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To William Merwin who evokes in me the oriole far from me though near who evokes in me those years when my father was with me all those mornings I’d rouse up to free Buster who ran Nesconset fields with me when my older brother was with me as now when I sometimes see the oriole though far from those now receding from me from when their souls had body this morning from the ash tree I heard its song William’s e singing within me of eternity his gift then & now to me

by William Heyen


RED ACTIONS n. 1. The acts or processes of editing or revising writings; preparations for publication. 2. Edited works; new editions or revisions. 3. A journal of poetry and poetics that is published every nine months and that welcomes: poems; poetry book reviews; translations; manifestos; essays concerning poetry, poetics, poetry movements, or a specific poet or a group of poets; and anything dealing with poetry.

Dear W. S. Merwin, It was two years ago when I arrived at the idea for this issue and Mike and Michelle were quick to agree, and now the issue has finally arrived. It is our – the editors and all those who contributed to this issue – way of saying happy 80th birthday W. S. Merwin. It is our way of saying thank you for everything you have given to and done for American poetry and poetry in general. It is our way of expressing our awe at a life so devoted to poetry. It is our way of celebrating your imagination. It is our way of echoing your tones – so passionate and reserved and deliberate. It is our way of expressing appreciation for your language. But mostly, it is our way of tipping our collective hat to your genius. Yes, genius. I don’t use the word lightly. Enjoy your birthday. Enjoy the issue. Enjoy the tribute. And, most of all, enjoy the poetry. The celebration doesn’t end there though. We needed to do something unique for this issue. So I dug deep into the history of typefaces to find one that not only read well but that somehow paralleled your poetry. A typeface that I would use if I were to lay out a book of your poems. And so, today, we revive Caslon. Caslon was created in 1725 by William Caslon. The typeface can be classified as a Dutch Old Style typeface while at the same time showing new skill levels in punch-cutting. It raised the level for what a typeface can be. I see that in you, Merwin. I see the past talking in your poetry while you move poetry forward – setting new levels for what we can expect from poetry. In this typeface I also see the slope of a mountain in the capital letters, especially the A. It’s the mountain I envision when I read my favorite Merwin poem, “The Mountain.” I should also mention that Caslon was chosen by Benjamin Franklin for the first printing of The American Declaration of Independence. I see you, Merwin, as declaring your thinking and imagination not dependent upon language. For you, language doesn’t control your imagination and thinking, as it does for most, if not all, of us. Instead, you make thinking, imagination, and language work together to create democratic poems for all to read and enjoy. Thank you! Enjoy. Find Beauty! The Editors Tom, Mike, & Michelle


CON IS SUE William Heyen: To William Merwin ....................................................................................... 1 Editors’ Note ............................................................................................................................. 3 POETRY Cindy St. John: Arm ................................................................................................................. 8 Joseph Radke: In Translation .................................................................................................... 9 Walter Bargen: Unlisted Number ............................................................................................. 10 Alicia Hoffman: Mud Soup ...................................................................................................... 11 John Estes: Confession of an Icon Writer ................................................................................. 12 John Hodgen: Overflow ........................................................................................................... 13 Justin Vicari: Centerfold ............................................................................................................ 14 Adam Peterson: My Untimely Death: Number Nine ............................................................. 15 My Untimely Death: Number Fourteen ....................................................... 17 Gary L. McDowell: Lake Big Arbor Vitae .............................................................................. 18 David Cazden: Bradford Pears, ................................................................................................ 20 Ben Miller: It Rained Tonight .................................................................................................. 21 Sarah Perrier: Domestic Bliss ................................................................................................... 22 C. L. Knight: Without Words ................................................................................................... 23


TENTS TEN MERWIN TRIBUTE Merwin Tribute ............................................................................................................................ 24 & POETICS Abby Millager: On Nin Andrews’ Sleeping with Houdini ........................................................ 55 Ed Schelb: On Rereading Robert Duncan’s Bending the Bow .................................................. 56 William Wright: On Dan Morris’ Following the Day ................................................................ 58 Tom’s Celebrations ........................................................................................................................ 60 Books Received ............................................................................................................................ 68 Contributors’ Notes ...................................................................................................................... 70


POETRY


CINDY ST. JOHN ARM After viewing the photographs of Nan Goldin Broken arm, Arm of justice, Needle in the arm vein, Twist the arm, Eye-less, almond arm, Arm of the train Conductor on the wheel, Arm in arm In arms against The arms of strangers We fall into The arm of a star, Arm of Elvis, With the wave of an arm The arm of dissent Shaking its fist in the air, Armband, Armchair, Arm of Armenia, Coat of arms, Arm of someone new Or we knew long ago, Tired arms of mothers, Arm of a lover, Nestle into the hollow shoulder, Arm of flesh And blood And bone, With open arms, The arm of God, Arm of vengeance, Eastern arm, Western arm, Octopus arm, The arm in the photograph Naked, handle-thin, hanging And dying of AIDS. The arm is bridge And a distance.

