to cross

The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at

Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read

Wait until you have read the next line—

Then it is safe to go on reading.

In a family one sister may conceal another,

So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view

Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.

One father or one brother may hide the man,

If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.

So always standing in front of something the other

As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.

One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide

The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another

On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;

One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia Antica

one tomb

May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide


One small complaint may hide a great one.

One injustice may hide another—one colonial may hide another,

One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath

may hide another bath

As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.

One idea may hide another: Life is simple

Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein

One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory

One invention may hide another invention,

One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.

One dark red, or one blue, or one purple—this is a painting

By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,

These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin

May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The


Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but

One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.

A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides

Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in

A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag

Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.

In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by

the mother’s

And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker

May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee

Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love or

the same love

As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers

The better love fingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”

Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”

And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the

Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.

Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.

When you come to something, stop to let it pass

So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,

Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory

Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,

The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading A

Sentimental Journey look around

When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see

If it is standing there, it should be, stronger

And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore

May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk

May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and

One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs

Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the

foot of a tree

With one and when you get up to leave there is another

Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,

One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man

May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.

You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It can be


To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Kenneth Koch, “One Train May Hide Another” from One Train, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 by Kenneth Koch. Source: The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)


The following poem is a sestina (definition in Poetic Terms and Forms): but can you guess what the formal constraints are?



Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape



The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits in thunder,

Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,

From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”

Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How pleasant

To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she scratched

Her cleft chin’s solitary hair. She remembered spinach


And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.

“M’love,” he intercepted, “the plains are decked out in thunder

Today, and it shall be as you wish.” He scratched

The part of his head under his hat. The apartment

Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant

Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country.


Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.

Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach

When the door opened and Swee’pea crept in. “How pleasant!”

But Swee’pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. “Thunder

And tears are unavailing,” it read. “Henceforth shall Popeye’s apartment

Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched.”


Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched

Her long thigh. “I have news!” she gasped. “Popeye, forced as you know to flee the country

One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, duplicate father, jealous of the apartment

And all that it contains, myself and spinach

In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder

At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant


Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant

Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched

Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder.”

She grabbed Swee’pea. “I’m taking the brat to the country.”

“But you can’t do that—he hasn’t even finished his spinach,”

Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.


But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment

Succumbed to a strange new hush. “Actually it’s quite pleasant

Here,” thought the Sea Hag. “If this is all we need fear from spinach

Then I don’t mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over”—she scratched

One dug pensively—“but Wimpy is such a country

Bumpkin, always burping like that.” Minute at first, the thunder


Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,

The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched

His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.


John Ashbery, “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape” from The Double Dream of Spring. Copyright © 1966, 1970 by John Ashbery.

Source: The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry (Ecco Press, 1997)





My Erotic Double



He says he doesn’t feel like working today.

It’s just as well. Here in the shade

Behind the house, protected from street noises,

One can go over all kinds of old feeling,

Throw some away, keep others.

The wordplay

Between us gets very intense when there are

Fewer feelings around to confuse things.

Another go-round? No, but the last things

You always find to say are charming, and rescue me

Before the night does. We are afloat

On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,

Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight

That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams

As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.

I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to.

Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.

Thank you. You are too.


John Ashbery, “My Erotic Double” from As We Know. Copyright © 1979 by John Ashbery.  Source: As We Know (Viking Press, 1979)




Some Trees



These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.


Reader-Response theory

A theory, which gained prominence in the late 1960s, that focuses on the reader or audience reaction to a particular text, perhaps more than the text itself. Reader-response criticism can be connected to poststructuralism’s emphasis on the role of the reader in actively constructing texts rather than passively consuming them. Unlike text-based approaches such as New Criticism, which are grounded upon some objective meaning already present in the work being examined, reader-response criticism argues that a text has no meaning before a reader experiences—reads—it. The reader-response critic’s job is to examine the scope and variety of reader reactions and analyze the ways in which different readers, sometimes called “interpretive communities,” make meaning out of both purely personal reactions and inherited or culturally conditioned ways of reading. The theory is popular in both the United States and Germany; its main theorists include Stanley Fish, David Bleich, and Wolfgang Iser.


Black Arts Movement

A cultural movement conceived of and promoted by Amiri Baraka in the mid-1960s. Its constellation of writers, performers, and artists included Nikki GiovanniJay Wright, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez. “We want a black poem. And / a Black World. / Let the world be a Black Poem,” writes Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) in his poem “Black Art,” which served as a de facto manifesto for the movement. Its practitioners were energized by a desire to confront white power structures and assert an African American cultural identity. Its aims were community-minded as well as artistic; during its heyday, hundreds of Afrocentric repertory theater companies, public art projects, and publishing ventures were organized throughout the United States.





He came back and shot. He shot him. When he came

back, he shot, and he fell, stumbling, past the

shadow wood, down, shot, dying, dead, to full halt.


At the bottom, bleeding, shot dead. He died then, there

after the fall, the speeding bullet, tore his face

and blood sprayed fine over the killer and the grey light.


Pictures of the dead man, are everywhere. And his spirit

sucks up the light. But he died in darkness darker than

his soul and everything tumbled blindly with him dying


down the stairs.


We have no word


on the killer, except he came back, from somewhere

to do what he did. And shot only once into his victim’s

stare, and left him quickly when the blood ran out. We know


the killer was skillful, quick, and silent, and that the victim

probably knew him. Other than that, aside from the caked sourness

of the dead man’s expression, and the cool surprise in the fixture


of his hands and fingers, we know nothing.


Amiri Baraka, “Incident” from Black Magic (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1969). Copyright © 1969 by Amiri Baraka. Source:Black Magic (1969)



The Great Pax Whitie



In the beginning was the word

And the word was


And the word was nigger

And the word was death to all niggers

And the word was death to all life

And the word was death to all

peace be still


The genesis was life

The genesis was death

In the genesis of death

Was the genesis of war

be still peace be still


In the name of peace

They waged the wars

ain’t they got no shame


In the name of peace

Lot’s wife is now a product of the Morton company

nah, they ain’t got no shame


Noah packing his wife and kiddies up for a holiday

row row row your boat

But why’d you leave the unicorns, noah

Huh? why’d you leave them

While our Black Madonna stood there

Eighteen feet high holding Him in her arms

Listening to the rumblings of peace

be still be still



He wanted to know

And peter only asked who is that dude?

Who is that Black dude?

