Being back at Poets House is like going home. If I could take it back to Michigan with me, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.
On Monday, I was given the task of looking up poems about or involving lilies for a patron (board member?) who planned to use them in her writing in some way. That proved to be especially fun for me, considering a few of the poems I came across were authored by two of my current favorite poets: Louise Glück and Gerald Stern:
The Silver Lily
by Louise Glück
The nights have grown cool again, like the nights
of early spring, and quiet again. Will
speech disturb you? We’re
alone now; we have no reason for silence.
Can you see, over the garden—the full moon rises.
I won’t see the next full moon.
In spring, when the moon rose, it meant
time was endless. Snowdrops
opened and closed, the clustered
seeds of the maples fell in pale drifts.
White over white, the moon rose over the birch tree.
And in the crook, where the tree divides,
leaves of the first daffodils, in moonlight
We have come too far together toward the end now
to fear the end. These nights, I am no longer even certain
I know what the end means. And you, who’ve been with a man—
after the first cries,
doesn’t joy, like fear, make no sound?
In Beauty Bright
by Gerald Stern
In beauty-bright and such it was like Blake’s
lily and though an angel he looked absurd
dragging a lily out of a beauty-bright store
wrapped in tissue with a petal drooping,
nor was it useless—you who know it know
how useful it is—and how he would be dead
in a minute if he were to lose it though
how do you lose a lily? His lily was white
and he had a foolish smile there holding it up like
a candelabrum in his right hand facing the
mirror in the hall nor had the endless
centuries started yet nor was there one thorn
between his small house and the beauty-bright store.
Glück also has two other poems with lilies in the title (“The Gold Lily” and “The White Lilies”) in her book The Wild Iris, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s one of my favorite books of poetry. She uses the language of flowers to talk about life, love, loss, death…everything. Most notable, though, is the speakers struggle with God. At times, the speaker is God. I admire that move, too few women poets have the guts to write from the perspective of God. I should probably note, too, that Gerald Stern is a genius, becoming more and more so with age. I hear he’s kind of a crazy old man now, but I think his poetry is getting better and better. I’ve learned a lot about momentum and music from him.
Yesterday, I spent part of the morning transcribing the words of W.S. Merwin from a past event at Poets House. I highly recommend you search Poets House on youtube and watch some of the videos there. It’s such a valuable resource I never knew existed! Yet another reason to spend obnoxious amounts of time on youtube, right? Maybe if you’re a nerd, like me. I especially loved the clip in which he talks about the fox, and how animals that “everyone lies about” intrigue him. It’s refreshing to hear that other poets are responding to nature in the way I do. At the end of that musing, he reads this poem (inspired by the fox):
by W. S. Merwin
Comet of stillness princess of what is over
high note held without trembling without voice without sound
aura of complete darkness keeper of the kept secrets
of the destroyed stories the escaped dreams the sentences
never caught in words warden of where the river went
touch of its surface sibyl of the extinguished
window onto the hidden place and the other time
at the foot of the wall by the road patient without waiting
in the full moonlight of autumn at the hour when I was born
you no longer go out like a flame at the sight of me
you are still warmer than the moonlight gleaming on you
even now you are unharmed even now perfect
as you have always been now when your light paws are running
on the breathless night on the bridge with one end I remember you
when I have heard you the soles of my feet have made answer
when I have seen you I have waked and slipped from the calendars
from the creeds of difference and the contradictions
that were my life and all the crumbling fabrications
as long as it lasted until something that we were
had ended when you are no longer anything
let me catch sight of you again going over the wall
and before the garden is extinct and the woods are figures
guttering on a screen let my words find their own
places in the silence after the animals
(every other line of this poem should be indented slightly. Apparently wordpress doesn’t understand the importance of form in poetry )
I have to admit, I haven’t read much W.S. Merwin in the past, but after that poem I definitely plan on adding him to my list of “musts.” You know me and nature. Sometimes I feel like I just want to lock myself in a room for the next ten years or else I’m never going to have time to read everything I want to read. I’m looking forward to taking Advanced Poetry with Chad Sweeney next quarter. I hear the reading load for his classes is considerable…and that’s just what I need.
Speaking of Chad Sweeney, I came across his new book during my second task of the day, alphabetizing the cataloged new showcase books. I got excited, like I know someone famous…I feel that way about Di’s books, too, like I just want to carry them around and say “look!!! I know her!” I’m weird. Need you be reminded how excited I was to find a signed copy of Louise Glück’s chapbook?
I also discovered a small book covered in interesting hand-made paper, and, through that, discovered the “Combat Paper Project.” It’s an organization based in Vermont that travels around the country doing paper-making workshops with Veterans and preaching the therapeutic qualities of writing. Vets make paper out of the material of old fatigues, symbolizing the reshaping of previous experience into art. There’s also a small press associated with the project, which printed the book I flipped through yesterday. I’m absolutely ecstatic to have found something like this. It has always been on my bucket list to start an online literary magazine for members of the military and their loved ones, for very similar reasons. It’s great to know something is already established with those goals in mind. I am quite close with a couple members of the military and also with people who love them, so it’s near to my heart. If my online literary magazine idea never takes off, I’d love to consider working with the Combat Paper Project in the future…what an inspiring and important find for someone like me.
Progress on my chapbook is barreling along at breakneck speed. Somehow I slipped into a pocket of inspiration and have been writing multiple poems a day and coming up with ideas left and right. I’m hoping to plan a chapbook-assembling party in the basement in order to enlist the help of my fellow program members, in exchange for a free dinner and some red velvet cake (but of course). So, if you’re in the program and you’re reading this, stay on the lookout for flyers detailing this event in the days leading up to March 23rd!
Tonight I’m going to several events that are part of the annual Chapbook Festival. It truly couldn’t have had better timing. Details to come.