Retirement, or Dreaming Myself Awake

I’m not dreaming. I’m reading. I don’t expect to touch the sky with my two hands. What a relief to read this now, this fragment of Sappho, translated by Jim Powell. A human body can only do what a human body can do. I don’t expect: how about working with that as a practice when I lie down at night and in the morning when—if—I rise again?

Adam Zagajewski, Poet of Possibility, R.I.P.

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.”

Warty Pig

There’s a bit of backstory here. The warty pig in question is a depiction on the inside of a cave in Indonesia. The painting was discovered last year. It was painted, the carbon daters say, about 45,000 years ago. Warty pig is, for now at least, the oldest work of representational art, by far, that exists anywhere in the world.

Who is Doing the Ironing?

I once heard a female academic talk about the necessity of “de-gendering the private sphere,” and the past year would certainly seem to confirm that, what with children (including my own) and baskets of dirty laundry creeping into the backgrounds of Zoom calls.

“We,” the Inaugural Pronoun

Even in our nation’s founding documents, the Inaugural Pronoun “We” has a hard time surviving the language that surrounds it. James Boyd White, in When Words Lose Their Meanings, brilliantly shows, in his close reading of both the Declaration and the Constitution, how nearly their respective “We’s” come to foundering in the turbulence of everyday reality.

The Hills Reply: The Novel as Kaleidoscope

Tarjei Vesaas’s final book fascinates me more than the others because of its form. It is a series of images—as I have just used the term, these moments of consciousness-in-place that become character-defining—a kaleidoscope of them (that word means a sequence of beautiful images)…but do they add up to a story? If so, what or whose story?

“Start with a woman watching a man catching his daughter”

“Start with a woman watching a man / catching his daughter.” But find you see with the eyes of the child: yourself, small as a gangly loaf of bread, gripped and flung and caught at the ribs by your father, whose boyish face pumps up and down in the summer yard where he, years ago, once played.

Words about Words about Words

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).

Learning To Be (A) Patient

What McEntyre brings to this messy table are two decades of experience teaching literature to medical students and other health care professionals in training, as well as the wisdom garnered from her own encounters with physicians as their patient. Befitting the author of the justly celebrated Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, her approach is highly practical, offering suggestions on how to steward that most precious resource — language — within a deeply flawed institution.

If I Am Not Who I Am, Then Who Am I?

Are there other ways of responding to what’s unknown? Might we even train ourselves to recognize the human mind’s habit of perceiving as threats those things, human and more than human, that do not conform to the world as we know it?

The First and Best Close Reader

God’s reading of us, while rooted in flesh and bone, is not limited to them. Or better said: flesh and bone, in God’s eyes, provide an absolutely reliable witness of our moral health (or lack thereof). No mystery there: God made human flesh and bone that way, as unambiguous representatives of who we are and of what we have made of ourselves.

Embroidery, Writing, and the Temptation to Fudge

I want the sheen of the easy finish. Don’t I deserve it, by now? But that’s the dishonesty everywhere now, from The New York Times to CPAC. Instead, the task remains, to take the uneven thread of words, just as with the backstitches of embroidery, and pull them out, and pull them back in—this is not just writing or sewing, but soul-making, too.

Foreheads, Stars, and Verses

I’ve never really understood why Georg Trakl talks about foreheads so much. I mean, you can imagine the word coming up once in a poem for some reason or other. I can even see that there is something fascinating about foreheads in that they are both of and not of the face. That’s to say, you don’t generally get a face without a forehead.

Rachel Carson, Fantasist

What I’ve realized since my son’s birthday is that Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind did for me something like what I hope the books I bought for my sons will do for them someday: or it is the adult version of it, the fantasy that is like yet unlike that of the child. How does Carson accomplish this transfiguration of the natural world?

A Gathered Winter

None of my raised-bed boxes are even, nor my hand-tied trellises straight. I get too close to a thing, to where I can’t see its crookedness. Aside from human beings, you need to step back aways to see the crookedness in a thing. I wish I were a step-back person. Crookedness in a trellis you can fix before too many ties go in. But crookedness in man? What’s the point of seeing it?

Is Cursive Cursed?

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.

President of the Mystical Party

I can say, with joy and gratitude, that Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete was one of my mentors, and for a brief and very charmed time in my life, as I studied theology at the Pope John Paul II Institute in Washington DC in my early twenties, my way of seeing reality was permanently and dramatically changed by him. He gave me an infinite horizon.

“It Was Good To Be In Chicago”

“It was good to be in Chicago.”
What comes next? How about this: “On the way to Santiago.”
That’s Kenneth Koch in Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. He’s demonstrating how one line of a poem leads to another.

Lorenzo the Magnificent

He liked to be called El Santo (Spanish for “the Saint”). In almost anyone else on the planet it would be considered a sort of spiritual vanity or pretension. But in the case of Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, it was both a joke and a piece of deep theological wisdom.

Egyptian Gold

Howard Nemerov, far from an absolutist about form, meter, and rhyme, nevertheless
preferred to write within certain boundaries of poetic tradition. “I like filling out the old forms,” he’d say with a bemused smile as if referring to his income tax returns, “they keep me from being stupider than the law allows.”