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JOSEPH RADKE IN TRANSLATION Of course they came from different worlds, different dreams of a world they’d constructed from bits of cinema, lower court rulings, and the odd good read. They met in real life, a place they could share like two lovers from halfway around the globe who both know a smattering of French would build a secret, common dialect until they learned that desire wasn’t all getting it but a good part groping for an inflection or phrase which, although not exactly right, would do the trick of connection. But sometimes one would be unsure of his pronunciation so he would sit silently pulling apart a paper napkin until the atoms nearly split. And the other, in search of fluency, would stir her latte mixing further the thoroughly mixed steamed milk and espresso, and stare out the window and stare at the reflection in the window and stare at the word café – backwards from the inside.

DACTIONS

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WALTER BARGEN UNLISTED NUMBER In the light of a yellowing day, the grass a city of bristling blades and busy crickets. Whatever summarizes itself in black and white circles the stone sinking in the pond. In this metropolis of ringing, I unearth a white plastic telephone buried in a shallow hole in the shade of a persimmon tree. The receiver tied tightly to the cradle. Dirt packed in the spirals of the cord. Rotary dial rusty, grinding as it turns. I lift it out of the ground and answer. Weeds lean to listen to uprooted words, to humus-muffled sobs, to dendritic sentences working their way into the tiniest crevices. I’m speaking to someone with a mouthful of earth, lips soft and rotted ripe, barely audible above stamen and pistil, eyes rolling in leaf clutter. Once a stranger shouted into a hole, a whisper rushed through the grasses and worms drew back. A king buried a secret and grew ass’s ears. We keep digging to answer the golden ringing. It was such a nice evening, and I went out to buy a plaid suitcase for my palace visit.

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ALICIA HOFFMAN MUD SOUP for Lexi I will not have to give you the recipe when you are old enough to know. It is something I will not write down. How Glidden paint cans strewn across the landscape of a yard are the only vessel for collecting rainwater. How it is important to add summer grass first, green and handpicked. Two scoopfuls of dirt, sorrel, skunk cabbage, grit stolen from a place I will wish you never to go. You will marvel how each ingredient colors the broth as I will notice the brightness bringing me out. I will laugh and say you’ve made your first mirepoix, and will make no mention of the sun, the sheen of halo around your tawny head, legs tanned and laughter lifting everything higher. We used to make a stew, old Glidden paint barrels, broken landscape of yard, four parts rainwater, a Pocono storm. Jack in the Box, Queen Anne’s lace, the tartness of currants stolen from bushes behind the abandoned tracks we were not supposed to pass. How each ingredient colors the broth, a mirepoix of gravel, sun in our hair, how we spend our lives looking for the recipe of this, how I was a child once and will not forget it is nothing I need to write down.

DACTIONS

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JOHN ESTES CONFESSION OF AN ICON WRITER I mixed a touch too much sallow into St. Catherine’s skin (that milk in her veins) and let the Christ Pantocrator express a blush of joy (you know the left-hand angel in Rublev’s Trinity? Like that.), gave Eve more glow than Mary, blanched the nimbus of Jonah, just a tad, and lent to Simon Peter a frugal hint of depth. My St. Mary of Egypt shows more breast than necessary. Father, I take private pleasure in my work, enjoy it past measure, as one who sprinkles sugar on berries or tames taut flesh with satiety. My images drive me to reach far more than grasp. I’m ravenous to touch the source, and become it. I ache to surpass my forebears, thirst for mysteries. I add, subtract, invent – see here my impeccable little gecko, sunning upon the rocks, here, above the resurrection.

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JOHN HODGEN OVERFLOW Strange to see this newly planted tree along this stretch of the Pike, its roadside coastal shelf, a spruce I think, slender, bottle-shaped, a coniferous Giacometti left to fend for itself, as if the state had simply run out of funds, only one tree left, but green, Garcia Lorca green, when suddenly, wondrous strange, as Horatio would say, I can see it again, a bottle of Teem, 12 cents back then, and richly green, held out to me in the Templeton Pine Grove Cemetery by Freddie Maahs, my dear best friend, who worked there with me after my father died. And I would not take it from him, and he set it aside, and we raved and swore, and suddenly, improbably, fought with each other, furious, green as we were. For a moment I think we tried to make ghosts of each other, until just as suddenly we both sat down, bloodied, punch-drunk, stupid, and out of breath, too tired to speak, beside the grave we should have been digging. Then we thought for a while, he who sorely hated and was embarrassed by his beanpole drunk of a father, and I who had simply lost my own, heart attack, and who had convinced myself I would not take charity from anyone, and more than that, who did not have the 12 cents to repay him, and who could not, would not admit I was wrong, that I could see, even then, it was just dumb love he was offering, shining, gleaming, standing right there on a gravestone, like a bottle, green, beaded and cool, teeming with a comfort I was too stubborn to drink.

