In my part of the country, spring is trying to spring forth. The fresh young greens outside move me to go (inside) to my computer, where I have a folder chock-full of favorite poems. I scroll through for poems that speak in some way or other about springtime: especially the blossoming of flowers or the emergence of green shoots or the headiness of spring scents.
Rereading Zagajewski’s poems now, I’m struck by a particular vision often running through them. Of course, any poet who published fifteen collections over forty-seven years will have engaged a variety of themes, moods, moments. But in my current reading of Zagajewski, what’s standing out for me is what I’ll call his “poems of possibility.”
I’ve long enjoyed what are referred to as “meta” art forms: works that take their very medium as their subject. So, for instance, there’s fiction about fiction (say, Borges’s stories) painting about painting (like Jackson Pollack’s drip-action canvasses), film about film (Fellini’s 8 1/2 comes first to mind).
In my pre-computer days, when I wanted to copy out a favorite poem to memorize it, just moving it through my brain to my hand already made it part of me. Keyboarding favorite poems, which is my current practice, just doesn’t do this. Then of course there’s the ultimate laziness of copy/pasting a poem from a website.
Here, in his latest volume of poetry—Teaching the Soul to Speak—Murray Bodo is saying some goodbyes. Bodo is in his eighties, as he mentions in several of the poems. His yearly pilgrimages to Assisi are apparently over, but the city and all that it has meant to him stay alive in his poems, filling an entire section of the book.
When the magnitude of the possible
Dawned—a morning doubly brilliant—
Many were so near they vanished instantly.
Others ran to the city’s rivers, naked
But indistinguishable, woman from man.
As a black rain fell on the fires, the wounded
Dug for the buried wounded.
Reading poetry is not like reading fiction. A good novel pulls me onward, makes me turn its pages, wondering what the protagonist will do next. A good poem does the opposite: makes me pause, draws me into itself and holds me there.
Probably the best poet to write about her own experience of living with HIV was Tory Dent, who was diagnosed with AIDS at age 30 and died from it at age 47. In between, she published three poetry collections focused mainly on her illness. (One, HIV, Mon Amour, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.)
Have you ever wondered where we get the idea of “idea”? Or of “conscience” or “pity” or “create”? Or wondered when words like “terrorize” or “democrat” or “capital” entered English?
Here’s a game: in the lines below, can you tell which are from the Bible and which from an English poem?
Ho, every one that thirsteth,
to the waters,
and he that hath no money;
buy, and eat;
First, before even coming
together—how ever many of them there were—before
saying one word, there was a wanting. Yet before
even putting that into words—see how far back
this goes?—there was a need. And that’s what’s driven me
to return to these desolate cliffs rising above
an ever-shifting bay.
His mam’s face grew almost cruel with hidden feeling. She held the slate straight out in her hand and gazed unwinkingly at the letters.
“That writing stands for me!” she said. “I can’t get over it.” There was a power of pride and wonder in her voice.
What is the “fullness of the moment”? Robert Cording’s essays in Finding the World’s Fullness and Claude Wilkinson’s poems in World Without End engage the question.
Close reading is a way of engaging a text with special attention to its language, tone, techniques. It has gone out of favor lately, as ideological readings have taken over. We’ve named this blog “Close Reading” because we want to model and encourage an engagement with texts themselves: those we write and those we read.