* youthful counting with W.S. Merwin

I remember when I came across this week’s poem in 2008.

I was living another life on a street called Olive. The newsprint of the journal I was subscribed to at the time was never more precious, seemingly perishable, as when I read and later copied out this lyric by hand.

I knew then the poem was doing more than I could see.

The lack of punctuation echoed what I had then read and reread of Robert Frost, how he felt the language and phrasing of speech should guide as it does here. Also: how Frost could fill in a fifty character telegraph message with one sentence and no need for punctuation.

The other thing I catch now that I didn’t then is how the poem is worked out in ten syllable lines. I have been doing this kind of syllabic counting for years, but rarely have I caught others in the act. Makes  me want to go over so many poems again and reread them with sharper eyes.

Which is the hope, really, of youth: to sharpen.

Over time, I’ve seen that one does not necessarily sharpen, but things do: memories especially.

Merwin’s last line here is for the ages.

* not so insta-gram *
* not so insta-gram *

Youth – W.S. Merwin

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I

have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me

as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let

me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I

began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already

part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you

from what we cannot hold the stars are made


Happy mading!


* key connections with James Merrill

* memory lane *
* memory lane *

The above is a photo taken at my former place of work, Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon.

I found myself a little home(stacks)sick this past week as I took a stroll at a nearby bookstore. For me, there’s no real comparing bookstores with each other because, given enough time, things happen at one store that you carry with you no matter where you go.

The used bookstore here in Cincy has found a place in my reading memory for being the place where I ran across this week’s poem by James Merrill.

Merrill is a poet I’ve long been trying to get into. I’ve picked up books of his in NYC, Corpus Christi, & the above store in Eugene.

This week, however, I found the key into his work. It’s the kind of personal connection that is too bright to see clearly, you just say: Wow! I found the poem! I share it with you folks in that spirit.

I hope you marvel as I did at how he builds playfully and intriguingly into and out of a dream. The line: Fingers were running in panic over the flute’s nine gates, alone gets me going all over again.

I also was moved to find out what wisteria looks like because of this poem. Here you go:

* wisteria, yo *
* wisteria, yo *

The Mad Scene – James Merrill

Again last night I dreamed the dream called Laundry.
In it, the sheets and towels of a life we were going to share,
The milk-stiff bibs, the shroud, each rag to be ever
Trampled or soiled, bled on or groped for blindly,
Came swooning out of an enormous willow hamper
Onto moon-marbly boards. We had just met. I watched
From outer darkness. I had dressed myself in clothes
Of a new fiber that never stains or wrinkles, never
Wears thin. The opera house sparkled with tiers
And tiers of eyes, like mine enlarged by belladonna,
Trained inward. There I saw the cloud-clot, gust by gust,
Form, and the lightning bite, and the roan mane unloosen.
Fingers were running in panic over the flute’s nine gates.
Why did I flinch? I loved you. And in the downpour laughed
To have us wrung white, gnarled together, one
Topmost mordent of wisteria,
As the lean tree burst into grief.


Happy bursting!


* in the clear with Jane Hirshfield

Reading through an interview with poet Jane Hirshfield, I was moved by a concept she terms “clarity without simplicity”:

Yes, being clear without being simple is one of the poetic qualities I most admire in the work of others, and one I hope finds a place in my own.

I feel like this is one of the qualities that I strive to celebrate here on the Influence.

The phrase itself is clearly unsimple. For me, it implies some effort between the poet and the reader, an effort to not only get the words right but to come to them directly. The poetry in the poem a sort of clearing you have to find your way to, and which the poet clears.

Hirshfield’s poem below shows some of this in action.

* gang-related *
* gang-related *

Tree – Jane Hirshfield

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.


Happy tapping!


p.s. Check out the Hirshfield interview, in which she also shares some insight into Zen and its influence on her life, here.

* in the trees with John Ashbery & new work

After many walks in the snow the body learns a new rhythm. At least that’s what it’s felt like these past few weeks. I’ve got myself a mean snow trudge.

What I admire about John Ashbery is the way he can keep his line close to the shifts of not his mind but the mind of the poem. In the poem below, whose rhyming couplets have a music that sneaks up on you rather than chimes on in, I feel a recognition of what is termed “puzzling light.”

Not the kind of light that leaves you puzzled (past tense) but a sense of light as vision, where you look at something and keep seeing new things in it, puzzling out what there is.

Like steps in deep snow: each a different mark and feel.

* and miles to go and all that *
* and miles to go and all that *

Some Trees – John Ashbery

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.


Happy accenting!


p.s. I am happy to announce that I have 3 poems in the latest issue of the Inflectionist Review. Check them out here. Special thanks to John Sibley Williams and A. Molotkov for giving these poems a home.