DACTIONS

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JUSTIN VICARI CENTERFOLD My dentist has beach scenes papered to his ceiling, so when he tilts the chair back, sunset shades and lulling tides carry me away from the pick and the drill. I still smell the burning, taste the blood, but I nod to the murmured orison, easing literal pain with figurative pleasure, a way to split the mind right down the middle like the sides of a newspaper folded double, or when we lined up, boys and girls, for kindergarten bathroom breaks. Always, there’s been the authority of pictures though life itself is never stayed from execution. At nine, my friends and I found a centerfold on our way to school, creased and streaked where a car had claimed it, but unmistakable when one of us unfurled it to the staple. The woman’s peach, fuzzed by soft lighting, reclining on a white fur rug. Every few steps in disbelief we stopped to look again, fighting for the right to carry those pages, to study each pore of dulled gloss, until we’d exhausted ourselves by looking, and the future whirred in our ears an unanswerable bell.

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ADAM PETERSON MY UNTIMELY DEATH: NUMBER NINE I die a young, untimely death and an anachronistic, untimely death. I find that my untimely death comes to me when nothing else would. Alone, I cough and cough, and when I pull the handkerchief away from my mouth there is one, perfect spot of red blood in the middle. It looks like the Japanese flag, and I hang it above my bed so that I think of sunrises when I wake up. I go to the doctor. He is an old man who practices medicine in his basement. He delivered me in my untimely birth, one month premature, and has guided me through every illness of my childhood and adult life with the nostrum-like reassurance expected of a doctor with a grey mustache. He pokes my skin with a needle and one, perfect spot of red blood rises to the surface. It looks like Jupiter among the swirls of freckles on my arm. I take a picture with my phone and make it the background so that I think of storms when I want to call my ex-girlfriend. The doctor sucks up the spot of blood with an eyedropper and delicately moves it onto a slide where he examines it with all of the expressions at his disposal – hmm; ah, yes; I see; well then; interesting. You have consumption, he says. Do people still get consumption? I ask. Only people like you, he says. On the way home I buy black clothes and many, many more handkerchiefs. I have read about this, I think. I know what consumptives do. I never go outside and a deathly pallor overtakes my skin. I eat only beef broth and the flesh disappears from my bones. I become effete, sophisticated. I kiss a boy. Sometimes I faint in public. I cough even when I don‘t have to. There is never any blood. I return to the doctor. He is surprised that I am still alive, but I tell him I don’t think I – or anyone – has consumption anymore. They have another name for it now, I say. Do you think I have tuberculosis? I ask. Oh, God, no, he says. You have a case of the fits. On the walk home I fall over in the street and begin to shake. I try to foam at the mouth. Everyone steps around me and after six or seven minutes of shaking I become tired so I stand up and go home. I throw away my black clothes, my handkerchiefs. I buy a helmet. I never fall over again. When I again go to the doctor he tells me I have the horrors. The horrors? I ask. The horrors, he says. DACTIONS

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Adam Peterson

And this time the diagnosis is correct. I see apparitions that look like people I know, but they are not dead yet. This knowledge causes madness, the fits, consumption. I lay on my bed with my phone open. Above me is the Japanese flag. I cough. I shake at the horrors.

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Adam Peterson

MY UNTIMELY DEATH: NUMBER FOURTEEN My untimely death takes all spring. In the winter I one-up Thoreau and move to the center of Lake Franklin-upon-Burbank to be away from it all, to reconnect with the world as it was meant to be experienced. I thought I would freeze to my untimely death because I live without shelter and scavenge for food among the ice and snow. The first night I make a pillow of snow and sleep beneath the stars. In my dreams I can see fish looking up at me through the ice. In the morning I scavenge food at the ranger station. I have more luck. They have a fire house at the ranger station and as I walk outside I borrow it, like Thoreau might have, and turn the water on, like William James might have. I walk back to my home in the center of the lake. I drag the hose behind me, the water freezing, and as it touches the ice it forms a wall splitting the lake in twain. I never set foot on the north side of the lake again as I find myself stuck behind the wall on the south side. Though I never again see anyone from the north side of the lake, I imagine them vulgar and blasphemous and pugilistic. Beneath my feet, though, I can see fish skirt the new boundary without hesitation and I am as envious as I am suspicious. Back at my home, I use the hose to build ice walls with ice siding and ice bay windows. The water from the hose never ceases so I continue to build. I make a garage with a work bench and an anvil. I make an atrium with roses. When I try to rest the hose begins to make an unsightly hill so I take it up again and conquer the hill, like Roosevelt might have, and build a memorial on it. It is a memorial to everything, and all winter as I continue to expand my house – glancing over my shoulder to the north so much that in the morning my right cheek is sunburned; in the afternoon, my left – that as my house grows I find new things to memorialize. On the day I spray a memorial to the sun it reappears again, like Eugene Debs might have, and a yellow plague spreads across the ice. In all directions there is only light, and I am blinded. Still it is cold, and I memorialize my blindness by making more hills, frozen Braille, even though I don't know the language, just big bumps that spell out my plea to God. But it is only the sun that runs its fingers over them, I know. I feel water collect at my feet. I go into the guest room and the ice duvet is gone. The iced kangaroo has left and soon the entire ice zoo. In my hand the hose sprays stronger than ever, but I cannot recreate what has melted away from me. Soon there is no ice, just lake, and north and south are one. I am underwater. I let go the hose. It is at home. I feel fish brush against my fingers. I dream I chase them up, up.

