25 November 2005
A white day
to go: November slipping
or jaundiced, brittle with frost.
even now, not drowned in flesh,
but turned to gold,
skin beaten out
to the thinnest leaf,
a god’s mask,
if gods could die
or come to grief. That sheen,
as if death
burned off the slag, left only
the right metal,
the flash of talent, the joy
speeding and weaving
to its goal,
baffling all challenge, laughing
at its gift.
We grow up:
put away childish things, stop
hoping for fame
same as the rest. But just
now and then,
a man rises
above everyday, a man
and we fly
a little way on his uplift.
he comes down
in the end to ruin?
It is the brief
the leaving earth, that lives,
as when a boy,
still glowed from having once
touched the sun.
This poem was first published in PN Review. It appears in Sheenagh Pugh’s current collection, Long-Haul Travellers (Seren, 2008).
Order your copy of Long-Haul Travellers here or here.
Visit Sheenagh’s website.
“Poetry seems to have been eliminated as a literary genre, and installed instead, as a kind of spiritual aerobic exercise – nobody need read it, but anybody can do it.”
– Marilyn Hacker
“It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.”
– Louise Glück, from “October”
Averno (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.”
“Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day’s progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.”
“Writers take words seriously – perhaps the last professional class that does – and they struggle to steer their own through the crosswinds of meddling editors and careless typesetters and obtuse and malevolent reviewers into the lap of the ideal reader.”
“The writer must face the fact that ordinary lives are what most people live most of the time, and that the novel as a narration of the fantastic and the adventurous is really an escapist plot; that aesthetically the ordinary, the banal, is what you must deal with.”
“The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.”
“I would especially like to recourt the Muse of poetry, who ran off with the mailman four years ago, and drops me only a scribbled postcard from time to time.”
“From earliest childhood I was charmed by the materials of my craft, by pencils and paper and, later, by the typewriter and the entire apparatus of printing. To condense from one’s memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me, after nearly 30 years concerned with the making of books, a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another.”
“Borders are scratched across the hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen,
And when the borders bleed we watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map turn red.”
– Marya Mannes,
Subverse: Rhymes for Our Times (George Braziller, 1959)
“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them …”
– Annie Dillard
“A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, where to imagine is to feel what it is to be. It allows us to have the life we are denied because we are too busy living. Even more paradoxically, poetry permits us to live in ourselves as if we were just out of reach of ourselves.”
– Mark Strand
when I work I am pure as an angel
tiger and clear is my eye and hot
my brain and silent all the whining
grunting piglets of the appetites.”
– Marge Piercy, from “The Moon is Always Female”
“Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”
– Marge Piercy, from “The art of blessing the day”