Looks like a troublemaker to me

And the foundations of the mighty mighty

Ro Man Cat holic church were laid

hallelujah Jesus

nah, they ain’t got no shame


Cause they killed the Carthaginians

in the great appian way

And they killed the Moors

“to civilize a nation”

And they just killed the earth

And blew out the sun

In the name of a god

Whose genesis was white

And war wooed god

And america was born

Where war became peace

And genocide patriotism

And honor is a happy slave

cause all god’s chillun need rhythm

And glory hallelujah why can’t peace

be still


The great emancipator was a bigot

ain’t they got no shame


And making the world safe for democracy

Were twenty millon slaves

nah, they ain’t got no shame


And they barbecued six million

To raise the price of beef

And crossed the 38th parallel

To control the price of rice

ain’t we never gonna see the light


And champagne was shipped out of the East

While kosher pork was introduced

To Africa

Only the torch can show the way


In the beginning was the deed

And the deed was death

And the honkies are getting confused

peace be still


So the great white prince

Was shot like a nigger in texas

And our Black shining prince was murdered

like that thug in his cathedral

While our nigger in memphis

was shot like their prince in dallas

And my lord

ain’t we never gonna see the light

The rumblings of this peace must be stilled

be stilled be still


ahh Black people

ain’t we got no pride?


Nikki Giovanni, “The Great Pax Whitie” from Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgment. Copyright © 1968, 1970 by Nikki Giovanni.

Source: The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni (2003)



In linguistics, folkloristics and anthropology, a method of analyzing linguistic structures in oral literature. The term was coined in 1968 byJerome Rothenberg, whose anthology Technicians of the Sacred is considered a definitive text of the movement. In poetry, ethnopoetics refers to non-Western, non-canonical poetries, often those coming from ancient and autochthonous cultures. In the early 20th century, Modernist and avant-garde poets such as Antonin Artaud and Tristan Tzara used “primitive” or oral traditions in their work; by midcentury, a curiosity regarding world literature had coalesced into a movement led by Rothenberg and Dennis Tedlock, who together edited the journal Alcheringa from 1970 to 1980. Contemporary poets with an interest in ethnopoetics include Gary Snyder, Kathleen Stewart, and William Bright.



We will be reading a selection from the ethnopoetics anthology Shaking the Pumpkin, ed. By Jerome Rothenberg, in a few weeks.



Language poetry

Taking its name from the magazine edited by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews (L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), Language poetry is an avant garde poetry movement that emerged in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a response to mainstream American poetry. It developed from diverse communities of poets in San Francisco and New York who published in journals such as ThisHillsTottels,L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and Tuumba Press. Rather than emphasizing traditional poetic techniques, Language poetry tends to draw the reader’s attention to the uses of language in a poem that contribute to the creation of meaning. The writing associated with language poetry, including that by Michael PalmerLyn HejinianRon SillimanSusan HoweRae Armantrout, and many others, is often associated with deconstructionpoststructuralism, and the Objectivist tradition.

Language poetry emerged in the mid 1970s as both a reaction to and an outgrowth of the “New Am. Poetry” as embodied by Black Mountain, New York School, and Beat aesthetics. Within the pages of little magazines like Tottel’s, This, Hills, and the Tuumba chapbook series, poets such as Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Bruce Andrews, Bob Perelman, and Robert Grenier developed modes of writing that implicitly criticized the bardic, personalist impulses of the 1960s and explicitly focused attention on the material of lang. itself. This practice was supplemented by essays in poetics, published in journals like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Open Space, Paper Air, and Poetics Jour., or presented in “talk” series conducted at lofts and art spaces. The general thrust of this critical discourse has been to interrogate the expressive basis of much postwar Am. poetry, esp. the earlier generation’s use of depth psychology, its interest in primitivism and mysticism, and its emphasis on the poetic line as a score for the voice. While Language poetry has derived much from the process oriented poetry of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and John Ashbery, it has been skeptical about the claims of presence and participation (see CHARLES OLSON) that underlie such practice.

The response of Language poetry to expressivism (meaning that the art “expresses” the interiority, the selfhood, of the poet/artist) has taken several forms, most notably a deliberate flattening of tonal register and extensive use of non-sequitur. Experimentation in new forms of prose, collaboration, proceduralism, and collage have diminished the role of the lyric subject in favor of a relatively neutral voice (or multiple voices). Language poets have endorsed Victor Shklovsky’s notion of ostranenie or “making strange,” by which the instrumental function of lang. is diminished and the objective character of words foregrounded.

The poetry of Russian futurism and American objectivism has been influential. Far from representing a return to an impersonal formalism,Language poetry regards its defamiliarizing strategies as a critique of the social basis of meaning, i.e. the degree to which signs are contextualized by use. In order to defamiliarize poetic lang.,Language poetry has had recourse to a variety of formal techniques, two in particular. The first involves the condensation and displacement of linguistic elements, whether at the submorphemic level (as in the poetry of David Melnick, P. Inman, or Steve McCaffery) or at the level of phrases and clauses (Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, Barrett Watten). Bernstein, for example, condenses what appear to be larger syntactic units into brief, fragmentary phrases:


Casts across otherwise unavailable fields.

Makes plain. Ruffled. Is trying to

alleviate his false: invalidate. Yet all is

“to live out,” by shut belief, the

various, simply succeeds which.


Although the title of this poem, “Sentences My Father Used,” implies some autobiographical content, there is little evidence of person. The use of sentence fragments, false apposition, and enjambment displaces any unified narrative, creating a constantly changing semantic environment.


A second prominent feature of Language poetry has been extensive work in prose. In the most influential essay, “The New Sentence,” Ron Silliman calls for the organization of texts on the level of sentences and paragraphs. The “new” sentence refers less to deformations of normal sentences as to alternate ways of combining them within larger structures. Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, for example, consists of 37 paragraphs of 37 sentences, each one of which leads to the next by the substitution or replacement of materials from the previous one or by mutiple forms of association.


The issues raised by such writing are not simply aesthetic but involve the social implications of literary reception. By blurring the boundaries between poetry and prose, everyday and literary lang., theory and practice, l. p. has attempted to establish a new relationship with the reader, one based less on the recuperation of a generically or stylistically encoded work and more on the reader’s participation in a relatively open text. By thwarting traditional reading and interpretive habits, the poet encourages the reader

to regard lang. not simply as a vehicle for preexistant meanings but as a system with its own rules and operations. However, since that system exists in service to ideological interests of the dominant culture, any deformation forces attention onto the material basis of meaning production within that culture. If such a goal seems utopian, it has a precedent in earlier avant-garde movements from symbolism to futurism and surrealism. Rather than seeking a language beyond rationality by purifying the words of the tribe or by discovering new langs. of irrationality, Language poetry has made its horizon the material form rationality takes — language itself.