DACTIONS

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GARY L. McDOWELL LAKE BIG ARBOR VITAE My father either floats or sinks. I forget which, though I’m sure I know. ~ On Milky Bay, in early April, we fish for walleye. Eagles nest in the pines that line the bay. Something builds a dam. ~ My father sips his coffee. His breath is caramel. ~ I put my hand in the styrofoam bait container and wait for a leech to suck onto my finger. I will fish with my own blood. ~ My father pisses into the bay. I hook my leech through its tail. Pull its mouth from my finger. I cast and my line fizzes. ~ I blow smoke rings with the cold air. My lips taste like steaming ice. ~ An otter barks from the shore. My father says he’s horny. At ten, I don’t know what this means. ~ Our lines bob in the bay. This is patience. The eagles start hunting. My father says, watch. ~ With talons stretched, the first eagle plunges his feet through the water’s surface. There’s barely a disturbance. A ripple is all. ~

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Gary L. McDowell

For over an hour, the eagles take turns plucking fish from the bay. Their nests are alive. The fledglings are frantic, their squeals echo through the trees, their bellies filling.

DACTIONS

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DAVID CAZDEN BRADFORD PEARS, my wife says, are planted only for show, cracking in even the slightest storm. In fall, their inedible fruit encrusts the curbs, the driveway and cars in rinds so bitter even starlings spit them out on the wing. Yet like all round things, they desire only to shine, to fall into a field, letting soft flesh slough away over black crescent seeds. We lose a few every year to an ice storm or gale, for something terrible always happens to the most fragile. In February when starlings squawk and flap their dark raincoats over the snow, picking over torn limbs, we forget how they’ll turn – Near March, our anniversary, after my wife’s finished with every gardening catalog full of exotic flowers, stacked high on the table, we are always surprised when pears explode into bloom. Though a step slower, I’ll work in the yard. And for a week pears illuminate the neighborhood, petals swaying like lanterns, shining just under our skin.

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BEN MILLER IT RAINED TONIGHT and so I thought of you somewhere under a streetlight, your attention elsewhere – upward, toward the ticker-tape of rain, halted as by flashbulbs, lightning in your eyes, your hair, your hands holding the umbrella upside-down, forgotten, so it falls, too heavy with the water.

DACTIONS

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SARAH PERRIER DOMESTIC BLISS

I’ll tell you what it’s like, my married friend says. It’s always dark where he’s from. She lives in an unknown country: the walls rise slick and lemony from bright tile floors, and the tabletops taste like vitamin C. In her kitchen, the knife blades break their teeth on her fear. She won’t look. Once, she dared me to curse the dark mirror in her bathroom. She promised to save my soul with a flick of a switch. Now it comes to this: parts of chickens in her garbage can, loads of dark clothes to scrub. She tells me about the bathroom scale, about the kitchen sink. She’s afraid the shower curtain might snap into a wall of fire. Even now, she hears its dangerous flapping down the hall. Stand right there, she says, and cuts the lights. Where he’s from, all the stairs point down.

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C. L. KNIGHT WITHOUT WORDS When we were not speaking, I wondered how to tell you without words where I was going, how I would walk outside and breathe slowly to catch my heart before it raced into the swamp of singing that prowls about us. It was before we invented fire, before words, before the shape of words. When we did not speak, the air still burst with visions, animals purring, yowling, chaos parting air and water, the moon rising from underground gardens. When we did not speak, our fists formed meaning – unmistakable, furious curled into our mouths, too blue to utter, too red to grasp, too green to listen. We wove baskets of grief, killed ferrets and doves, skinned them and ate. When we learned to speak, the words became round beads we put on strings, chains of meaning to hang around our necks – too many syllables rivering through our veins like prophecy. We invented god to interpret the heavens for us, realized our tongues are small instruments if we wish to speak to the stars.

