Sea’s stony greenblue shatters to white
in a running swell under noonsky of cloudlight
where on a foamed-over cropping of rock
a band of oystercatchers faces all one way
into a nor’wester so shafts of windlight
ignite each orange beak in
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Sea’s stony greenblue shatters to white
If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—
if each atom
has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
are nebulae beginning to star
She sang beyond the genius of the sea. The water never formed to mind or voice, Like a body wholly body, fluttering Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry, That was not ours although we understood, Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. The sea was
My grandmother Ruth Stone died on a cold day in November on the mountain in Vermont where our family land stretches over acres of tall grass and woods and a lean dirt road that cuts through, utterly unchanged in all the years I’ve been alive. That Arcadian mountain loomed enormous in my childhood, rife with plums and apples growing wild, clusters of fat currants jamming the backyard bushes, and a towering cherry tree that bent right over the old W. B. Stone mailbox and dropped its sour cherries onto the dusty road. I can still feel the gritty pits that seemed so unusual in my mouth and I can still feel Grandma’s hand at the moment of her death many years later, her last big sigh of breath like a great steam engine coming to a stop.
Her house was stuffed with books and papers, rooms of the true artist’s life—ninety-six years, at the time of her death—worth of poems, letters, marked-up books, photographs, piano music, quilts, tin cups, notes in her broad, loopy handwriting,
Manifestos are an unruly lot. In opposition to a reigning ideology, they create vibrancy. But in support of dominant power? They stultify. This is true of William Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Written when he was just 28 years old, it had a tremendously generative run of at least 150 years. But Wordsworth wasn’t shooting merely for a good run; he wanted "to interest mankind permanently." I don’t know about eternity, but I know that two centuries after it was written, the Preface is certainly considered "definitive." Only, how much does it matter?
When Charles Bernstein praises Ron Silliman’s poems, he positions the work precisely against the type of poem championed by Wordsworth’s Preface: Silliman’s poems "may discomfort those who want a poetry primarily of personal communication, flowing freely from the inside with the words of a natural rhythm of life, lived daily" (Content’s Dream). Admiring how Silliman’s poems work against "official verse culture," Bernstein
There are, I think, two very different dynamics involved in the making of a poet. One is learning that you already know everything you need about writing before you even begin. The other is an extended reading of the literature, to understand what has been done, why, and what its implications might be.
The first sounds easy, but is in fact the harder of the two tasks. Many starting writers never solve the problem at all, which means that they’re destined to fail. The difficulty is what happens in that instant between the moment before you even begin and the moment once you’ve begun, into which is inserted every vague notion you may have about what writing is, how it is done, who does it, and every conceivable fantasy you might harbor about being a poet or a novelist. Before you begin, the blank page or screen is in front of you, absolutely free of any irrevocable marks, literally virgin territory. Once you begin, however, you instantaneously discover yourself burdened with