Topic: Poetry

What Remains of Silence – On Kawara’s Final Days at the Guggenheim




On Kawara’s Guggenheim Museum exhibit “Silence” closes May 3, 2015.

Poetry allows musical elements (time, sound) to be introduced into the world of words

“As I see it, poetry is not prose simply because poetry is in one way or another formalized. It is not poetry by reason of its content or ambiguity but by reason of its allowing musical elements (time, sound) to be introduced into the world of words”
~John Cage, Foreword to Silence

Lou Reed – Perfect Day (Live At Montreux 2000)

Here’s to the late great Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013), a true American original. Who could ever replace him? Who will give us the next “perfect day”?

Brion Gysin’s Cut-Ups: A Project for Disastrous Success

1966_Antony Balch

“Language is an abominable misunderstanding which makes up a part of matter. The painters and the physicists have treated matter pretty well. The poets have hardly touched it. In March 1958, when I was living at the Beat Hotel, I proposed to Burroughs to at least make available to literature the means that painters have been using for fifty years. Cut words into pieces and scramble them. You’ll hear someone draw a bow-string. Who runs may read, To read better, practice your running. Speed is entirely up to us, since machines have delivered us from the horse. Henceforth the question is to deliver us from that other so-called superior animal, man. It’s not worth it to chase out the merchants: their temple is dedicated to the unsuitable lie of the value of the Unique. The crime of separation gave birth to the idea of the Unique which would not be separate. In painting, matter has seen everything: from sand to stuffed goats. Disfigured more and more, the image has been geometrically multiplied to a dizzying degree. A snow of advertising could fall from the sky, and only collector babies and the chimpanzees who make abstract paintings would bother to pick one up.”

~Brion Gysin, “Cut-Ups: A Project for Disastrous Success.”

Here is a link to a short film from 1966 titled The Cut-Ups by Antony Balch which is archived on the Gysin website. The screenplay was written by William S. Burroughs and the film features both Burroughs and Gysin.

What do Gertrude Stein and JAY Z have in common? Picasso, baby.

Gertrude Stein, “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” (1923). The artists gets artisted upon. Upon the artist. Visited by she who by her by she who by words visits upon. She who by words. Artisted upon visit upon by words she who by words unpaints his paint.

If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso

If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him would he like it would he like it if I told him.
Not now.
And now.
Exactly as as kings.
Feeling full for it.
Exactitude as kings.
So to beseech you as full as for it.
Exactly or as kings.
Shutters shut and open so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so shutters shut and shutters and so and so shutters and so shutters shut and so shutters shut and shutters and so. And so shutters shut and so and also. And also and so and so and also.
Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact as a resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly a resemblance, exactly and resemblance. For this is so. Because.
Now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all.
Have hold and hear, actively repeat at all.
I judge judge.
As a resemblance to him.
Who comes first. Napoleon the first.
Who comes too coming coming too, who goes there, as they go they share, who shares all, all is as all as as yet or as yet.
Now to date now to date. Now and now and date and the date.
Who came first Napoleon at first. Who came first Napoleon the first. Who came first, Napoleon first.
Exactly do they do.
First exactly.
Exactly do they do too.
First exactly.
And first exactly.
Exactly do they do.
And first exactly and exactly.
And do they do.
At first exactly and First exactly and do they do.
The first exactly.
And do they do.
The first exactly.
At first exactly.
First as exactly.
At first as exactly.
As presently.
As as presently.
He he he he and he and he and and he and he and he and and as and as he and as he and he. He is and as he is, and as he is and he is, he is and as he and he and as he is and he and he and and he and he.
Can curls rob can curls quote, quotable.
As presently.
As exactitude.
As trains.
Has trains.
Has trains.
As trains.
As trains.
As proportions as presently.
Father and farther.
Was the king or room.
Farther and whether.
Was there was there was there what was there was there what was there was there there was there.
Whether and in there.
As even say so.
I land.Two.
I land.
The land.
The land.
The land.
I land.
I land.
I land.
I land.
As a so.
They cannot.
A note.
They cannot.
A float.
They cannot.
They dote.
They cannot.
They as denote.
Miracles play.
Play fairly.
Play fairly well.
A well.
As well.
As or as presently.
Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.

