Category Poetry

The Poet Plants His Flag: Mark Doty’s “Homo Will Not Inherit”

We were talking of the body and its sanctity last week, through the lens of the poet William Everson, he of the manifestly heterosexual ardor, steeped in the unity of opposites, the phallos becoming one with the womb. Everson had been deeply influenced by his immersion in the work of Swiss archetypal psychologist Carl Jung, which, like Everson’s poetry, concerned itself almost wholly with heterosexual life.

But what of homosexual relationships and their own religious, worshipful, archetypal underpinnings? I found myself wondering about that matter and almost incorporating discussion of it into the post on Everson before deciding to leave it for a later time.

That time came quite a bit sooner than I anticipated and quite by accident, as I was simply browsing poetry resources last week and came across the website of Faith Shearin, a contemporary poet I had never read.

An interview there posed the question of...

Read More

The Drama of Self: A Personal Reflection on the Poet William Everson

“Everson has been accused of self-dramatization. Justly. All of his poetry…is concerned with the drama of his own self..Everything is larger than life with a terrible beauty and pain. Life isn’t like that to some people and to them these poems will seem too strong a wine. But of course life is like that.”

I love those lines, which come from the introduction to poet William Everson’s 1948 volume, “The Residual Years.” They were written by his friend and fellow poet Kenneth Rexroth, who came up for discussion here a few posts ago, and who served as a kind of mentor to Everson and other younger poets who had gathered around him in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s.

Rexroth’s droll insistence that “of course life is like that” points to the fact that even when we try to numb ourselves with various inebriates (including electronics and overwork) or present ourselves externally as even-tempered and...

Read More

To a Fallen Comrade: Daniel Johnson’s “In the Absence of Sparrows”

Even in the Before times, Memorial Day always presented a slight collision of moods. A day set aside for honoring the memory of our war dead, inside of which we relish plans to finally get the speed boat out on the lake, root for the home team, and gather round the ritual barbecue with beers in hand and jokes flying.

But in this crawling-out-of-the-pandemic time of tearing off masks, hugging our long unhugged beloveds and trying to bust loose from the rule of an invisible virus, being held up yet another weekend by notes of loss and grief may seem all the more jarring.

This is when it is good to remember something else: that loss and grief across vast swaths of this world never take a holiday, and Memorial Day weekend is always a good time to remind ourselves of that elemental truth.

***

***

I like many things about Daniel Johnson’s poem, “In the Absence of Sparrows.” Memorial Day and homage to the dead s...

Read More

(Welcoming) Mary Oliver’s “Spring”

As this space reflected on upon her death just over two years ago, Mary Oliver was at once among our most celebrated and accessible poets. Oliver was (and remains) the darling of a certain kind of spiritually inclined nature lover who revels in the unfettered ecstasy of being in the great outdoors, often alone, breathing deeply of chill morning air, much more inclined to be gazing slack-jawed under a cathedral of trees than sitting in church pews. (And if it were the latter, it would have to be Unitarian Universalists or lefty Christians rather than Garrison Keillor-style Lutherans, and it would be the late service, after the morning’s tramp though the woods…)

Despite the imprimatur of a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and a National Book Award eight years later, Oliver had her critics. Her basic theme—“Oh, how I love this world, read this and get out there and love it, too!”—was expressed in rhapsodic-but-straig...

Read More

On Not Fearing Infinity: Theodore Roethke’s “The Far Field”

There come times in every life when we turn a corner. Big notable birthdays, graduations, jobs. Recoveries from accidents, addictions, illness, broken relationships. Blinding insights into Where We Have Erred and What We Must Do.

Significant deaths—of mentors, parents, siblings, dear friends.

The resilience these losses require.

And then we come to facing the loss of our very own selves into the great beyond, there to be grieved over by others (or so we hope!), the living, breathing, animated self we were now gone silent and still at last..

At one level—and early stages of life—we can barely imagine a world without us in it. But the imagining impinges on us as we age, those notable birthdays becoming all the more notable still...

Read More