A Test of Poetry



What do you mean by rashes of ash? Is industry

systematic work, assiduous activity, or ownership

of factories? Is ripple agitate lightly? Are

we tossed in tune when we write poems? And

what or who emboss with gloss insignias of air?


Is the Fabric about which you write in the epigraph

of your poem an edifice, a symbol of heaven?


Does freight refer to cargo of lading carried

for pay by water, land or air? Or does it mean

payment for such transportation? Or a freight

train? When you say a commoded journey,

do you mean a comfortable journey or a good train

with well-equipped commodoties? But, then, why

do you drop the ‘a’ before slumberous friend? And

when you write, in “Why I Am Not a Christian”

You always throw it down / But you never

pick it up—what is it??


In “The Harbor of Illusion”, does vein

refer to a person’s vein under his skin or

is it a metaphor for a river? Does lot

mean one’s fate or a piece of land?

And does camphor refer to camphor trees?


Moreover, who or what is nearing. Who or

what has fell?   Or does fell refer to the

skin or hide of an animal? And who or what has

stalled? Then, is the thoroughfare of

noon’s atoll an equivalent of the template?


In “Fear of Flipping” does flipping mean



How about strain, does it mean

a severe trying or wearing pressure or

effect (such as a strain of hard work),

or a passage, as in piece of music?


Does Mercury refer to a brand of oil?


In the lines

shards of bucolic pastry anchored

against cactus cabinets, Nantucket buckets

could we take it as—pieces of pies

or tarts are placed in buckets (which

are made of wood from Nantucket)

anchored against cabinets (small

rooms or furniture?) with cactus?


What is nutflack?


I suppose the caucus of caucasians

refers to the white people’s meeting

of a political party to nominate candidates.


But who is Uncle Hodgepodge?


And what does familiar freight

to the returning antelope mean?

You write, the walls are our floors.

How can the walls be floors if the floors

refer to the part of the room which forms

its enclosing surface and upon which one

walks? In and the floors, like balls,

repel all falls—does balls refer to

nonsense or to any ball like a basket ball

or to guys? Or to a social assembly for

dancing? Falls means to descend

from higher to a lower

or to drop down wounded or dead?


But what is the so-called overall



Is the garbage heap the garbage heap

in the ordinary sense? Why does

garbage heap exchange for so-called

overall mesh? Since a faker is

one who fakes, how can

arbitrary reduce to faker?


Who or what are disappointed

not to have been?


Does frames refer to form, constitution,

or structure in general? Or to a

particular state, as of the mind?


In the sentence,

If you don’t like it

colored in, you can always xerox it

and see it all gray

–what is it? What does

colored in mean?


A few lines later you write,

You mean, image farm when you’ve got bratwurst—

Does bratwurst refer to sausage?

Does the line mean—the sausage

you saw reminded you of a farm which you imagined?


Does fat-bottom boats refer to boats with thick bottoms?


Is humble then humped used to describe the actions of one

who plays golf? In the phrase a sideshow freak

the freak refers to a hippie? Sideshow refers to secondary

importance? Or an abnormal actor in the sideshow?

Then, who or what is linked with steam of pink. And

how about the tongue-tied tightrope stalker

does the stalker refer to one who is pursuing

stealthily in the act of hunting game? The stalker

is a witness at first and then a witless witness?


You write The husks are salted:

what kind of nut husks can be salted for eating?

What does bending mean—to become curved,

crooked, or bent? Or to bow down in submission

or reverence, yield, submit? Does bells

refer to metallic sounding instruments or

a kind of trousers?


Just a few lines later you have the phrase

Felt very poured. Who felt poured? Toys?

Is humming in the sense of humming a song?

Stepped into where? Not being part of what?


In “No Pastrami” (Walt! I’m with you in Sydney / Where

the echoes of Mamaroneck howl / Down the outback’s

pixilating corridors)—does the pastrami refer

to a highly seasoned shoulder cut of beef? Is

Mamaroneck a place in the U.S. where wild oxes howl?


I take it corridors refers to the passageway

in the supermarket? Could I read the poem as—

The speaker is doing shopping in a supermarket

in Sydney; he is walking along the eccentric

passageways among the shelves on which goods

are placed; he does not want to buy the pastrami

as he seems to have heard the echoes of wild oxes

howling in the U.S. while he addresses Walt Whitman?


In “No End to Envy”, does the envy refer to admire or

in the bad sense?


Charles Bernstein, “A Test of Poetry” from My Way: Speeches and Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999). Source: My Way: Speeches and Poems (The University of Chicago Press, 1999)






Directions: For each pair of sentences, circle the letter, a or b, that best

expresses your viewpoint. Make a selection from each pair. Do not omit

any items.


1.a) The body and the material things of the world are the key to any

knowledge we can possess.

  1. b) Knowledge is only possible by means of the mind or psyche.


2.a) My life is largely controlled by luck and chance.

  1. b) I can determine the basic course of my life.


3.a) Nature is indifferent to human needs.

  1. b) Nature has some purpose, even if obscure.


4.a) I can understand the world to a sufficient extent.

  1. b) The world is basically baffling.


5.a) Love is the greatest happiness.

  1. b) Love is illusionary and its pleasures transient.


6.a) Political and social action can improve the state of the world.

  1. b) Political and social action are fundamentally futile.


7.a) I cannot fully express my most private feelings.

  1. b) I have no feelings I cannot fully express.


8.a) Virtue is its own reward.

  1. b) Virtue is not a matter of rewards.


9.a) It is possible to tell if someone is trustworthy.

  1. b) People turn on you in unpredictable ways.


10.a) Ideally, it would be most desirable to live in a rural area.

  1. b) Ideally, it would be most desirable to live in an urban area.


11.a) Economic and social inequality is the greatest social evil.

  1. b) Totalitarianism is the greatest social evil.


12.a) Overall, technology has been beneficial to human beings.

  1. b) Overall, technology has been harmful to human beings.


13.a) Work is the potential source of the greatest human fulfillment.

  1. b) Liberation from work should be the goal of any movement for

social improvement.


14.a) Art is at heart political in that it can change our perception of


  1. b) Art is at heart not political because it can change only

consciousness and not events.


Charles Bernstein, “Questionnaire” from Girly Man (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007). Source: Girly Man (The University of Chicago Press, 2007)


thinking i think i think



What are aesthetic values and why do

there appear to be lesser & fewer of

them? Quick: define the difference

between arpeggio & Armani. The baby

cries because the baby likes crying.