And here is JAY Z,’s “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film”:

…Eventually the pendulum swings
Don’t forget America this how you made me
Come through with the ‘Ye mask on
Spray everything like SAMO, I won’t scratch the Lambo
What’s it gon take for me to go
For you to see, I’m the modern day Pablo, Picasso baby

“Picasso Baby” is from JAY Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, and “Modern day Pablo” or not, it has a great cover design:

JAY Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail - cover

The sculpture shown on the cover is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which recently texted JAY Z’s source: Alpheus and Arethusa by Battista di Domenico Lorenzi (Italian, ca. 1527/28–1594):

Alpheus and Arethusa, by Battista di Domenico Lorenzi (detail)

Notes the Met’s page for this sculpture:

In Roman mythology the river god Alpheus pursued the nymph Arethusa until Diana changed her into a fountain. This group was carved to go above a fountain in the villa Il Paradiso at Pian di Ripoli, near Florence, which belonged to Alamanno Bandini, Knight of Malta.

Who knows? Maybe this is JAY Z and his muse, Beyoncé, many many lifetimes ago. Here is the full, nearly life-size sculpture:

Alpheus and Arethusa, by Battista di Domenico Lorenzi

Wind on a willow: from Primrose to Primrose Hill

Frank Auerbach - Primrose Hill

Frank Auerbach, “Primrose Hill,” oil paint on board, 1967-8. Collection: Tate, London.

Though they likely never met, British painter Frank Auerbach (b.1931)  and American poet William Carlos Williams (1883–1963)  are seen here walking the primrose path together up and around Primrose Hill.

By William Carlos Williams

Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow!
It is not a color.
It is summer!
It is the wind on a willow,
the lap of waves, the shadow
under a bush, a bird, a bluebird,
three herons, a dead hawk
rotting on a pole–
Clear yellow!
It is a piece of blue paper
in the grass or a threecluster of
green walnuts swaying, children
playing croquet or one boy
fishing, a man
swinging his pink fists
as he walks–
It is ladysthumb, forget-me-nots
in the ditch, moss under
the flange of the carrail, the
wavy lines in split rock, a
great oaktree–
It is a disinclination to be
five red petals or a rose, it is
a cluster of birdsbreast flowers
on a red stem six feet high,
four open yellow petals
above sepals curled
backward into reverse spikes–
Tufts of purple grass spot the
green meadow and clouds the sky.

Escudero Etchebaster Solidad Casals: Style, by Marianne Moore

This morning serendipity caused me to trip over and into this wonderful poem by the great American modernist poet Marianne Moore, “Style” (c. 1956). Revel in the language and the waltz of words. Revel, I say. Revel too in the names of Moore’s characters and allusions, some of which Ms. Moore elaborated upon in end-notes to her poem; I’ve added my own explicatory revelations and links at the bottom of this post.

Follow the plumbline past the tilted hat…


revives in Escudero’s constant of the plumbline,
axis of the hairfine moon–his counter-camber of the skater.
No more fanatical adjuster
of the tilted hat
than Escudero; of tempos others can’t combine.
And we — besides evolving
the classic silhouette, Dick Button whittled slender–

have an Iberian-American champion yet,
the deadly Etchebaster. Entranced, were you not, by Soledad?
black-clad solitude that is not sad;
like a letter from
Casals; or perhaps say literal alphabet
S soundholes in a ‘cello
set contradictorily; or should we call her

la lagarta? or bamboos with fireflies a-glitter;
or glassy lake and the whorls which a vertical stroke brought about,
of the paddle half-turned coming out.
As if bisecting
a viper, she can dart down three times and recover
without a disaster, having
been a bull-fighter. Well; she has a forgiver.

Etchebaster’s art, his catlike ease, his mousing pose,
his genius for anticipatory tactics, preclude envy
as the traditional unwavy
Sandeman sailor
is Escudero’s; the guitar, Rosario’s–
wrist-rest for a dangling hand
that’s suddenly set humming fast fast fast and faster.

There is no suitable simile. It is as though
the equidistant three tiny arcs of seeds in a banana
had been conjoined by Palestrina;
it is like the eyes,
of say the face of Palestrina by El Greco.
O Escudero, Soledad,
Rosario Escudero, Etchebaster!


The Long Road (1996) by Robert Creeley

The Long Road
by Robert Creeley

The long road of it all
is an echo
a sound like an image
expanding, frames growing
one after another in ascending
or descending order, all
of us a rising, falling
thought, an explosion
of emptiness soon forgotten


As a kid I wondered
where do they go,
my father dead. The place
had a faded dustiness
despite the woods and all.
We grew up.
I see our faces
in old school pictures.
Where are we now?

