* solituding with james schuyler

One of the most moving things about being a poet and sharing the work I do has been hearing feedback from people. I remember years ago after performing at a poetry slam, I had a woman come up to me and quote a line from one of the poems I’d read: “Why are men only honest during the slow songs?” Then she hugged me and said, That’s it, that’s exactly it.

Another time I was working at a coffee shop and had posted some poems (my own and by others) on the community board in celebration of National Poetry Month. It was a lovely surprise to hand off a latte to a young man as he smiled and said: “Solitude feels like fire sometimes.” Did you write that? That’s a good line.

My reaction in both situations was a mix of smiling and mumbling, eventually landing on a thank you.

In the three years of running this blog, I have been moved to similar moments of smiling and mumbling gratitude by comments made here, Facebook, Twitter, and email by those of you kind enough to read and reach out. While writing and reading may be solitary acts, there is a special kind of communion that happens in those moments of sharing lines and insights. Thank you for making me feel heard!

This week’s poem – “The Bluet” by James Schuyler – connects this type of communion via poetry with that available in the natural world. In those moments of reading a line and considering it, we read with the kind of attention and listening that “breaks/[us] up.”

* quaking *
* quaking *

The Bluet – James Schuyler

 And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.
The countdown to the December 1st release of my full-length collection, Everything We Think We Hear, continues. Here is a link to my poem “Letter to Rainer Maria Rilke from NYC” published in The Acentos Review in 2010. It’s the piece where the “solitude” line quoted above appears.
Happy solituding!

* Stanley Kunitz & the friday influence

Touch Me – Stanley Kunitz

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                          and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.


This week on the Influence: Stanley Kunitz.

This poem teaches me something new each time I read it.  On my first couple of reads a few years ago, I marveled at how the sound of the crickets gets played out in the repetition: “Desire, desire, desire”, how one line can have a drive like a heartbeat.

Then there was the revelation that the first line of the poem is indeed from his younger “wild with love” years, his quoting himself acting out the ongoing double nature of the poet: there is the poet who wrote the poem then, and the poet who looks at it now.  Whether it is a span of days or years, the poet(s) keep changing.


I remember telling a class once that if I had to choose one poem to make a case for poetry this would probably be it.  Mind you the list of poems that would back up such a claim keeps being revised in my head daily.  Still, this poem is always on it.  A man working in the garden remembering his youth, getting lost in his thoughts in his garden, asking to be reminded not of what but who he is, not memories, but the man – I mean, there’s the heart of poetry.

Here’s a quote from the man himself * :

A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of. It takes on a life and a will of its own. It might have proceeded differently—towards catastrophe, resignation, terror, despair—and I still would have to claim it. Valéry said that poetry is a language within a language. It is also a language beyond language, a meta-medium—that is, metabolic, metaphoric, metamorphic. A poet’s collected work is his book of changes. The great meditations on death have a curious exaltation. I suppose it comes from the realization, even on the threshold, that one isn’t done with one’s changes.

This idea of change being the constant in life as in writing is what I admire most in Stanley Kunitz.  Valuing the life lived.  Poetry as the mythology of existence.


I posted this poem up once at a coffeeshop I worked at.  A regular asked me to read it to her on a break because she had forgotten her glasses.  After I was finished reading aloud, I turned to find that she had tears in her eyes.  I remained quiet, feeling that the moment had nothing to do with me, that I could say nothing because the poem had said so much.


Happy saying!


* http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3185/the-art-of-poetry-no-29-stanley-kunitz