The baby cries because a pin is

sticking into the baby. The baby

is not crying but it is called

crying. Who’s on first, what’s

shortstop. The man the man declined

to be, appraised at auction at

eighty percent of surface volume.

Cube steak on rye amusing twist

on lay demo cells, absolutely no

returns. Damaged goods are the only

kind of goods I ever cared about.

The lacuna misplaced the ladle,

the actor aborted the fable. Fold

your caps into Indians &

flaps. Dusting the rigor mortis

for compos mentis. Rune is busting

out all over—perfidious quarrel

sublates even the heckling at

the Ponderosa. A bevy of belts.

Burl Ives turned to burlap. Who

yelled that? Lily by the lacquer

(laparotomy). I’m here strictly on

business, literary business. May

I propose the codicil-ready cables?

Like slips gassing in the night.

Chorus of automatic exclusions.

Don’t give me no label as long as I

am able. Search & displace, curse

& disgrace. Suppose you suppose,

circumstances remonstrating. Crest

envy. Don’t give me the Bronx

when you mean the Bronx. This

one thing I know for she loathes

me so: Ketchup will pass for blood

only under highly limited conditions.

I had a red ball / I watched it

fall. Help me so that I may exist

again. It’s the billyclub not the

Billy that needs watching. Keep

your eye on the balloon (cartoon)!

Budge, but then move back into

position. In other words, steal

my car but don’t steal my sister’s

hood. Ironclad comeuppance. Breakfast

at the Eiffel tower, lunch at the

Kremlin, dinner at the Taj Mahal.

In other words, hurt me

but don’t hurt me so bad.

May flies / So June can hold

July. That’s no arrow that’s a

diversionary tactic. That’s no

spastic that’s my elocutionary

lodge. When all the cares

have become little tiny porous

creatures, buckling under the weight

of the remorse. The barfly butters

his bread on all sides of the

collective agency, while even at home

the Colonel takes out the garbage.

You will find a moist towelette

with your porridge. Then just say so.

Cratylus, Cratylus, wilt thou be

mine?  As I is the starch from

yesterday’s yawning. Cure me

so that I will smoke yet not be

consumed (at least not at a

discount). Pools rush in

where barriers have not been

fortified. Rule rules

where furriers redesign. “Amish

modern.” French poetry is looking

for a way out of “French poetry.”

Ne touchez pas cette button. The

color of baloney. WWW.TheSirens.Org.

Ne touchez pas ma bologna. Her

hair was auburn her eyes like amber.

Honest to gosh gullies: arraignment

of a power untapped & untappable.

Quittez votre place (Kitaj dislikes

his place). Emboss my fiduciary

capitulations! The bellicose churning

of the unsettled stomach. National

Geographic’s “Robot” issue:

The Wilderness of the Future, e.g.,

the Gates Robot Preserve, the

American Robotic Conservancy,

the Fund for Robotic Culture,

the National Endowment for Robots

(a.k.a. U.S. Congress). Millions

for automation but not one cent

for elegy. Eight elephants dancing

deliriously to the wail of the

bumble bees. So long, sailor /

goodbye failure. Or let the pail

wear the head of the lotion. Here

is smoldering continuation. The

smell of green tea on Greene Street.

Bottled reticence. Gimme gimme

gone. Guilt in the form of guilt.

“& even then my heart was aching

For I am yours, just for the taking…”


Charles Bernstein, “Thinking I think I think” from With Strings (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001). Source: With Strings (The University of Chicago Press, 2001


but then again a “language poet” isn’t always in avoidance of lyric:

All the Whiskey in Heaven

Charles Bernstein


Not for all the whiskey in heaven

Not for all the flies in Vermont

Not for all the tears in the basement

Not for a million trips to Mars


Not if you paid me in diamonds

Not if you paid me in pearls

Not if you gave me your pinky ring

Not if you gave me your curls


Not for all the fire in hell

Not for all the blue in the sky

Not for an empire of my own

Not even for peace of mind


No, never, I’ll never stop loving you

Not till my heart beats its last

And even then in my words and my songs

I will love you all over again


From All the Whiskey in Heaven by Charles Bernstein. Copyright © 2010 by Charles Bernstein.


More from the field of “Language Poetry” —


from My Life:

A name trimmed with colored ribbons


A name trimmed                 They    are   seated   in    the   shadows
with colored                        husking   corn, shelling   peas. Houses
ribbons                                of wood set in the   ground.   I try to
find the spot at which the pattern on
the   floor   repeats.   Pink,   and rosy,
quartz. They   wade   in brackish water.
The    leaves    outside    the window
tricked the eye, demanding that one see them, focus on them,
making it impossible to   look   past   them, and though holes
were opened through the foliage, they were as useless as port-
holes underwater looking into a dark sea, which only reflects
the room one seeks to look out from. Sometimes into
benevolent and other times into ghastly shapes. It speaks of a
few of the rather terrible blind. I grew stubborn until blue as
the eyes overlooking the bay from the bridge scattered over
its bowls through a fading light and backed by the protest of
the bright breathless West. Each bit of jello had been molded
in tiny doll dishes, each trembling orange bit a different
shape, but all otherwise the same. I am urged out rummaging
into the sunshine, and the depths increase of blue above. A
paper hat afloat on a cone of water. The orange and gray
bugs were linked from their mating but faced in opposite
directions, and their scrambling amounted to nothing. This
simply means that the imagination is more restless than the
body. But, already, words. Can there be laughter without
comparisons. The tongue lisps in its hilarious panic. If, for ex-
ample, you say, “I always prefer being by myself,”   and, then,
one afternoon, you want to telephone a friend, maybe you
feel you have betrayed your ideals. We have poured into the
sink the stale water in which the iris died. Life is hopelessly
frayed, all loose ends. A pansy suddenly, a web, a trail
remarkably’s a snail’s. It was an enormous egg, sitting in the
vineyard—an enormous rock-shaped egg. On that still day
my grandmother raked up the leaves beside a particular
pelargonium. With a name like that there is a lot you can do.
Children are not always inclined to choose such paths. You
can tell by the eucalyptus tree, its shaggy branches scatter
buttons. In the afternoons, when the shades were pulled for
my nap, the light coming through was of a dark yellow, near-
ly orange, melancholy, as heavy as honey, and it made me
thirsty. That doesn’t say it all, nor even a greater part. Yet it
seems even more incomplete when we were there in person.
Half the day in half the room. The wool makes one itch and
the scratching makes one warm. But herself that she obeyed
she dressed. It talks. The baby is scrubbed everywhere, he is
an apple. They are true kitchen stalwarts. The smell of
breathing fish and breathing shells seems sad, a mystery, rap-
turous, then dead. A self-centered being, in this different
world. A urinating doll, half-buried in sand. She is lying on
her stomach with one eye closed, driving a toy truck along
the road she has cleared with her fingers. I mean untroubled
by the distortions. That was the fashion when she was a
young woman and famed for her beauty, surrounded by
beaux. Once it was circular and that shape can still be seen
from the air. Protected by the dog. Protected by foghorns,
frog honks, cricket circles on the brown hills. It was a
message of happiness by which we were called into the room,
as if to receive a birthday present given early, because it was
too large to hide, or alive, a pony perhaps, his mane trimmed
with colored ribbons.