Video: “The Long Road” by Robert Creeley, from The United States of Poetry episode, “The Word.” Copyright Washington Square Arts, 1995.

Text/Poem: “The Long Road” by Robert Creeley (1996).

See also: Long Road (1995) by Pearl Jam

The Librarian, March 1966, by Charles Olson

The Librarian
By Charles Olson

The landscape (the landscape!) again: Gloucester,
the shore one of me is (duplicates), and from which
(from offshore, I, Maximus) am removed, observe.

In this night I moved on the territory with combinations
(new mixtures) of old and known personages: the leader,
my father, in an old guise, here selling books and manuscripts.

My thought was, as I looked in the window of his shop,
there should be materials here for Maximus, when, then,
I saw he was the young musician has been there (been before me)

before. It turned out it wasn’t a shop, it was a loft (wharf-
house) in which, as he walked me around, a year ago
came back (I had been there before, with my wife and son,

I didn’t remember, he presented me insinuations via
himself and his girl) both of whom I had known for years.
But never in Gloucester. I had moved them in, to my country.

His previous appearance had been in my parents’ bedroom where I
found him intimate with my former wife: this boy
was now the Librarian of Gloucester, Massachusetts!

Black space,
old fish-house.
of ghosts.
his steps.
(not my father,
by name himself
with his face
at birth)
possessed of knowledge
giving me
what in the instant
I knew better of.

But the somber
place, the flooring
crude like a wharf’s
and a barn’s

I was struck by the fact I was in Gloucester, and that my daughter
was there—that I would see her! She was over the Cut. I
hadn’t even connected her with my being there, that she was

here. That she was there (in the Promised Land—the Cut!
But there was this business, of poets, that all my Jews
were in the fish-house too, that the Librarian had made a party

I was to read. They were. There were many of them, slumped
around. It was not for me. I was outside. It was the Fort.
The Fort was in East Gloucester—old Gorton’s Wharf, where the Library

was. It was a region of coal houses, bins. In one a gang
was beating someone to death, in a corner of the labyrinth
of fences. I could see their arms and shoulders whacking

down. But not the victim. I got out of there. But cops
tailed me along the Fort beach toward the Tavern

The places still
half-dark, mud,
coal dust.

There is no light
of the Bridge

Only on the headland
toward the harbor
from Cressy’s

have I seen it (once
when my daughter ran
out on a spit of sand

isn’t even there.) Where
is Bristow? when does I-A
get me home? I am caught

in Gloucester. (What’s buried
behind Lufkin’s
Diner? Who is

Frank Moore?


  • Charles Olson, “The Librarian,” from The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems. Copyright © 1987 by Charles Olson. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
  • Text: Poetry Foundation: The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1987)
  • Video: Net Film

California Stars, by Woody Guthrie and Wilco

I saw Wilco perform at the Greek Theater in Berkeley a couple weeks ago, and is was a fantastic show. One of the songs they played, California Stars, is one of my favorite Wilco songs, and in the above video they can be seen playing it at the same Greek Theater five years ago.

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and the theme is “Stars.” What better way to salute British poetry than with a song penned by a quintessential American folk icon? California Stars is a beautiful poem/song written by Woody Guthrie, but never recorded until Wilco and Billy Bragg put it on Mermaid Avenue (1998), one of two albums they produced of songs created from a sheaf of unreleased Guthrie lyrics. This year, in honor of Guthrie’s 100th birthday,  the two Mermaid Avenue albums, plus outtakes and interviews, have been released in a new boxed set, Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions. Enjoy.

California Stars

I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d love to feel your hand touching mine
And ell me why i must keep working on
Yes, I’d give my life to lay my head tonight
On a bed of California stars

I’d like to dream my troubles all away
On a bed of California stars
Jump up from my starbed and make another day
Underneath my California stars
They hang like grapes on vines that shine
And warm the lovers glass like friendly wine
So, I’d give this world just to dream a dream with you
On our bed of California stars

~Words by Woody Guthrie, music by Jay Bennett/Jeff Tweedy

Kenneth Patchen, The Argument of Innocence

Kenneth Patchen - The Argument of Innocence

The great poet, novelist and artist Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) created a number of wonderful “picture poems” like the one above, which also served as the title of my source for this image: The Argument of Innocence – A Selection from the Arts of Kenneth Patchen, by Peter Veres, The Scrimshaw Press, 1976. The painted text reads,

The Argument of Innocence
can only be lost
if it is won

Veres describes the evolution of the picture poems, and includes an elucidation of their genesis by the artist’s wife, Miriam Patchen (p. 53-60):

Although Patchen’s drawings of beasties and critters dated back to the 1950s, appearing on the handwritten pages of poetry in his silkscreen folios, it was only in the picture poems of the sixties (published by New Directions in black and white in Hallelujah Anyway, 1966, and But Even So, 1968), that the images and words achieved a truly integrated union, a symbiosis.

