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About this poet

David R. Slavitt was born in White Plains, New York, in 1935, and educated at Andover, Yale, and Columbia University. A poet, translator, novelist, critic, and journalist, he is the author of more than seventy works of fiction, poetry, and poetry and drama in translation. He is also coeditor of the Johns Hopkins Complete Roman Drama in Translation series and the Penn Greek Drama Series. His most recent collections of original poetry are Falling from Silence: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2001) and PS3569.L3 (1998). His latest translations are Sonnets of Love and Death by Jean de Sponde (Northwestern University Press, 2001), The Latin Odes of Jean Dorat (2000), The Book of the Twelve Prophets (1999), Voyage of the Argo: The Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus (1999), Solomon Ibn Gabirol's A Crown for the King (1998), Joao Pinto Delgado's Poem of Queen Esther (1998), and Ausonius: Three Amusements (1998). David Slavitt's other recent works include The Book of Lamentations: A Meditation and Translation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) and Get Thee to a Nunnery: A Pair of Shakespearean Divertimentos (1999). His honors include a Pennsylvania Council on Arts award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in translation, an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Rockefeller Foundation Artist's Residence. He lives in Philadelphia and is on the faculties of Bennington and Yale.

The Valve

David R. Slavitt, 1935
The one-way flow of time we take for granted, 
but what if the valve is defective? What if the threads 
on the stem wear thin, or the stuffing box or the bonnet 
ring leaks, or the joints to the pipe ring fail, 
and there's a backwash?
                         It happens.
                                   And then old loves,
meeting again, have no idea what to do, 
resuming or not resuming from where they were 
years before. Or the dead come back to chat. 
Or you are reduced for a giddy moment to childhood's 
innocent incompetence. You look up
as if to see some hint in the sky's blackboard. 
But then, whatever it was, some fluff or grit 
that clogged the works, works free, and again time passes, 
almost as before, and you try to get on with your life.

From Falling from Silence by David R. Slavitt. Copyright © 2001 by David R. Slavitt. Reproduced with permission of Louisiana Sate University Press. All rights reserved.

David R. Slavitt

David R. Slavitt

David R. Slavitt was born in White Plains, New York, in 1935,

by this poet



Discussion questions.

  1. Is this a joke? And, if so, is it a joke of the poet in which the editor of the magazine (or, later, the book publisher or the textbook writers) has conspired? Or is it a joke on the editors and publishers? Is the reader the audience of the poem?
  2. It is
He broke in, picking the lock, or having stolen 
a key, and he knew the code to disarm the alarm, 

some homeless guy, a crazy street-person, harmless 
you’d think, but you’re wrong: he likes it here, and he stays. 

He rummages through my closets and dresser drawers 
and tries on my clothing, which happens, of