Lyn Hejinian, “A name trimmed with colored ribbons” from My Life. Copyright © 1987 by Lyn Hejinian. Source: My Life (Sun & Moon Press, 1987)


[A straight rain is rare…]


A straight rain is rare and doors have suspicions

and I hold that names begin histories

and that the last century was a cruel one. I am pretending

to be a truck in Mexico. I am a woman with a long neck and a good burden

and I waddle efficiently. Activity never sleeps and no tale of crumbling cliffs

can be a short one. I have to shift weight favorably. Happiness

can’t be settled. I brush my left knee twice, my right once,

my left twice again and in that way advance. The alphabet

and the cello can represent horses but I can only pretend

to be a dog slurping pudding. After the 55 minutes it takes to finish

my legs tremble. All is forgiven. Yesterday is going the way of tomorrow

indirectly and the heat of the sun is inadequate at this depth. I see

the moon. The verbs ought and can lack infinity and somewhere

between 1957 when the heat of the dry sun naughtily struck me

and now when my secrets combine in the new order of cold rains

and night winds a lot has happened. Long phrases

are made up of short phrases that bear everything “in vain” or “all

in fun” “for your sake” and “step by step” precisely. I too can spring.


Lyn Hejinian, “[A straight rain is rare…]” from The Book of a Thousand Eyes. Copyright © 2012 by Lyn Hejinian. Source: The Book of a Thousand Eyes (Omnidawn Publishing, 2012)






“must represent the governess

for, of course, the creature itself

could not inspire such terror.”

staring at me fixedly, no

trace of recognition.

“when the window opened of its own accord.

In the big walnut tree

were six or seven wolves …

strained attention. They were white.”

(The fear of cloudy skies.)

like strangers! After five years

Misgiving. Misdoubt.



(The fear that one is dreaming.)

The moon was shining, suddenly

everything around me appeared

(The fear of)


Wild vista

inside or near the home.

(Dread of bearing a monster.)

If I failed to overlook the torn cushions,

three teapots side by side,

strewn towels, socks, papers—

both foreign and stale.



when I saw the frame was rotten,

crumbling away from the glass,

in spots, in other places still attached

with huge globs of putty.

The doctor forced me to repeat the word.

Chimera. Cold feet.

scared and unreal looking at buildings.

The thin Victorians with scaly paint,

their flimsy backporches linked

by skeletal stairways.



After five years

(The fear that you are not at home.)

I was sitting in the alcove where I never sit

when I noticed a single eye,

crudely drawn in pencil,

in a corner near the floor.

The paint was blistering—

beneath it I saw white.



Sparrows settle on the sagging wires.

(Fear of sights not turned to words.)

Horrific. Grisly.


Not my expression.

Not my net of veins

beneath thin skin.

(A morbid dread of throbbing.)

Of its own accord.


Rae Armantrout, “Xenophobia” from Veil: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Rae Armantrout. Source: Veil: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)



Home Federal



A merchant is

probing for us

with his chintz curtain



“Ha, ha, you missed me,”

a dead person says.


There’s the bank’s

colonial balcony

where no one has

ever stood.


Rae Armantrout, “Home Federal” from Veil: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Rae Armantrout. Source: Veil: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)







About can mean near

or nearly.

A book can be about something

or I can be about

to do a thing

and then refrain.

To refrain is to stop yourself.

A refrain

is a repeated phrase.




This table is an antique

from the early Machine Age.

The indented

circle within a circle


which appears

at three-inch intervals

around the base

may be a nod

to craftsmanship

or may be a summary

dismissal of same.

It is charming

in its mute simplicity.




People will ask, “Why should we care about this unattractive character?”

despite the fact that turning yourself into an admirable character

has been considered gauche for as long as I can recall.

The word “transparent” is often affixed to such efforts

while the mystification surrounding the unflattering self-portrait

at least provides some cover.

Now someone will say, “You don’t need cover

unless you’re standing naked at a window

shouting, ‘Look up here!’”


Rae Armantrout, “Eden” from Itself. Copyright © 2015 by Rae Armantrout.

Source: Itself (Wesleyan University Press, 2015)


**Please listen to Rae Armantrout read the poem “Crossing” at this link:https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Armantrout/Segue-92/Armantrout-Rae_16_Crossing_Segue-Series_Ear-Inn_10-24-92.mp3

New Formalism

A late 20th- and early 21st-century movement that championed a return to rhyme and meter in poetry. New Formalist poets such as Dana GioiaX.J. KennedyBrad Leithauser, and Marilyn Hacker responded to the popularity of the dominant free-verse poetry of the 1960s and ’70s by exploring the possibilities of prosody and form in their own work. Though not an orchestrated, coherent movement, New Formalism has been attacked by critics for its perceived retrogressive favoring of traditional metrical artifice over more recent, experimental modes of free verse.


Lyric (Tradition and the Contemporary)

Originally (as in ancient Greece & Rome) a composition meant for musical accompaniment. The term refers to a short poem in which the poet, the poet’s persona, or another speaker expresses personal feelings. See Robert Herrick’s “To Anthea, who May Command Him Anything,” John Clare’s “I Hid My Love,” Louise Bogan’s “Song for the Last Act,” or Louise Glück’s “Vita Nova.”  A lyric poem is most usually “sincere.”


A lyric, as understood today, is a poem that is organized through a subjective position held by the writer and is emotionally consistent, or rather coherent, even if that emotion varies. Lyric presumes a coherent speaker behind the poem who is able to use language to “express him or herself.” The twentieth century can be understood as a kind of cold war between the lyric and the modernist experimental poem, seen in the 1960’s and 1970’s between “language poetry,” which argues through its form that the self is COMPOSED of language, as opposed to “confessional poetry” which if hard on the self is nevertheless confident in language’s ability to reflect the self’s inner state and history. Language AS the building blocks of history vs. language as expressive of history.


Song for the Last Act



Now that I have your face by heart, I look

Less at its features than its darkening frame

Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,

Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.

Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease

The lead and marble figures watch the show

Of yet another summer loath to go

Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.


Now that I have your voice by heart, I read

In the black chords upon a dulling page

Music that is not meant for music’s cage,

Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.

The staves are shuttled over with a stark

Unprinted silence. In a double dream

I must spell out the storm, the running stream.

The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.


Now that I have your heart by heart, I see

The wharves with their great ships and architraves;

The rigging and the cargo and the slaves

On a strange beach under a broken sky.

O not departure, but a voyage done!

The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps

Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps

Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.


Louise Bogan, “Song for the Last Act” from The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968. Copyright © 1968 by Louise Bogan. Source: The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1968)


Vita Nova



You saved me, you should remember me.

The spring of the year; young men buying tickets for the ferryboats.

Laughter, because the air is full of apple blossoms.

When I woke up, I realized I was capable of the same feeling.

I remember sounds like that from my childhood,

laughter for no cause, simply because the world is beautiful,

something like that.

Lugano. Tables under the apple trees.

Deckhands raising and lowering the colored flags.

And by the lake’s edge, a young man throws his hat into the water;

perhaps his sweetheart has accepted him.


sounds or gestures like

a track laid down before the larger themes

and then unused, buried.

Islands in the distance. My mother

holding out a plate of little cakes—

as far as I remember, changed

in no detail, the moment

vivid, intact, having never been

exposed to light, so that I woke elated, at my age

hungry for life, utterly confident—

By the tables, patches of new grass, the pale green

pieced into the dark existing ground.

Surely spring has been returned to me, this time

not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet

it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly.


Louise Glück, “Vita Nova” from Vita Nova. Copyright © 2001 by Louise Glück. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.






Is that an attitude for a flower, to stand

like a club at the walk; poor slain boy,

is that a way to show

gratitude to the gods? White

with colored hearts, the tall flowers

sway around you, all the other boys,

in the cold spring, as the violets open.



There were no flowers in antiquity

but boys’ bodies, pale, perfectly imagined.

So the gods sank to human shape with longing.

In the field, in the willow grove,

Apollo sent the courtiers away.



And from the blood of the wound

a flower sprang, lilylike, more brilliant

than the purples of Tyre.

Then the god wept: his vital grief

flooded the earth.



Beauty dies: that is the source

of creation. Outside the ring of trees

the courtiers could hear

the dove’s call transmit

its uniform, its inborn sorrow—

They stood listening, among the rustling willows.

Was this the god’s lament?

They listened carefully. And for a short time

all sound was sad.



There is no other immortality:

in the cold spring, the purple violets open.

And yet, the heart is black,

there is its violence frankly exposed.

Or is it not the heart at the center

but some other word?

And now someone is bending over them,

meaning to gather them—



They could not wait

in exile forever.

Through the glittering grove

the courtiers ran

calling the name

of their companion

over the birds’ noise,

over the willows’ aimless sadness.

Well into the night they wept,

their clear tears

altering no earthly color.


“Hyacinth” by Louise Glück, from The First Four Books of Poems. Copyright © 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1995 by Louise Glück. Source: The First Four Books of Poems (The Ecco Press, 1995)


Mock Orange



It is not the moon, I tell you.

It is these flowers

lighting the yard.


I hate them.

I hate them as I hate sex,


the man’s mouth

sealing my mouth, the man’s

paralyzing body—


and the cry that always escapes,

the low, humiliating

premise of union—


In my mind tonight

I hear the question and pursuing answer

fused in one sound


that mounts and mounts and then

is split into the old selves,

the tired antagonisms. Do you see?


We were made fools of.


And the scent of mock orange

drifts through the window.


How can I rest?


How can I be content

when there is still

that odor in the world?


“Mock Orange” by Louise Glück, from The First Four Books of Poems. Copyright © 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1995 by Louise Glück. Source: The First Four Books of Poetry (The Ecco Press, 1995)


New Historicism

A critical approach developed in the 1980s through the works of Michel Foucault and Stephen Greenblatt, similar to Marxism. Moving away from text-centered schools of criticism such as New Criticism, New Historicism reopened the interpretation of literature to the social, political, and historical milieu that produced it. To a New Historicist, literature is not the record of a single mind, but the end product of a particular cultural moment. New Historicists look at literature alongside other cultural products of a particular historical period to illustrate how concepts, attitudes, and ideologies operated across a broader cultural spectrum that is not exclusively literary. In addition to analyzing the impact of historical context and ideology, New Historicists also acknowledge that their own criticism contains biases that derive from their historical position and ideology. Because it is impossible to escape one’s own “historicity,” the meaning of a text is fluid, not fixed. New Historicists attempt to situate artistic texts both as products of a historical context and as the means to understand cultural and intellectual history.


Conceptual Poetry

An umbrella term for writing that ranges from the constraint-based practices of OuLiPo to Concrete poetry’s visual poetics. Nonreferential and interested in the materiality of language, conceptual poetry often relies on some organizing principle or information that is external to the text and can cross genres into visual or theoretical modes. Generally interested in blurring genres, conceptual poetry takes advantage of innovations in technology to question received notions of what it means to be “poetic” or to express a “self” in poetry. The ideas and practices of conceptual poetry are associated with a variety of writers including Kenneth GoldsmithCraig DworkinCaroline BergvallChristian Bök, and Vanessa Place. Poetry magazine published a special section devoted to conceptual poetry in its July/August 2009 issue, guest-edited by Kenneth Goldsmith.


Technology is important here, as is the reprocessing of existing language. For example, Kenneth Goldsmith famously typed every single word of one editions of the Sunday New York Times, down to the advertisements and the stock quotes — such projects he terms “uncreative writing.”


See here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/52692

for an excerpt from the Sunday NYTimes project, called “Day.”


Part of the challenge in getting these terms down will be to understand the nuanced differences between OuLiPo, Conceptual Poetry, Language Poetry, etc. 


***Note that “Conceptual Poetry” “OuLiPo.” “Language Poetry” and other earlier schools of poetics are all working against the stable speaker self of the lyric poem. 


***As far from Conceptual Writing as one might get would lie  Confessional poetry.  (One could actually debate this, but for your purposes, the key is not to find ambiguity here but some stability in your understanding of the terms…after that we can interrogate them!) Confessional poetry is a form of Lyric Poetry.  The lyric poem is “spoken” by a consistent voice related to the self of the poet — most Beat poetry would thus also be lyric poetry.  Imagist poetry and Objectivist poetry would be straining against the limits of lyric. Much Black Mountain poetry would be lyric. Flarf and Language Poetry would be anti-lyric. A poem which consisted of the words from a box of macaroni and cheese would NOT be a lyric poem unless one could convincingly argue that there was an underlying and consistent emotional logic to the arrangement of the words.  Really, above all what I want you to be able to do after this reading is to be able to sort poems into 1) Lyric 2) Non-Lyric or Anti-Lyric.  The test is whether there seems to be a cohesive psychological self as foundation of the poem rather than a kind of net scooping up language from the surrounding cultural detritus or language arranged by some sort of underlying algorithm (as in Eunoia).


