noting with marilyn hacker

One of the things to note about this week’s poem, “A Note Downriver” by Marilyn Hacker, is its use of Sapphic stanzas to evoke longing via nuanced meditations. A Sapphic stanza, named after the Greek love poet Sappho, consists of three lines of eleven syllables each (with stresses on the first, fifth, and tenth syllables) and a truncated fourth line of five syllables (stresses here on the first and fourth).

Through_the_wilds;_a_record_of_sport_and_adventure_in_the_forests_of_New_Hampshire_and_Maine_(1892)_(14586696278)In light of the complexity of this stanzaic structure, I can’t help but marvel at Hacker’s use of it here in a poem essentially about a hangover. The stress on the first syllable of each line adds a troubled conviction to the speaker’s voice; their ruminations come off in a controlled yet shaky manner. This shakiness is augmented by the form, leading to such lyrical utterances as: “I feel muggy-headed and convalescent, / barely push a pen across blue-lined paper.”

The leap in phrasing and logic here evoke a struggle beyond language. At the precipice of articulation, articulation feels hindered; “push” is echoed by the nearby “scowl” and the later “grouse” and “growl.” This reading of echoes is furthered by the ending metaphor of rivers speaking, literally having the last, troubled word.

A Note Downriver – Marilyn Hacker 

Afternoon of hangover Sunday morning
earned by drinking wine on an empty stomach
after I met Tom for a bomb on Broadway:
done worse; known better.

I feel muggy-headed and convalescent,
barely push a pen across blue-lined paper,
scowl at envelopes with another country’s
stamps, and your letter.

Hilltop house, a river to take you somewhere,
sandwiches at noon with a good companion:
summer’s ghost flicked ash from the front porch railing,
looked up, and listened.

I would grouse and growl at you if you called me.
I have made you chamomile tea and rye bread
toast, fixed us both orange juice laced with seltzer
similar mornings.

We’ll most likely live in each other’s houses
like I haunted yours last July, as long as
we hear rivers vacillate downstream. They say
“always”; say “never.”

from Winter Numbers: poems (W.W. Norton)

* the staying noise of jürgen becker


Hell, Sartre Said, Is Other People – Jürgen Becker

L’heure bleu, it could be, but it’s
the do-it-yourself handyman who makes the mood
for his and my evening. Powerless this entire building –
seventh, eleventh, fourteenth floor; the man
drills into the walls, yet no one
sees him. In case I see him, I’ll, I’ll
do nothing. Like always, complaints go
in the poem, which makes a large staying noise.

translated by Okla Elliott


One of my goals in starting this blog four years ago was to celebrate the short lyric, which I see as personal and brief expressions whose tradition extends back to the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s love poems. The way whole worlds, worlds within moments, can be evoked and experienced in a handful of lines is powerful.

Elliott-Cover-250x386I recently did a microreview/interview of Blackbirds in September, a book of German poet Jürgen Becker’s shorter poems. Time and again I was moved by the personal insight and wisdom found in lines about everyday life. If there are slice of life stories, then I believe the best short lyrics present slices of moments. A short lyric can, indeed, create “a large staying noise” by highlighting what one chooses to recall and archive in a poem as well as giving the reader the artifact of the poem with which to investigate life, the speaker’s and their own.

The following poem struck me as ingenious not simply for the formal structure but for the inventiveness with which the title’s set up is followed through.

Here, the short lyric serves as an insight to sensibility as much as theme and focus.


Possibilities for Paintings – Jürgen Becker

Dark Tree in front of a Bright House.
Sad Eyes at the Shutting of Doors.
Wood and Milk; a Lamp.
The Wind, which Extends the Hand (in quotes).
Balloons, Dripping from the Mouth.
Peace in the Valley.
The Patience of Landmines.
Now the Meadow Grows through the House.
Leaping, over a Mark in the Air.
The Coasts of Exile (since 1957).
Winter Branches in Summer.
Triumph of Waiting.
Falling Pears. Lying Pears.
Bicycle on the Horizon.
Soldiers and Bicycle.
The Night of the 7th of November.
The Misery of the Liberated.
Glass, between Figures.
Groups of People before the Horizon.
Fog; the Fossilization of Fog.

translated by Okla Elliott

Check out my microreview/interview on this book and its translator on the Cincinnati Review blog! Thank you to translator Okla Elliott for making these poems available in English!

Happy noising!


* the friday influence features: Adeeba Talukder


The East river is never still upon stones and ships.



Always, the chance of touch.



How thin we are– how everything

makes us flap, snap, fall


crooked branches before night

They are like hands frozen into longing,

hairs tangled beyond separation.



A Lucknow courtesan adorned to madness,

weeping Ghalib.


This week on the Friday Influence I am featuring the work of my good friend and excellent poet: Adeeba Talukder.

What moves me most about this series of short poems is how much they play with chance.  They take on a riddle-like structure to define things in a lyrical and personal manner.  Talukder lives in Brooklyn, so there is the East River as only she can open it up.  She is fluent in both Urdu and the work of the great classical Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Ghalib, and sees the language so tied up in his work that she cannot define it without mentioning him.  (It is also a bittersweet touch to allude to the great love affair of Ghalib’s life).

Reading these poems, I am reminded of other efforts forged in chance and singularity such as Gertrude Stein’s tender buttons and Yannis Ritsos’ monochords.  “tremble” evokes some of Sappho’s fragments, that immediacy and intensity that can only be channeled through lyric poetry.

Read individually the poems stand on their own.  Read in a series the poems play off each other in their focus on movement and fragility.  The line “How thin we are” applies to the leaf but also to the lovers at the end, lovers weeping tied up in the air of language.

Here’s the poet on her work:

God and love constantly elude me, so they have a way of sneaking into all my thoughts and sentences; many of my poems constantly revisit the imagery, language, and rituals that both concepts have traditionally evoked. For me, the two are also intrinsically intertwined; I am a student of classical Urdu ghazal poetry, and years and years of dwelling within its universe have birthed in me an obsession with the idea of physical, human love as a step towards– or even a manifestation of– love for the Divine. I have developed a fondness for the ghazal’s characters and metaphors– the cruel beloved, the mad lover tearing his collar in anguish, the frenzied moth circling the flame, the nightingale singing its songs of love for the rose. Its recurring themes of desire and separation, the slaying of the ego, and absolute obliteration in the path of desire are also among my haunts. My poems are often simply attempts to reconcile that fantastical world with this other one I inhabit.

These words open up Talukder’s work for me not just as a reader but as a poet as well.  In them I see a poet embracing her obsessions, not using them for fodder but rather seeing them as colors in the room she lives in.  That is the way craft works: it is a thing inside you that grows the more you grow.


This week’s post has been a treat.  I have been toying with the idea of opening up the blog for submissions.  My trial run was through solicitation.  I am still working out the process and guidelines but plan to open up the blog to submissions soon.  Should you be interested, feel free to email me at

Here’s another poem by Adeeba Talukder:


What feeble minds have held you between their fingers? Despite your

reshapings and growths and falls Manhattan’s still living between banks.


your tide-fist’s swell

spread calm as water,

as light, light, light.


Nothing moved between the skins of earth and sky. They sank into the

darkness, traced each other’s noses as though it were love.


the soft of dusk

its waist of light


how much of you moon?

how many eyes the night?


Happy chancing!