DACTIONS

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TO MERWIN


By Adrien Tucker


Merwin Tribute

Things for W.S. Merwin If you look for me in this street you’ll find me with my violin prepared to break into song, prepared to die. from “For Everyone,” Pablo Neruda You translated his love poems and went on to other things – Beowulf, The Cid, Lorca, your palm trees, your own work while Neruda lived here in those years, building his third home, adding room after room to fill with things and more things. It is easy to forget the dusty beach towns – Algarrobo, El Quisco – their graffiti and crowds when you turn off toward Isla Negra. Cypress and monkey pines cling to the cliffs. Black volcanic rock juts from the Pacific below; seaweed whirls in wild blue water. It is February summer. I want to take it all in, the things, his ‘blue shore of silence’ above his ‘university of the waves.’ A giant glassy-eyed fish watches from the roof. An ancient red train engine guards the walk’s pink profusion of flowers. A caretaker’s house he bought in ’39 with earnings from books sold since his teens, he re-designed it to look like a ship, adding rooms to hold his collections. Though terrified of water, he gathered everything he could find from ships and the sea. ‘I traveled building joy,’ he carved on the weathered wood lintel under the red tin-roof. You enter walking the seashell floor in the foyer, then cross sliced tree trunks sunk into the concrete floor of the dining room. Shelves on every wall hold rainbows of colored glass: three hundred old bottles from France, hundreds of green, blue, and red glass piano leg protectors, dishes from Turkey, Russia, Sweden. Ships in bottles, masks from everywhere, closets filled with colorful hats for costume parties. The heavy wood dining table still set for nine waits for Neruda to take the biggest captain’s chair. “I am the captain of dry land,” he often said, looking out from his many telescopes, collecting hundreds of painted ships’ frontispieces. 26

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Merwin Tribute

Six thousand shells he gave to a museum; another spiky, spiny, pearly thousand reside here in his shell room. In his study, where he wrote only in green (the color of hope), washing his hands before and after writing, he kept cases of blue and yellow butterflies; big, ugly beetles, the Chilean beetle, longer than a finger, his favorite. He wrote surrounded by photographs of his mentors: Baudelaire to the right on his carved desk; Whitman, ‘his poetic father’ on the left; Lorca, whom he loved and grieved in Spain on the wall above. And meerschaum pipes, hundreds of their carved white heads resting in cases. Murals of stone and rock on the way to the horse room, his ‘happiest horse’ sculpture, larger than life-size, acquired after forty-five years of negotiation, inviting his friends to his horse party asking them to bring the horse gifts when the horse’s parlor and men’s bathroom pasted with dirty postcards were finished. Enter the Kovache (‘cozy’ in Mapuche language) room filled with wooden animals ‘A house of toys,’ he said, ‘to play with from morning to night.’ Not just his own interests, but the local women he helped, whose hundreds of pieces of embroidery he sold on his travels, the thousands of Spanish Civil War refugees he paid for and re-settled in Chile. You catch your breath outside sitting on Tiburon, the red and white wood fishing boat he built for cocktail parties overlooking the Pacific. His passions are clearer now – poems about his socks, an ear of corn, a tuna on ice, a chestnut on the ground, salt, a lemon. Things. So many things. I have tried to take it all in as a gift to myself, to you who made him ours long ago – these common things still singing above the sea to a very uncommon man. —DAVI WALDERS’ work has appeared in such publications as Crab Orchard Review, Potomac Review, Seneca Review, Revisiting Frost, Runes, and 200 or so other places.

