‘Oh know your own heart…’

Influenced by D.H. Lawrence’s free verse as much as by the Christina Rossetti of “Goblin Market,” Stevie Smith found an a midcentury audience for acerbic poetic chronicles of a complacent society accustomed to snobbery as a shield against postwar deprivations. Her work is best discovered young when her quirks look like a respite from theContinue reading “‘Oh know your own heart…’”

‘I have heard the key’

Viggo Mortensen reading The Waste Land? Sign me up, bro. Aragon would know of despair, of rats crawling on their slimy bellies; certainly he could taste “the awful daring of a moment’s surrender.” I must thank Anthony Lane for the discovery. His fine essay on the centenary of T.S. Eliot’s insistently influential poem ranks amongContinue reading “‘I have heard the key’”

“I can, look, sink myself into you, glacierlike…”

After the Holocaust became widely known, Paul Celan wrote: “Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech.” His isContinue reading ““I can, look, sink myself into you, glacierlike…””

“…You excuse each folded/cry of the finch’s wit…”

A poet whose difficulties are worth puzzling over, J.H. Prynne often writes verses that leapt beyond semantic sense line by line. Online acquaintances recommended him two months ago. Allegedly influenced by Charles Olson and the early Ezra Pound, Prynne’s work resembles John Ashbery and James Schyler in its demotic surrealism. I’m still making my wayContinue reading ““…You excuse each folded/cry of the finch’s wit…””

Self-sufficiency is a start: the Pulse murders six yeas later.

Mourning the five years since a shooter decided he could no longer share this earth with 49 patrons of an Orlando club, I noted that “to put your key in the lock after a night out, to open your eyes in the morning — to be alive” after Donald Trump lost the election counted asContinue reading “Self-sufficiency is a start: the Pulse murders six yeas later.”

Bold, sensual ‘Benediction’ works as a history of gay Brit wit

How can they use such names and be not humble? I have sat silent; angry at what they uttered. The dead bequeathed them life; the dead have said What these can only memorize and mumble. No working director’s filmography depends on queer yearning and exquisite self-disgust like Terence Davies, and should you find another one,Continue reading “Bold, sensual ‘Benediction’ works as a history of gay Brit wit”

‘He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept…’

A bisexual man who encouraged fellow officer Wilfred Owen and slept with the likes of Ivor Novello, Siegfried Sassoon risked his family honor writing a letter protesting the conduct of the Great War: “I believe that this War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”

‘All Nature welcomes Her…’

Spend too long gazing at the face of God and the rest of one’s days descend into pedantry. One of the innovators in English poetry, William Wordsworth peaked early: the textbook example of reactionism taking the place of youthful radicalism. Yet I’m the weirdo who swooned over an excerpt from The Prelude we senors hadContinue reading “‘All Nature welcomes Her…’”

‘The palm at the end of the mind…’

When I was still a Catholic, the sense of anticipation ofPalm Sunday rendered mute and useless the jockeying for space in the pews for once-a-year worshipers fighting over the consecrated fronds. For Wallace Stevens, the palm stood for the mystery of the fictive muse, as his last published poem “Of Mere Being” shows. The palmContinue reading “‘The palm at the end of the mind…’”

‘Make/a mockery out of our darkness…’

A Pennsylvanian whose poems boast the occasional demotic intensity, Gerald Stern has quietly amassed a slim collection of lasting work, most of which he collected in Leaving Another Kingdom: Selected Poems, winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize. I enjoy the booming opening of “Swifts”. Bing Crosby died in Spain while playing golf with Franco butContinue reading “‘Make/a mockery out of our darkness…’”

‘Without thinking you were alive again’ — A World AIDS Day poem

An elegist of concision, Mark Doty came of age poetically as a generation realized HIV/AIDS would not permit them the free hand their forefathers had enjoyed. His 1996 memoir Heaven’s Coast, a ruthless accounting of a lover’s decline and fall, remains one of the decade’s best. I’ve dipped into his poetry once in a while;Continue reading “‘Without thinking you were alive again’ — A World AIDS Day poem”