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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.

Poem Interrupted by Whitesnake

Timothy Donnelly, 1969

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

marketed as such: Let my logo be the couch
   I can feel it pulse as the inconstant moon

to which I've come to feel attached continues to pull
   away from earth at a rate of 1.6 inches

every solar year: Let my logo be the couch
   where you merge into nights until you can't


up from the shadows of a factory warehouse
   in historic Secaucus built on top of old swamp-

land I can feel it: Let my logo be the couch
   where you merge into nights until you can't

even remember what you wanted to begin with.
   Let my slogan be the scrapes of an infinite

catalogue's pages turning over and over until you
   find it again
.

                     In the air above Secaucus

a goldfinch, state bird of New Jersey, stops dead
   midflight and falls to the asphalt of a final

parking lot. Where it lands is a sacred site
   and earth is covered in them. Each is like

the single seed from which an entire wheat field
   generates. This happens inside oneself

so one believes oneself to be the owner of it.
   From the perimeter of the field one watches

as its workers undertake their given tasks:
   some cut the wheat, some bundle it; others picnic

in the shade of a pear tree, itself a form of
   labor, too, when unfolding at the worksite.

A gentle pride engilds this last observation like
   sun in September. Because this happens

inside oneself one feels one must be its owner.
   But call out to the workers, even kindly,

and they won't call back, they won't even look up
   from their work.

                        There must be someplace

else where life takes place besides in front of
   merchandise, but at the moment I can't think of it.

In the clean white light of the market I am where
   I appertain, where everything exists

for me to purchase. If there's a place of not meaning
   what you feel but at the same time meaning

every word, or almost, I might have been taught
   better to avoid it, but

                                here I go again

on my own, going down the only road I've ever
   known, trusting Secaucus's first peoples

meant something specific and true when they fused
   the words seke, meaning black, and achgook,

meaning snake, together to make a compound
   variously translated as "place where the snake

hides," "place of black snakes," or, more simply,
   "salt marsh."

                   Going moon over the gone marsh

Secaucus used to be, I keep making the same
   mistake over and over, and so do you, slowly

speeding up your orbital velocity, and thereby
   increasing your orbital radius, just like Kepler

said you would, and though I keep trying not
   to take it to heart, I can't see where else there is

to go with it. In German, a Kepler makes caps
   like those the workers wear who now bundle

twigs for kindling under the irregular gloom. One looks
   to be making repairs to a skeletal umbrella

or to the thoughts a windmill entertains by means
   of a silver fish. Off in the distance, ships tilt

and hazard up the choppy inlet. Often when I look
   at an object, I feel it looking back, evaluating

my capacity to afford it.

                               Maybe not wanting
   anything in particular means mildly wanting

whatever, constantly, spreading like a wheat
   field inside you as far as the edge of the pine

forest where the real owners hunt fox. They keep you
   believing what you see and feel are actually

yours or yours to choose. And maybe it's this
   belief that keeps you from burning it all down.

In this economy, I am like the fox, my paws no good
   for fire-starting yet, and so I scamper back

to my deep den to fatten on whatever I can find.
   Sated, safe, disremembering what it's like

up there, meaning everywhere, I tuck nose under tail
   after I exhaust the catalogues, the cheap stuff

and sad talk to the moon, including some yelping but
   never howling at it, which is what a wolf does.

Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Donnelly. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Donnelly. Used 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 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
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