Two things today that are interesting me.The first, I was surprised to find out that Rusty Morrison had a new book out. It’s something of a stealth book, coming out without a lot of advance notice (at least that I’ve seen). Book of the Given is the title, and it’s recently out from Noemi Press:
They have it listed in their chapbook series, but it clocks in at 69 pages. I’d call that a full-length, myself. But then again, I’ve recently seen a lot of full lengths around 119 pages. Books are getting longer, it seems. Have we talked about that much? It’s an interesting phenomenon.
“Pretend instead that words can make a humanness between us” John Yau quotes from the book in talking about it.That phrase stuck with me while reading the book.By the end it felt like something of a subtitle or thesis. It’s a very tactile, human book. Here are a couple poems from it:
Generosity resists clandestine promises
Orders coming in from ‘the understood’. Beautiful, cloud-fed, silk-draped declarations, offering us the means to master this moment. Magisterial, easy to oblige. Orders nonetheless. Courage arrives wordlessly, with as yet unknown signatories. The Young King must teach himself valor for his pose under the fleur-de-lis canopy. I say that I’d trade the velvet-cloaked princess-concentrate for more breathable air. But saying is so easily capitulated inside my head. Every pronouncement should be stamped on my local sky, visible and indistinguishable as halo. Only in paintings, you reply. I remember a willow-lined path, done in oils, hanging above my grandmother’s couch—but not how to explain the halo it held for me. If you won’t arrest me for my manipulations of scale, I won’t make a prison for you with my listening. Today, I will not play the game of large, docile eyes, the kind that dark eye-liner is meant to emphasize.
So why is Robert Pinsky’s name on this post, along with Morrison’s? Well, when I started this blog, one of the things I wanted to do was to advocate for the poetry and poets I admire, especially those who get a lot of, what I consider to be, unfair criticism. Therefore the focus on Ashbery, Armantrout, and a lot of poets who some are referring to as “post-avant” (a name few if any of them claim for themselves).
Time wears on, though, and now and then I like to post things from poets who are very accepted and honored, praised, institutionalized (of course, Ashbery is all of those, but stick with me), and also criticized in other circles, to trouble the blanket criticism.So here’s a poem from Robert Pinsky that I saw in the New Yorker that I thought was pretty good. Yes, I’d query a few of his choices (that last line is a little pat, and phrases like “the breath balanced on its floor of muscle” drive me nuts), but all in all, I like the way he works through the scenario here. He’s loosening up here a bit, letting the poem have a little more room. I like that.
Sayings of the Old
One of them said of mules: A creature willing
To labor for you patiently many years, Just for the privilege to kick you once.
Few men are good as their fathers, said another,
And most are worse, in the entropy of time, Though some have said, My child—I am well traded!
One I know said to his son, So now we see you
On television: you’re a celebrity now— But then, you’ve been a celebrity all your life.
Something inside them, patient as a mule
That pulls the plow of being through the decades, Has watched the stalks of fashion rise and fall.
“Celebrity” may have meant “I think my wife
Always has treated you better than me.” The Ibo say, An old man sitting down
Can see more things than a young man standing up.
But sooner or later, the mule kicks all alike: The young, the old, the stalks of crops and weeds.
One hates the sanctimonious Buddha-goo
But loves to meditate. To think one word And the breath balanced on its floor of muscle
Falling and rising like years. The brain-roof chatter
Settling among the eaves. All falling and rising And falling again in the calm brute rhythm of hooves.