*** DACTIONS

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Merwin Tribute

Hearing Merwin Read “The Last One” The room was long and narrow, spare and windowless, furnished with plain chairs and a wooden lectern at the front. Fluorescent lighting hummed from the ceiling. I remember the room, but not the specific building. Perhaps the room was in a wing of the new Divinity School addition. It was the spring of 1979, at Duke University. What I do remember vividly is that I have come to hear W.S. Merwin read, an event sponsored by the annual Blackburn Literary Festival. The room was filled with students and a few faculty members. Merwin was a charismatic presence with his shock of wavy, salt-and-pepper hair, and his soft-spoken, melodic – even hypnotic – voice. As he started to read, I felt something about my sense of hearing sharpen. Perhaps it was not the sense of hearing really, but rather a sharpening of my intention to truly hear. Merwin was magnetic, and I felt almost as though I was going into a trance. I attended the reading with my friends Stephanie and Merry, former housemates who were now my next door neighbors on Caswell Street in Durham. I was not the only one entranced. At the end of the event, Merwin read a longer poem, “The Last One,” from his book The Lice. Although the specific nature of the “last one” is never explicitly identified, the reader imagines or assumes that it is a tree, the final one standing and soon to be downed. The simple narrative sounds fairy tale-like, and true to many such tales, it takes on an ominous tone. After the “last one” is cut, “they” – the cutters – suffer the inevitable consequences. It swallowed their shadows. Then it swallowed them too and they vanished. Well the others ran. The ones that were left went away to live if it would let them. They went as far as they could. The lucky ones with their shadows. Stephanie, a senior majoring in botany, and Merry, a graduate student in the School of Forestry, and I have taken innumerable walks together in the 8,000-acre Duke forest. We have talked many times about trees, plants, lichens, mosses, environmental succession, ecology, and deforestation. I knew, of course, about the deforestation prevalent in the South American rain forests and on some of the Indonesian islands, but I had never considered the deforestation of Hawaii, the state Merwin has called home for many years. I did not know if I had ever heard or might ever hear again a poet read a more powerful, evocative poem. Merwin developed the extended metaphor of “The Last One” with such veracity, seamlessness, and craft. Even today, more than twenty-five years later, I read this poem and weep. Recalling his reading gives me chills. I become stunned by the poem once again, stunned by its simple beauty and prescience. —CHERYL STILES has published poems and essays in Poet Lore, Atlanta Review, Storysouth, POEM, SLANT, and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. She works as a university librarian in the Atlanta area. 28

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*** Waiting for the World to Begin: On W. S. Merwin’s “Cansos” and “Leviathan” “Leviathan” is the first poem in a sequence titled “Physiologus: Chapters for a Bestiary,” Part One of Merwin’s third book of poems, Green with Beasts, which appeared in 1956, when Merwin was 29. The other poems in the sequence, in order, are “Blue Cockerel,” “Two Horses,” “Dog,” and “White Goat, White Ram.” “Leviathan” is one of the bestknown and most widely reprinted of the early poems, and has even been set to music by composer Joseph Klein, in 1998. In form, the poem echoes Anglo-Saxon strong-stress verse, and the diction and syntax also derive from that era, though Merwin also forthrightly adapts the tradition to his own uses. Alliteration and compound adjectives weave in and out of the lines without adhering to the rigorous, pounding four-beat line of the old form, and the syntax twists and extends in long sentences that simultaneously echo the dead language and the modern poetic idiom. In that modern context, the ghost of Pound looms, in his adaptation of “The Seafarer,” which first appeared in Ripostes, published in 1912. Along these lines, it is worth pointing out that many of Pound’s poems from this period (especially in the volume Canzoni of 1911), are titled “Canzon” or “Canzone,” just as three of the long poems near the end of Merwin’s previous book, The Dancing Bears (1954) are titled “Canso.” Merwin’s term comes from Occitan, the language of the Troubadours, whose poetry he has translated for many decades and whom he discusses at length in his meditation on the Pays d’Oc and its history, The Mays of Ventadorn. The Occitan Canso was a love poem, and Merwin’s own Cansos provide clues about where he was headed in his passage through “Leviathan” on the way to his later style. The second of the three poems titled “Canso” in The Dancing Bears is by far the longest (25 stanzas of 11 lines each, for a total of 261 lines). It is a traditional, yet utterly modern, débat about love that is both sensuous and abstract. At one point, in the fifth stanza, the poet addresses his love and is asking of her and of himself how he might respond if she “should die before me” (l. 25). As part of that question, he asks: And what profit would there be to me then In the lure of song, the twanged incantation, Which on a time so played on savagery With order, that the beasts came: phoenix and sow, Cat, unicorn, chimera came, swimming Through the incredibility of themselves As through the air, to sit in a round, To hear, to hear a wish? Unless they might By virtue of the same order, as by love, But changelessly, stand listening so forever And there be real in the ultimate song. (ll. 45-56)

