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Reflections on Whitman in Age

Yet even the “world” itself is imagination, simply “the length of a human life,” as its etymology defines. The 150 years since Whitman's Leaves of Grass was first published is a moment in any world so conceived, and the bridges to and from such world are not determined by rational judgments or understanding. One knows, as is said—one recognizes the footprints on the floor of the caves in the Dordogne, dating back to the Upper Paleolithic—so very far, finally, from any intellectual understanding or resolution, however insistently attempted. 

After Reading “The Sleepers”

I am amazed, there is nothing you can do for me, I am content.
I see my mother and father, the night pervades them and enfolds them.  
Everything I've said about them, I take back, and yet I still maintain what I have said.

Book Notes

CURRENT EVENTS The Fall of Baghdad, by Jon Lee Anderson. Penguin, October 2004. $24.95 There are the events around the war—water shortages, last-minute evacuations, Sahaf the Information Minister defiantly pronouncing the slaughter of U.S. soldier [...]

The Infinite Brunette

Imagine that you were born in an infinitely long and skinny country stretched out between a jagged mountain range and a lively sea that flogs thousands of kilometers.

Imagine now that this country has a poet.

That is to say, A POET.


Robert Bly and James Wright: A Correspondence

For as long as I can remember I've been hearing the story: that James Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, had nearly given up writing early in his career. What saved him? An unexpected copy of a new magazine called The Fifties and the ensuing correspondence with its young poet-editor Robert Bly. The correspondence bloomed into a friendship, and Wright's best and most famous poems were written at Bly's farm in Madison, Minnesota. As I say, I've been hearing this for as long as I can remember. But without a biography or a volume of Wright's letters to confirm the story, it always remained in the realm of rumor. 

“In That Thicket of Bitter Roots”: The Ghazal in America

Contemporary metrical verse surprises many learned readers simply by existing. For all the reasons that Paul Fussell summarizes and for a great number more, much of the liveliest recent scholarship concludes that literary and cultural history dooms this poetry to failure, irrelevance, or political and aesthetic conservatism.

The English Rat

Brioche. Barouche. And one of them you can still buy, by the dozen,
at the sweets stall in the weekend farmers market; the other
hasn't been seen in a century (although they tend
to blend, to be conjoined twins, in my mind).

The Song of How We Believe

Give us an incisor, and we'll rationally conjecture
an entire prehistoric head, to the glint
in its eyes and in the light along its scaled skin
—but first, we need that tooth, that seed