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Category archive for: Amy Newman

When Robert Lowell Broke Jean Stafford’s Nose For The Second Time

When Robert Lowell broke Jean Stafford’s nose

for the second time, something happened to poetry,

vascular, circulatory, an unstable shift in the tender stem

of the coming years,

as the introduction of sulfuric acid to soil

alters hydrangeas to a boy-child blue.

Are you alright, poetry? He hit her hard.

Her pain was exquisite and private,

a castle with seven rooms.

In the final room, the brain shivered, gem-like,

palpable as mathematics.

Doors opened, doors wavered in passive arcs,

beneath a moon unsuitable for metaphor.

What would have been the point, anyway,

of such dreaming? Against the backdrop of the unreachable

planets, pigeons navigate their evening,

soundless at such a distance, seeming graceful, yes,

but terrified, shedding almost everything naïve.

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When Delmore Schwartz Reads About Tadpoles In Encyclopædia Britannica, At Yaddo

When Delmore Schwartz reads about tadpoles

in Encyclopædia Britannica, at Yaddo,

something happens inside the stem of poetry,

something elastic, and it bends a little.

He’s living through the winter in Saratoga Springs,

outside his habitat of choice,

wriggling in the histories of complicated angers,

imagining a creature unaffected by light.

Such are the options of nature, which collects

and pays out on its own time.

Thoughts accumulate and shed behind his unavailable eyes.

Somewhere in the confusing trees, a Palm Warbler

rests in its migratory path, wags a delicate tail,

and whistles so sweetly, you’d never think

of all it needs just to survive.

Even when it’s calm, the resting heart’s moving,

brandishing bloods, renewing itself,

depleting, renewing. Are you there,

American poetry? Isn’t it exhausting?

From where he sits in the farmhouse,

Delmore’s parents are indistinct as material

floating in the fluid that supports the brain,

little dots swimming in the intrathecal space,

shifting in time, and he wants his memories of them

to be remote, and pure as a child’s brainstem,

tentative, involuntary, practically larval.

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Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with permissions of The Permissions Company, Inc.
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The Day After The Dean of Michigan State College Admits Him To Lansing Sparrow Hospital For Rest, A Naked Theodore Roethke Barricades Himself Behind A Hospital Mattress

The day after the Dean of Michigan State College admits him

to Lansing Sparrow Hospital for rest, a naked Theodore Roethke

barricades himself behind a hospital mattress

refusing sedatives. He won’t even take one

when they try to hide it in a beer.

He’s working on instinct’s last nerves,

a meaty bone’s wisdom rides his mind.

But a brave man gives nothing away, shows a pale modern eye

to the doctors and the therapies that monkey around

in that hydroelectric century.

After his night in the woods, mute under a tree,

he’d emerged like a fawn with a stiff, drunk heart,

like Nijinsky becoming God, his body

monochrome in the silence. He slipped in.

I want to say so much and cannot find the words

Nijinsky wrote in his asylum diary,

I was sorry to leave the tree because the tree understood me.

Roethke heard it all: the abatement of bark, the stripping of it

by the tiniest bug, the needle. Underneath you, there it is.

(There’s what?) That dark that sniffs your salts,

your ditch-hidden angers soaked in ethyl alcohol,

mounted on paper. (What dark?) This dark, doctor. Tune up,

listen, inhale, for Christ’s sake. Don’t try to pull that stuff on me,

says Roethke, sharpening his tools in the barricade,

still tender in the habit of the child, his cargo

that one luminous brain back in the brain’s cave.

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Used with permissions of The Permissions Company, Inc.
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When Theodore Roethke Suddenly Knows What It Feels Like To Be A Lion, He Enters A Diner And Orders A Raw Steak

When Theodore Roethke suddenly knows what it feels like to be a lion,

he enters a diner and orders a raw steak. It was such a good day,

nature so explicit with him, little mongrel, little flirt,

that he couldn’t sleep, what with the rough, unfinished world,

so saturated with survival, it can’t help itself.

It’s a hothouse of kill and feed and multiply, fruit

and feather, gristle and chew and want, hunger and hunt,

drag back to the cold nest again. It has to thorn and rub

and run and burr and fly, and shake into the wind,

disperse, to seed and to root, and here it was,

patient with him while he fled into it.

Nature slipped its cool, soft hand into his,

looking at him with that knowing glance it has,

just wanting to be with him, his shirt undone,

his mouth half-open. Where have you been all my life?

He heard the roses, under their pinnate leaves, ripening their hips.

Nature let him in, transparent, weightless, confused,

trembling, a little wrong, but he couldn’t help himself,

drunk, savage, remote, microbial, a seed in the flesh,

a tooth, sharpening, coarse, terribly honest, too good, too good,

get me down, he said, get me down off this, he told the dean,

weeping a little in his growling bones.

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When John Berryman Faints In Front Of The Picasso In The Museum Of Modern Art

When John Berryman faints in front of the Picasso

in the Museum of Modern Art,

it’s because he’s so tired, he’s strung out, or,

according to Delmore Schwartz, jealous,

Berryman feigning, pulling focus for spite,

having not been invited, as had Delmore,

to Auden’s. Which version is true?

Delmore had a tendency to exaggerate.

Or maybe it’s better to say

he dreamed about things in midair,

and why not swerve from truth’s constant voice,

from the grievance so steadfast it’s practically stone,

your gravel path of childhood, so absolute it’s ontology.

His mother Rose insisting they pull over the car

to run into the diner where father is philandering again,

with a pretty piece of ass. Oh the shouting!

She hold’s Delmore’s captive hand

the whole time, little prison. Love,

he begins, in his mind, love, love. . . He embroiders,

he makes a bible story. He was seven. So

he’s used to melodrama. So when Berryman faints,

the New York story deepens, something happening

to the poetry of the early twentieth century.

They move through the present tense in bits and increments,

in imperceptible sighs, and differences,

in pigments, and by degrees,

Delmore standing, Berryman turning

to the cool museum floor. On the wall the painting

proceeds into the future tense.

It was from Picasso’s Blue Period.

Everyone had had enough of that kind of sadness for a while,

but it wasn’t going to disappear.

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When Vassar Senior Elizabeth Bishop Asks Marianne Moore To The Ringling Brothers Circus

When Vassar senior Elizabeth Bishop asks Marianne Moore

to the Ringling Brothers Circus, Moore says yes.

The elephants are costumed, in pink and reds,

wear comic feathers on their headressed heads.

They sway a shuffle pattern on their pillared legs.

Hip to shoulder, a long grey line rough

with rough skin, they conjure,

blue-dark, and slow as stares.

Beneath the spangled girl on the trapeze

(out of the way, exchanging this for that),

elephants are uneasy in the adjustable real,

their pavilion sectioned to an angular sky.

In early dawn they’d been the ones

to haul the ropes, strung to old canvas,

tight to the poles, righting up this transience,

the jury-rigged home, someone’s idea of joy.

from On This Day in Poetry HistoryFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with permissions of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.