DACTIONS

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In the same vein, in an extension of the same point, the lover comments after two intervening stanzas, There must be found, then, the imagination Before the names of things, the dicta for The only poem, and among all dictions That ceremony whereby you may be named Perpetual out of the anonymity Of death. (ll. 78-83). It seems – at least as one dilemma of this complex and exuberant song – that the lover is haunted by the impossibility of representing the real. Utterly in love, he confronts the fact that under the shadow of death he cannot even describe his love, her life, or any thing, real or even unreal (the unicorn). The beloved, the muse, is so great that she invokes the world itself, and even more, a reality that goes beyond the world into the realm of chimeras. The lover therefore aspires to what poets have sought throughout the ages – an incantation that would make the world real, even to make whatever it names real, such as imaginary beasts. Viewed in this light, it seems to be no coincidence that the final “Canso,” which is also the final poem of The Dancing Bears, is a love poem through which the sea echoes (including whale references). Indeed, that poem and thus the book close: We listen, and shall here, love, with the sea’s holy Song in the shells of our ears, lie down forever To sleep in the turning garden for as long as the sea. Then, just a few years later, after the dedicatory poem “To Dido,” his wife, at the opening of Green with Beasts, stands “Leviathan,” very much living in that sea where the lovers have lain down. There are many things at work here, personal, poetic, philosophical, spiritual, and more, but among them must be counted a turn towards the beasts of the world itself, both real and imagined. I see this as a turn towards a conception of a great natural order in which the things themselves are now speaking more clearly. That is the voice that suddenly jumps out from “Leviathan.” Merwin the poet has here begun to make himself into “A Hades into which I can descend” (l. 88; as Orpheus, no doubt). This is what he vowed to do at the end of the stanza in the second Canso quoted above; it is where the lover would go to find “the imagination / Before the names of things.” “Leviathan” is one of those named beasts, and it is out of the ambitious imagination before its name that such a beautiful animal swims into the possibility of its own being in the poem. Now, instead of addressing himself to the beloved, the poet has addressed himself to that entire world which such love poems might conjure, as he had said he would try to do. In the land of the dead he has forged a space where even Leviathan can live, a creation seemingly on its own, greater than the poet’s imagination, greater even than any elegy. And in the closing of that poem, that “beast,” “First created . . . of all creatures” as Merwin points out, “waits for the world to begin.” One eye on many pasts, another on the living planet, in this lyric the world rushes into the art with a magnificent tenderness that the poet has 30

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now extended for decades since. In The Fading Smile, his thorough and careful memoir-cum-chronicle of literary Boston in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Peter Davison devotes a chapter to Merwin’s time there from 1956 to 1959, just after Green with Beasts appeared. Merwin had spent much of the decade in Europe and, still a young man, had returned to America, according to Davison, with all sorts of ambitions and ambivalences. Davison observes that “American poetry in the mid-1950s had taken a sharp turn toward the European and was due for a correction” (87). He sees Merwin’s early work in this vein, pointing out the influence of John Peale Bishop, Robert Graves (Merwin’s employer in the 1950s on Mallorca as tutor for his son), and Ransom. He rightly points out that Merwin was in transition at this point, “bent on his own direction, writing the poems that would be published in The Drunk in the Furnace, poems which would at last discard the elaborate European accoutrements of his earlier poetry and approach the directions of American speech” (99). And indeed, from that point on Merwin did “push beyond the structures of traditional prosody in order to grapple with his demons and the demons of the universe . . . abandon[ing] forever the intricacies of metrical virtuosity that he had displayed” in his early work (102). He unequivocally abandoned traditional prosody and punctuation, changed his diction and syntax, and developed an utterly different approach to allusion and thematics. At the same time, however their author may feel about the poems, it would be a mistake for us as readers to treat Merwin’s early work as a mere stepping-stone to the fiery incantations of The Lice, The Carrier of Ladders, and subsequent poems. For in the best of the early work we see a younger poet, burning with ardor for the world and for language, opening a space into which reality can then swim. “Leviathan” is one of the poems in which that world appears, a door flung open with a resounding clang. In it we hear not only the roar of the ocean, but of existence itself, as it seeks to come forth from death and the void into words, thereby becoming “real in the ultimate song.” However fierce and abstract at times, this is a song of love. And if, in later work, Merwin turns more towards “becoming” than any ultimate real that this younger poet imagined, that is perhaps better understood as a more mature poet’s variation of a song that is already in full throat here. —DAVID J. ROTHMAN’s second volume of poetry, The Elephant’s Chiropractor, was a Finalist for the Colorado Book Award. He is the Founding Editor and Publisher of Conundrum Press. He is co-founder and was the first Executive Director of the Crested Butte Music Festival. *** OUR NUKES 1. Our nukes are in the habit of hiding themselves below ground as if shy, much like what the proverbial ostrich does with her head. Nukes from other countries reportedly do this too, sometimes hiding so superhumanly well as to have turned invisible. Do nukes work better as rumor than fact? DACTIONS

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2. Our nukes resemble supermodels: tall and slender, with shiny designer garb and bared teeth. They saunter expertly, capable of overriding strong reverberations of hunger. They’re up on current wartime factions. 3. A woman in Detroit who screws together nuke parts says she’d rather make garbage disposals. 4. Our nukes are necessary demonstration, like good manners. We gladly pay 450 billion for a single year’s etiquette lesson. A woman in Kaesong dreams our nukes wearing diapers. A father in Brooklyn whose son dissolved like a tablet in the Twin Towers requests his son’s name be tattooed on our nukes, right below the Nike swoosh. 5. Our nukes bow their heads, doggedly prayerful, deferential to their own enlightenment. They wait for directions from above, while globe-sized hail continues to fall, out in the great state of Texas. 6. We scope for signs of resistance from our nukes, checking for tarnishing or dulled tips indicating possible neuroticism. We get those straightened right out. We tell the good ones stories so they can sleep at night. And they dream of long dark tunnels, the brilliant, inexplicable light at the end. --HEART-SHAPED STONE There exist no new roads Waking alone at three, the dark room. The red cage Chinese lantern: Wide black strokes

in thin tissue

roads The script, familiar. I,

and you here somewhere

Out

the tiny window.

