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Poetry

On Whitman, Civil War Memory, and My South

  O magnet-South! O glistening perfumed South! my South!O quick mettle, rich blood, impulse and love! good and evil! O all dear to me! — Walt Whitman   I. The New SouthA few years ago I was interviewed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitu [...]

The Casualties of Walt Whitman

In a journal I kept the summer before moving to New York in 1990 to study creative writing at NYU, I find an odd entry about Walt Whitman. I had been reading D. H. Lawrence's essay “Whitman,” published in 1923, and I agreed with his statement that “Something is overdone in Whitman; there is something that is too much.” “I finally found someone,” I wrote, “who speaks sensibly about Whitman's exaggerated mass of deafening declarations!” I was then under the spell of Rilke and Yeats (so much so that in the list of qualities on the facing page that I found essential for a long-term relationship with a man, I find “European” at the top). Whitman hurt my ears—he sounded arrogant, brash, positively overwhelming in the length of his poems, in his long lists, his parallel structures, his biblical rhythms. I felt trapped by Whitman: once he hooked his voice in my head, I had a difficult time extricating it. Though this would soon change, especially after I met Galway Kinnell, who cites Whitman as his “principal master,” before I arrived at the writing workshop, I wanted to shrug off Whitman’s kisses and his forever-reaching arms, his beard, his boots, his surging afflatus, that open-collared shirt, and, oddly enough, his manly muscle.

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. 

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.

 

Five Beheadings

I swim in his beard diving deep my breath giving out quickly in spite of all I know to do, all that he has taught me, my Merlin, he has schooled me in the things of the pot—the dragon's blood and the mistletoe and the black willow—he has yoked my dreams to my will, he has fed me four poisons—

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