Flarf Poetry

Originally a prank on the scam contest sponsored by the organization Poetry.com, the experimental poetry movement flarf has slowly assumed a serious position as a new kind of Internet-based poetic practice. Known for its reliance on Google as a means of generating odd juxtapositions, surfaces, and grammatical inaccuracies, flarf also celebrates deliberately bad or “incorrect” poetry by forcing clichés, swear words, onomatopoeia, and other linguistic aberrations into poetic shape. Original flarf member Gary Sullivan describes flarf as “a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. ‘Not okay.’” Flarf poets collaborate on poems, revising and sometimes plagiarizing them in semipublic spaces such as blogs or webzines. Original members of the “Flarfist Collective” include Sullivan, Sharon MesmerK. Silem Mohammad, and Nada Gordon. Poetry magazine published a special section devoted to flarf in its July/August 2009 issue, guest-edited by Kenneth Goldsmith.


Slam Poetry

A competitive poetry performance in which selected audience members score performers, and winners are determined by total points. Slam is a composite genre that combines elements of poetry, theater, performance, and storytelling. The genre’s origins can be traced to Chicago in the early 1980s. Since then, groups of volunteers have organized slams in venues across the world. The first National Poetry Slam was held in 1990, and has become an annual event in which teams from cities across the United States compete at events in a host city. For more on poetry slams, see Jeremy Richards’s series “Performing the Academy”. See also poets Tyehimba JessBob Holman, andPatricia Smith.

Tyehimba Jess

Born in Detroit, poet Tyehimba Jess earned his BA from the University of Chicago and his MFA from New York University.

Jess is the rare poet who bridges slam and academic poetry. His first collection, leadbelly (2005), an exploration of the blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s life, was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and was voted one of the top three poetry books of the year by Black Issues Book Review. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that “the collection’s strength lies in its contradictory forms; from biography to lyric to hard-driving prose poem, boast to song, all are soaked in the rhythm and dialect of Southern blues and the demands of honoring one’s talent.” Jess’s forthcoming book Olio is set to arrive in 2016.
A two-time member of the Chicago Green Mill Slam team, Jess was also Chicago’s Poetry Ambassador to Accra, Ghana. His work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including Soulfires: Young Black Men in Love and Violence (1996), Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry (2000), and Dark Matter 2: Reading the Bones(2004). He is the author of African American Pride: Celebrating Our Achievements, Contributions, and Enduring Legacy (2003).


His honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award. A former artist-in-residence with Cave Canem, Jess has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, as well as a Lannan Writing Residency.

Jess has taught at the Juilliard School, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and at the College of Staten Island in New York City.


Blind Boone’s Vision



When I got old enough

I asked my mother,

to her surprise,

to tell me what she did

with my eyes. She balked

and stalled, sounding

unsure for the first time

I could remember.

It was the tender way

she held my face

and kissed where tears

should have rolled

that told me I’d asked

of her the almost impossible—

to recount my blinding

tale, to tell what became

of the rest of me.

She took me by the hand

and led me to a small

sapling that stood not

much taller than me.

I could smell the green

marrow of its promise

reaching free of the soil

like a song from Earth’s

royal, dirty mouth.

Then Mother told me

how she, newly freed,

had prayed like a slave

through the night when

the surgeon took my eyes

to save my fevered life,

then got off her knees

come morning to take

the severed parts of me

for burial—right there

beneath that small tree.

They fed the roots,

climbed through its leaves

to soak in sunlight . . .

and so, she told me,

can see.

When the wind rustles

up and cools me down,

when the earth shakes

with footsteps and when

the sound of birdcalls

stirs forests like the black

and white bustling

’neath my fingertips

I am of the light and shade

of my tree. Now,

ask me how tall

that tree of mine

has grown to be

after all this time—

it touches a place

between heaven and here.

And I shudder when I hear

the earth’s wind

in my bones

through the bones

of that boxed-up

swarm of wood,

bird and bee:

I let it loose . . .

and beyond



Tyehimba Jess, “Blind Boone’s Vision” from OLIO.  Copyright © 2016 by Tyehimba Jess.



Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of six books of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle of the human and environmental cost of Hurricane Katrina which was nominated for a National Book Award; and Teahouse of the Almighty, a 2005 National Poetry Series selection published by Coffee House Press. Her work has appeared in Poetry, the Paris Review, the New York TimesTriQuarterlyTin House, The Washington Post, and in both Best American Poetry and Best American Essays. Her contribution to the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir, which she edited, won the Robert L. Fish Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the best debut story of the year and was chosen for Best American Mystery Stories 2013. Smith also penned the critically acclaimed history Africans in America (1999) and the award-winning children’s book Janna and the Kings (2003).  She is a 2014 Guggenheim fellow, a 2012 fellow at both MacDowell and Yaddo, a two-time Pushcart Prize winner, recipient of a Lannan fellowship and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. She is currently working on a biography of Harriet Tubman, a poetry volume combining text and 19th century African-American photos, and a collaborative novel with her husband Bruce DeSilva, the Edgar-Award winning author of the Liam Mulligan crime novels.


Hip-Hop Ghazal



Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,

decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.


As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,

inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.


Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,

wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.


Engines grinding, rotating, smokin’, gotta pull back some.

Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.


Gotta love us girls, just struttin’ down Manhattan streets

killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.


Crying ’bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off

what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.


Source: Poetry (July/August 2007)






   “We do not dig graves or put caskets into graves any longer. The decision was made and funeral homes were notified that families and funeral homes would have to supply grave-digging personnel.”

—Ed Mazoue, New Orleans City Real Estate Administrator and Person in Charge of the City’s Cemeteries


There’s nothing but mud. The ground looks dry and firm,

but underneath is a stew of storm. Stout shovels, rusted,

grow gummed and heavy with what I heft and rearrange.

Progress is slow.


The sun so often steams me shut, and I have to stop

to gulp sugared bites of tea,

flick away sweat with my swollen fingers,

swat hard at sluggish flies who hover,

like they know.


And when I start again, there’s a rhythm to it,

some ticking jazz that gets my square hips involved.

