Category Poetry

Farewell, Oh Strange, Exhilarating, Hurtling World: James Dickey’s “Falling”

At just under 2,200 words, James Dickey’s “Falling” occupies a special place in the poetic lexicon. It does so as a kind of fever dream that turns a dreadful event plucked from a news item of the day—a flight attendant sucked out of an airplane and plummeting to her death—into a celebration of the human imagination (Dickey’s) and the “freedom,” if you will indulge me that word given the circumstance it describes, to be found in truly, fully and deliciously letting go to death and extinction.

The poem requires only eight stanzas, hence most of them are quite long. That’s by way of preparing you, though my hunch is you will have no trouble falling right along with it.

Each stanza seems to gain speed and become more densely packed with the almost hallucinatory imagery Dickey conjures for his heroine, whom he immortalizes even as her own mortality flies up to meet her at the approximately 12...

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Cancellation, Contradiction and Affirmation in Poet Li-Young Lee’s “Arise, Go Down”

It’s been more than a decade and 500+ posts since we last visited in this space the Chinese-rooted, Indonesian-born, American-raised (since age 7) poet Li-Young Lee and his much anthologized, gorgeous peach of a poem, “From Blossoms.” Fortunately, Lee, now 66, remains above ground and has continued to write in the intervening years. Even more fortunately for me, so have I.

So it was a happy accident last week when I came across his poetry again while looking for something else and got thoroughly distracted from whatever that something else was as I landed upon “Arise, Go Down.”

Unlike “From Blossoms” and its ecstatic, sense-drenched celebration of the peach-eating experience as a form of divinity, in “Arise, Go Down,” Lee explores more of the shadowy, yin-yang, to-and-fro of existence...

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Piercing the Clouds of Unknowing: Ciona Rouse’s “Red-Shouldered Hawk”

The spiritually inclined 20th century psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of “synchronicity” is in the driver’s seat with this post. After I began assembling another selection for this blog’s “Brilliant Songs” series, I thought the better of ignoring the long-deceased Dr. Jung’s clear message to me across space and time to veer over into the poetry realm instead.

Perhaps I should explain.

My blogging friend over at Loren is a longtime birder whose post the other day featured, among other winged creatures, the gorgeous portrait of the red-shouldered hawk that you see below. After admiring its fierce, self-possessed bearing before retiring for the night, I awoke the next morning to my customary and most welcome “Poem-a-Day” from the American Academy of Poets gracing my email in-box.

And what do I find there? The heading, “Red-Shouldered Hawk by Ciona Rouse.”


Jung developed his concept of “sync...

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“We Must Risk Delight”: Jack Gilbert’s “A Brief for the Defense”

It may seem odd that after poring through my poetry shelves this past week looking for works of joy and gratitude to befit this holiday season, I would land on and offer you a poem whose first two words are, “Sorrow everywhere.” The next two words are more dismal yet: “Slaughter everywhere,” followed by an image of starving babies…“With flies in their nostrils.”

I am imagining you on the verge of clicking your mouse and tapping away, away, just not feeling up to “everywhere” including whatever hallowed corner of your world you’ve been able to set aside this holiday season as a sorrow-free zone.

Can’t say I blame you.

So I will have to ask you to trust me in stating that this deeply philosophical, 30-line poem is as fine and freeing a meditation on joy as I have ever come across precisely because it stares so unflinchingly at what its author Jack Gilbert refers to as “the ruthless furnace of this world.”


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Embracing the Gods: “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World”

Somehow or other I missed this poem all these years, despite its prominence in anthologies and wide acclaim for its author, Jane Hirshfield. “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World” is a dramatic, “big” poem—big in ambition, imagery, and theme. Hirshfield is not content here to search for heaven in a wildflower or angel dust on a vase.

Not that there’s anything wrong with such poetic devices, as Hirshfield herself would surely attest.

But when her second line launches in on a “strange and frightening creature” that we know from the title is a “white bull,” we had better prepare for what I suspect Hirshfield would be happy to see turned into the poetic ride of our lives, jostling us out of whatever numbness has descended as we go about responding routinely about routine challenges in a routine world.

“Not on your life!” her white bull says.

We know these things happen; even as children we c...

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