Patchen’s picture poems are magical, or, perhaps more properly, “fantastic.” They are messages from other lands, spoken in our vernacular by vaguely familiar creatures. Figures and words share a continuum of visual presence and form a counterpoint of meaning, an interchange of energies. Words as images, images as concepts, co-existing without subservience to each other, are combined to create a richer whole.

Patchen made nearly two hundred of these picture poems, all on very old off-white handmade paper, with uneven, uncut edges, all about eleven and a half by seventeen inches, which gives the impression of found, ancient manuscripts. Present in each of them is the spirit of the intensely personal and the intensely direct gift.

Miriam Patchen: It’s like so many things — inventors work all their lives on trying to do something. The thing they’re doing doesn’t happen and yet accidentally something else happens, and they discover or create something they hadn’t planned on.

In a way, this is almost what happened with Kenneth’s picture poems and painting poems. When he was very uncomfortable in Palo Alto [Patchen had an extremely painful, debilitating chronic spinal injury], bedfast and trying to do things, John Thomas, who is now and was then in the Department of Botany at Stanford, brought us, almost accidentally, some very strange old papers.

Kenneth always loved beautiful paper, lovely types, good books. But these very strange old papers were handmade, of great, great age. They were at Stanford and were used to press, or had been holding, botanical specimens that had come from France many, many years ago. Some of the papers literally went back to the days of Napoleon’s army, and John Thomas was rather shocked when he discovered that the paper was being thrown away and burned when they were reclassifying their botanical specimens. So he, too, was interested in paper and had a little press, and he and Kenneth decided that they might do a couple of Christmas cards on the paper or something like that. But he brought the paper to Kenneth, and Kenneth was just really so fascinated by the paper he would pore over it and pet it and look at it night after night when he couldn’t do anything else. Gradually he began to think that it would be a terrible waste not to do something desirable with the paper. Fine to do the Christmas cards and some printing, yes, but this paper should exist, and continue to exist, because it could; since it was pure rag paper, it could continue to exist for some purpose other than just being around.

He experimented a little with this and a little with that and gradually tested it with color, and that began to intrigue him more and more. And began to make him think of painting on the paper and doing color. Then color began to open up his mind to putting color in a sense visually into his poetry. That led to painting on the papers.

He did some black drawing pages on some of the paper, but still that wasn’t satisfactory enough for the paper’s honor. So gradually the painting forms evolved because of these papers.

My copy of The Argument of Innocence has a wonderful ring stain on the top right of the title page that seems to shine like a gray sun down upon on the title farther down the page. I liked this stained page so much I worked a copy of it into a painting a number of years back, also titled The Argument of Innocence. You can only lose it by winning.

See also: Text paintings by New Zealand’s Colin McCahon.


The Answer, by Robert Creeley

Robert Creeley

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The Answer, a poem by the great Robert Creeley. Audio clip of Creeley reading the poem in New York on October 24, 1966, courtesy of PennSound, a treasure trove of poetry audio clips by hundreds of poets, including many more by Creeley.

The Answer

Will we speak to each other
making the grass bend as if
a wind were before us, will our

way be as graceful, as
substantial as the movement
of something moving so gently.

We break things into pieces like
walls we break ourselves into
hearing them fall just to hear it.

“In Cold Hell, in Thicket” by Charles Olson

From the YouTube description: “Charles Olson reading ‘In Cold Hell, in Thicket’ (1950) sometime in the mid-60s in Gloucester, MA—late night, recorded for Robert Creeley. Audio courtesy Ron Silliman and PennSound audio archive.” This great video uses found footage from Britton, South Dakota, 1938-39.

