Category Poetry

“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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What the Soul Misses: Andrea Gibson’s “For the Days I Stop Wanting a Body”

If you’ve ever been grievously ill or incapacitated and cursed your fate and your body, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever suffered from a chronic disease, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever been near death, or been with a beloved who is, and bounced back, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever waited in vigil and beheld a loved one’s last days and breaths, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever wondered and remained mystified by questions of mind and body, mortality and immortality, earth and the heavens, this poem is for you.

And if you’ve ever looked slightly askance or never even heard of “spoken word poetry,” this poem is for you, too.


I’ve never gone deeply into spoken word poetry, which puts much more emphasis on the performative, in-the-moment oral transmission of poetic works in a public setting rather than poems written to be read mostly by individual persons in a quiet encounter with the pr...

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Poetic Hymn to Incarnation: Rebecca Lindenberg’s “The Splendid Body”

Poet Rebecca Lindenberg is a self-proclaimed “maximalist.” Not that she’s doing drunken cartwheels across the page or in her life, risking artistic coherence, her dignity or her health in a doomed effort to defy the laws of gravity and decorum.

Lindenberg’s maximalism is instead her response to the reality that despite how often we go about our lives half-ready to explode with joy, grief, confusion, wonder, regret, curiosity and sudden outbursts of love for all creatures and the creation great and small, we too often opt for restraint instead—for fear the world will think us crazy. (Or we will ourselves fear it is so.)

Nothing to see or hear here, let’s move it along now…

Not on your life, says Lindenberg.

The trick is to see and hear as much and as closely as you can, accepting at obvious face value the enormity of the world and your Self’s sometimes perilous navigation within it...

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A Poem: “Vladimir Putin Invades My Dreams”


                                        By Andrew Hidas

Fresh off the shingles vaccine,
my arm sore, body leaden,
spirit damp and porous,
Vladimir Putin invades my dreams
through a long night I long to repel.

I want him out! gone! no more of
those lizard eyes and pursed lips
bearing down on my weakened
defenses, looking to run
roughshod over all I hold dear.

Groaning to a barely wakened state,
I lapse again, the nightmare resuming,
the assault relentless, Putin throwing
all he owns (and he owns everything)
into a fire of his own making
as lives all around us burn.

Names cross my consciousness
like some Ticker of Times Square,
dissidents facing the unspeakable
of poisonings and prison,
their courage inconceivable
under Putin’s soulless gaze.

Dawn looms and the thrashings of night
only intensify, pleas from the gloaming
to fi...

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