I craft a chant purely for downbeat:


Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss it.

Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss it.


My untried muscles blaze,

joints click,

pulse clutches my chest.


Whole clocks later, I pause to relish the feat,

to marvel at the way I’ve compromised the earth,

how I’ve been that kind of God for a minute.


But only time has moved.

It’s like trying to reach the next world with a spoon.

My boy would have laughed.

Daddy, you better sit down and watch some ball game,

and we’d settle, Sunday lazy,

his squirm balanced on my belly.


He needed what I was and what I wasn’t.

Giggling in little language, he lobbed me the ball soft,

walked slower when I was at his side,

shared puffed white bread and purple jelly.


He waited patiently for me after dark

while I shuffled piles of books, looking for

a bedtime drama of spacemen or soldiers,

some crayoned splash to wrap his day around.


But every night, when I opened the door to his room,

all I saw

was a quivering mountain of Snoopys, Blues, and Scoobys.

Underneath them, his happy body could barely cage breath.


Giggles unleashed his toes. My line, then: Where are yoooou?


Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss it.

Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss—


With the dirt balanced high, screaming my shoulder,

I think hard on those nights of tussle and squeal.


I want to feel his heat and twist in my arms again.

I have to dig.


Patricia Smith, “Buried” from Blood Dazzler. Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Smith. Source: Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008)





Hurricanes, 2005


Arlene learned to dance backwards in heels that were too high.

Bret prayed for a shaggy mustache made of mud and hair.

Cindy just couldn’t keep her windy legs together.

Dennis never learned to swim.

Emily whispered her gusts into a thousand skins.

Franklin, farsighted and anxious, bumbled villages.

Gert spat her matronly name against a city’s flat face.

Harvey hurled a wailing child high.

Irene, the baby girl, threw pounding tantrums.

José liked the whip sound of slapping.

Lee just craved the whip.

Maria’s thunder skirts flew high when she danced.

Nate was mannered and practical. He stormed precisely.

Ophelia nibbled weirdly on the tips of depressions.

Philippe slept too late, flailing on a wronged ocean.

Rita was a vicious flirt. She woke Philippe with rumors.

Stan was born business, a gobbler of steel.

Tammy crooned country, getting the words all wrong.

Vince died before anyone could remember his name.

Wilma opened her maw wide, flashing rot.


None of them talked about Katrina.


She was their odd sister,

the blood dazzler.


Patricia Smith, “Siblings” from Blood Dazzler. Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Smith. Source: Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008)



What You Pray Toward



“The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment.”
—Malcolm Muggeridge, 1966



Hubbie 1 used to get wholly pissed when I made

myself come. I’m right here!, he’d sputter, blood

popping to the surface of his fuzzed cheeks,

goddamn it, I’m right here! By that time, I was

in no mood to discuss the myriad merits of my

pointer, or to jam the brakes on the express train

slicing through my blood, It was easier to suffer

the practiced professorial huff, the hissed invectives

and the cold old shoulder, liver-dotted, quaking

with rage. Shall we pause to bless professors and

codgers and their bellowed, unquestioned ownership

of things? I was sneaking time with my own body.

I know I signed something over, but it wasn’t that.



No matter how I angle this history, it’s weird,

so let’s just say Bringing Up Baby was on the telly

and suddenly my lips pressing against

the couch cushions felt spectacular and I thought

wow this is strange, what the hell, I’m 30 years old,

am I dying down there is this the feel, does the cunt

go to heaven first, ooh, snapped river, ooh shimmy

I had never had it never knew, oh i clamored and

lurched beneath my little succession of boys I cried

writhed hissed, ooh wee, suffered their flat lapping

and machine-gun diddling their insistent c’mon girl

c’mon until I memorized the blueprint for drawing

blood from their shoulders, until there was nothing

left but the self-satisfied liquidy snore of he who has

rocked she, he who has made she weep with script.

But this, oh Cary, gee Katherine, hallelujah Baby,

the fur do fly, all gush and kaboom on the wind.



Don’t hate me because I am multiple, hurtling.

As long as there is still skin on the pad of my finger,

as long as I’m awake, as long as my (new) husband’s

mouth holds out, I am the spinner, the unbridled,

the bellowing freak. When I have emptied him,

he leans back, coos, edges me along, keeps wondering

count. He falls to his knees in front of it, marvels

at my yelps and carousing spine, stares unflinching

as I bleed spittle unto the pillows.

He has married a witness.

My body bucks, slave to its selfish engine,

and love is the dim miracle of these little deaths,

fracturing, speeding for the surface.



We know the record. As it taunts us, we have giggled,

considered stopwatches, little laboratories. Somewhere

beneath the suffering clean, swathed in eyes and silver,

she came 134 times in one hour. I imagine wires holding

her tight, her throat a rattling window. Searching scrubbed

places for her name, I find only reams of numbers. I ask

the quietest of them:



Are we God?


“What You Pray Toward,” by Patricia Smith, from Teahouse of the Almighty, © 2006 by Patricia Smith. Source: Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006)


Elliptical poetry

A term coined in 1998 by poet and critic Stephen Burt in a review of Susan Wheeler’s Smokes. In the piece, which first appeared in theBoston Review, Burt describes elliptical poets as those who “try to manifest a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves.” Burt’s description of elliptical poetry emphasized its quick shifts in diction and referent, and use of occluded or partially obscured back-story. A special issue of American Letters and Commentary was devoted to elliptical poetry, sparking debates over contemporary trends and schools in American poetry. Burt pointed to several poets whose work commonly exhibits these features, including Mark LevineLucie Brock-Broido, and Liam Rector.


Almost a Conjuror



The slight white poet would assume non-human forms, homely

Grampus fish, a wahoo, nuthatch, nit.

He had no romance except

Remorse, which he used like fuzzy algebra. By pouring bluing

On black porous coal, he crystallized, pronounced himself almost

A sorcerer. He had an empty cloakroom

In the chest of him.

All the lost wool scarves

Of all the world collected there & muffled him

With wool.

He imagined he could move a broom if he desired, just by wishing

It. If he spoke of ghosts, he thought he could make of art vast

Tattersall & spreading wings.

When they found him in the nurse’s office,

He was awkward as a charlatan, slightly queasy

In an emperor’s real clothes.

The thermos in his lunchbox was perpetually

Broken and he lied. The small world smelled of oil

Of peppermint, for a broken spell. Everything is plaid

And sour in oblivion, as well.


Lucie Brock-Broido, “Almost a Conjuror” from Trouble in Mind. Copyright © 2004 by Lucie Brock-Broido. Source: Trouble in Mind (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)