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About this poet

Born in 1969 in Providence, Rhode Island, Timothy Donnelly holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University, and an MFA from Columbia University.

Donnelly is the author of two collections of poetry, The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books, 2011) and Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit (Grove Press, 2003). His work has also been translated into German and appears in the poetry anthologies Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry, and Poet, Poems and Poetry, edited by Helen Vendler.

Donnelly's work has been widely praised. Jorie Graham has remarked that his poetry is "musically brilliant and articulate," and Richard Howard found Donnelly's first collection, "as vigorous, as fresh, and as authoritative" as the work of John Ashbery.

He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including those from The Paris Review, Columbia University, and the New York State Writers Institute.

Donnelly is the current poetry editor at the Boston Review. He is also a professor in the Writing Program at Columbia University's School of the Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The Night Ship

Timothy Donnelly, 1969
Roll back the stone from the sepulchre's mouth!
I sense disturbance deep within, as if some sorcery

had shocked the occupant's hand alive again, back
to compose a document in calligraphy so dragonish

that a single misstep made it necessary to stop
right then and there and tear the botched draft up,

begin again and stop, tear up again and scatter
a squall of paper lozenges atop the architecture

that the mind designs around it, assembling a city
somewhat resembling the seaport of your birth,

that blinking arrangement of towers and signage
you now wander underneath, drawn forward by the spell

of the sea's one scent, by the bell of the night ship
that cleaves through the mist on its path to the pier.

Surrender to that vision and the labor apprehensible
as you take to the streets from the refuge of a chair

so emphatically comfortable even Lazarus himself
would have chosen to remain unrisen from its velvet,

baffling the messiah, His many onlookers muttering
awkwardly to themselves, downcast till a sudden

dust devil spirals in from the dunes—a perfect excuse 
to duck back indoors. (The sand spangles their eyes,

the little airborne stones impinge upon such faces
as only Sorrow's pencil would ever dare to sketch,

and even then, it wouldn't be a cakewalk, you realize.
A dust devil at sea would be called a waterspout.)

You fear that you have been demanded into being
only to be dropped on the wintry streets of this 

imagination rashly, left easy prey for the dockside
phantoms, unwatched and unawaited, and I know 

what you mean, almost exactly. This cardboard city
collapses around us; another beautiful document

disassembles into anguish—a cymbal-clap—and we can't
prevent it. At one the wind rises, and the night ship

trembles, drowsing back into its silver cloud. At two it embarks
upon a fiercer derangement. We are in this together.

And we will find protection only on the night ship.

Copyright © Timothy Donnelly. First published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, Spring 2004, No. 39. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Copyright © Timothy Donnelly. First published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, Spring 2004, No. 39. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Timothy Donnelly

Timothy Donnelly

Donnelly's work has been widely praised. Jorie Graham has remarked that his poetry is "musically brilliant and articulate"

by this poet

poem

That agreeable feeling we haven't yet been able
   to convert into words to our satisfaction

despite several conscious attempts to do so
   might prove in the end to be nothing

more than satisfaction itself, an advanced
   new formula just sitting there waiting to be

poem
That fire at the mouth of the flare stack rising
     more than three-hundred feet above the refinery
contorts as it feeds on the invisible current
      of methane produced by the oil's distillation

process like a monster, the nonstop spasm of it
     lumbering upwards into the dark Newark
night like a sack
poem
Driver, please. Let's slow things down. I can't endure 
the speed you favor, here where the air's electric 
hands keep charging everything, a blur of matter fogs the window 
and my mind to rub it. Don't look now, but the vast
majority of chimpanzees on the road's soft shoulder can't 
determine: Which fascinates