In Cold Hell, in Thicket

In cold hell, in thicket, how
abstract (as high mind, as not lust, as love is) how
strong (as strut or wing, as polytope, as things are
constellated) how
strung, how cold
can a man stay (can men) confronted

All things are made bitter, words even
are made to taste like paper, wars get tossed up
like lead soldiers used to be
(in a child’s attic) lined up
to be knocked down, as I am,
by firings from a spit-hardened fort, fronted
as we are, here, from where we must go

God, that man, as his acts must, as there is always
a thing he can do, he can raise himself, he raises
on a reed he raises his

Or, if it is me, what
he has to say »»»

Slouching Towards Bethlehem / The Second Coming

Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1991)
by Joni Mitchell
The Second Coming (1919)
by William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning
Within the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart
The center cannot hold
And a blood dimmed tide
Is loosed upon the world

Nothing is sacred
The ceremony sinks
Innocence is drowned
In anarchy
The best lack conviction
Given some time to think
And the worst are full of passion
Without mercy

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely it’s the second coming
And the wrath has finally taken form
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Hoping and hoping
As if by my weak faith
The spirit of this world
Would heal and rise
Vast are the shadows
That straddle and strafe
And struggle in the darkness
Troubling my eyes

Shaped like a lion
It has the head of a man
With a gaze as blank
And pitiless as the sun
And it’s moving its slow thighs
Across the desert sands
Through dark indignant
Reeling falcons

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely it’s the second coming
And the wrath has finally taken form
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Raging and raging
It rises from the deep
Opening its eyes
After twenty centuries
Vexed to a nightmare
Out of a stony sleep
By a rocking cradle
By the Sea of Galilee

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely it’s the second coming
And the wrath has finally taken form
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

New U.S. poet laureate: Natasha Trethewey

Natasha TretheweyCongratulations to Natasha Trethewey, who has been named the new poet laureate of the United States, the Library of Congress announced yesterday. Here are some excerpts from the New York Times story, New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory, followed by two of Ms. Trethewey’s poems, Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata, and Monument:

…the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.

…Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, both in their 80s when appointed, Ms. Trethewey, who will officially take up her duties in September, is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America. Her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is scheduled to appear in the fall. She is also the author of a 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

…Ms. Trethewey’s great theme is memory, and in particular the way private recollection and public history sometimes intersect but more often diverge. “The ghost of history lies down beside me,” she writes in one of her poems, “rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.”

Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata
by Natasha Trethewey

—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619

She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled
in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls
and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung
by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled
in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand.
She’s the stain on the wall the size of her shadow—
the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo
of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:
his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans
into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.

by Natasha Trethewey

Today the ants are busy
beside my front steps, weaving
in and out of the hill they’re building.
I watch them emerge and—

like everything I’ve forgotten—disappear
into the subterranean, a world
made by displacement. In the cemetery
last June, I circled, lost—

weeds and grass grown up all around—
the landscape blurred and waving.
At my mother’s grave, ants streamed in
and out like arteries, a tiny hill rising

above her untended plot. Bit by bit,
red dirt piled up, spread
like a rash on the grass; I watched a long time
the ants’ determined work,

how they brought up soil
of which she will be part,
and piled it before me. Believe me when I say
I’ve tried not to begrudge them

their industry, this reminder of what
I haven’t done. Even now,
the mound is a blister on my heart,
a red and humming swarm.

Crazy factotum: The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me, by Delmore Schwartz

The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me
By Delmore Schwartz

“the withness of the body” 1

The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.
—The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.

That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.

1. Schwartz’s epigraph is a reference is to the unity of mind and body in the work of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. See this excerpt from “Process and Feeling” by Jeremy W. Hayward:

Process philosophy was first proposed by that great English gentleman, mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, fifty years ago. Whitehead takes great care to show process philosophy to be a natural outcome of the Western tradition and to provide solutions to many of the seemingly intractable problems that had arisen in that tradition. It arises as a criticism of Berkeley, Hume, Locke, and Descartes, especially, but goes all the way back to find its roots in Plato and Aristotle. Whitehead himself is regarded by many as the greatest Western philosopher since Plato.

…Whitehead then points to a more primitive, and more fundamental, mode of perception at the level of feeling, which he calls “causal efficacy.” We can begin to understand causal efficacy when we acknowledge the mind-body unity and the “withness” of the body in all experience. We experience with the body. We do not merely see “red”; we see “red” with the eyes, we hear a sound with the ears, and so on. Whitehead points out that it is this “withness” that makes the body the starting point for our knowledge of our world. Therefore, the “withness of the body,” rather than be dismissed as irrelevant, must form the foundation of our theory of experience as perception.

Letters from women in Santa Fe, New Mexico: “A Testimonial” by Sparrow

A Testimonial
by Sparrow

I have lived in this city
25 years
and all that time
I have dropped things.
I’ve dropped
letters from women
in Santa Fe, N.M.,
the keys to my house,
books by
Jacques Prevert.
And all this time,
the people of this
city, have pointed
to me, and said,
“Hey!” “Sir!” “You!
You dropped something!”
and then I’ve picked it up.
You have watched
over me all these
and I’ve waited till
now to thank you.

From The United States of Poetry episode “The Land and the People.”
Copyright Washington Square Arts, 1995.

Vladimir Mayakovsky: The jutting cheekbones of the ocean charted on a dish of jelly

Vladimir Mayakovsky - portrait - book

Left: Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1924, by Alexander Rodchenko. Right: The Collected Poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky, translated by Dorian Rottenberg, USSR, 1972.

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930) was the leading poet of Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the early Soviet period. He was, “an individualist and a rebel against established taste and standards, one of the founders of Russian Futurism movement. Originally Mayakovsky planned to become an artist. His early poems have strong painterly visions and sequences in many of his works recall film techniques. Mayakovsky was deeply concerned with the problem of death throughout his life, and in 1930, troubled by critics and disappointment in love, he shot himself with a pocket pistol.” (Authors’ Calendar)

Mayakovsky is often associated with the Soviet regime, and has been in and out of favor because of that, though he did become disillusioned with the Soviet cause by the end of his life. He is not by any means my favorite Russian poet of the era, and I mainly wanted an excuse to post the image of that cool book cover above, but here’s an early Mayakovsky poem from 1913 that I quite like:

What About You?

I splashed some colours from a tubler
and smeared the drab world with emotion.
I charted on a dish of jelly
the jutting cheekbones of the ocean.
Upon the scales of a tin salmon
I read the calls of lips yet mute.
And you,
could you have played a nocturne
with just a drainpipe for a flute?

Source: Ubuweb has a free download of The Collected Poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky, my source for the book cover image and the poem.

“Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” by Charles Olson

Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]
By Charles Olson

I come back to the geography of it,
the land falling off to the left
where my father shot his scabby golf
and the rest of us played baseball
into the summer darkness until no flies
could be seen and we came home
to our various piazzas where the women

To the left the land fell to the city,
to the right, it fell to the sea

I was so young my first memory
is of a tent spread to feed lobsters
to Rexall conventioneers, and my father,
a man for kicks, came out of the tent roaring
with a bread-knife in his teeth to take care of
the druggist they’d told him had made a pass at
my mother, she laughing, so sure, as round
as her face, Hines pink and apple,
under one of those frame hats women then

This, is no bare incoming
of novel abstract form, this

is no welter or the forms
of those events, this,

Greeks, is the stopping
of the battle

It is the imposing
of all those antecedent predecessions, the precessions

of me, the generation of those facts
which are my words, it is coming

from all that I no longer am,
yet am, the slow westward motion of

more than I am

There is no strict personal order

for my inheritance.

No Greek will be able

to discriminate my body.

An American

is a complex of occasions,

themselves a geometry

of spatial nature.

I have this sense,

that I am one

with my skin

Plus this—plus this:

that forever the geography

which leans in

on me I compell

backwards I compell Gloucester

to yield, to



is this

Source: The Poetry Foundation & The Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1985) Charles Olson, “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” from The Maximus Poems. Copyright © 1968 by Charles Olson. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Charles Olson.

“Gift” by Czeslaw Milosz

Gift / Dar
By Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.
Dzien taki szczesliwy.

Fog lifted early, I walked in the garden.
Mgla opadla wczesnie, pracowalein w ogrodzie.

Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
Kolibry przystawaly nad kwiatem kaprifolium.

There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
Nie bylo na ziemi rzeczy, która chcialbym miec.

I knew no one worth my envying him.
Nie zualem nikogo, komu warto byloby zazdroscic.

Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
Co przydarzylo sie zlego, zapamnialem.

To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
Nie wstydzulem sie myslec, ze bylem kim jestem.

In my body I felt no pain.
Nie czulem w ciele zadnego bólu.

When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
Prostujac sie widzialem niebieskie morze i zagle.

From The United States of Poetry episode “A Day in the Life.”
Copyright Washington Square Arts, 1995.