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remembered. You somewhere, a road. Green shoots in snow. --ON “OUR NUKES” AND “HEART-SHAPED STONE” “Our Nukes” was inspired by W.S. Merwin’s spooky book of “prose,” The Miner’s Pale Children. This was a book I had come across recently and was still trying to decide how I felt about it. On one hand, I was moved by some of the poems’ philosophical depths, Merwin’s masterful ability to “go deep” with just the right light touch, so that I never came away from the work feeling clobbered by opinion. On the other hand, some of the poems seemed a bit too remote, drifted too far from the realm of of the real for my comfort. One poem that worked especially well, I thought, was “Our Jailer,” which begins with this stanza: Our jailer is in the habit of placing a baited mouse trap in the cells of the condemned on their last night. Ours is a well-kept jail; mice are rare and not many stray into the occupied cells. The jailer watches the prisoners. This excerpt shows well the subject, tone, and style of this short poem, as well as the collection overall. I detect a whiff of humor in those opening lines, the absurdity of the jailer toying with the condemned prisoners, the speaker (a fellow prisoner) commenting on the conditions of the jail. The humor, however, is tinged with sadness, which is part of what gives this poem its emotional complexity. Also, we sense metaphor right away: “Our Jailer,” especially in the capitalized title, intentionally echoes “Our Father,” as in “Our Father Who Art in Heaven,” and thus gently clues the reader early to the poem’s central metaphor. The middle portion of the poem explains the various ways prisoners deal with the trap, a metaphor that could represent any number of challenges presented by the human condition, but perhaps specifically the idea of God and the paradox of how a loving God must also explain/encompass animal/human suffering and death . . . and the confusion, anger, worry, and numbness that sometimes results: “A large number [of prisoners] become absorbed by it and sit staring at it, whether or not it occupies their thoughts consistently.” Merwin brilliantly amplifies his argument at the end by implying the result of “the trap” is mass paranoia: “Month after month, year after year, [the jailer] watches them. And we watch him. And each other.”

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When I saw that Redactions had asked for a W.S. Merwin tribute, I decided this was an opportunity to articulate what exactly I thought about the prose poems in The Miner’s Pale Children. Because I admired “Our Jailer” more than any other in the collection, I thought I might use it as a template, which is where the title “Our Nukes” came from. I had just watched an excellent documentary that was whirling in my mind, Why We Fight, about America’s obsession with war, power, and nuclear weapons since Eisenhower. But I knew that if nuclear weapons were my subject, I probably wouldn’t be able to pull off Merwin’s meditative, philosophical tone. As Jay Hopler warned me (who was gracious enough to help with my initial draft of this poem), the poem could easily lapse into shrill proselytizing. My antidote became an attempt to amplify the humor by personifying the nuclear weapons (in sections 2, 5, and 6), turning them into ironic representations of what we Americans most revere: beauty and power (supermodels), moral goodness (churchgoers), and innocence (children). I borrowed from Merwin’s piece the question of God’s role in mass suffering, as well as brevity: my hope is that the poem’s lack of elaboration will allude to the absurdity of how ill-considered the stockpiling of nuclear weapons actually is. “Heart-Shaped Stone” evolved after a workshop with Tom Sleigh, who encouraged us participants to play with language “like W.S. Merwin does so well,” namely the ways in which a word or phrase can connect with the lines before or after it (for instance, lines 12 and 13 could be read as either “Over stone wings shudder water” or “Over stone wings shudder, water remembered”). Sleigh also encouraged scant punctuation and creative spacing to help achieve this effect. Toward the final lines of the poem, I amplified the “oh” sound to try to capture the sound of desire, a sound of both passion and pain. Finally, my experimentation with this language play consistently had – in subject matter, tone, and mood – the feel of haiku, so I turned to the ancient Japanese poets for inspiration. The subject matter of “Heart-Shaped Stone” recalls, however, a poem by the Chinese poet Tu Fu, “Restless Night.” —LIZ ROBBINS’ debut collection, Hope, As the World Is a Scorpion Fish, is forthcoming from The Backwaters Press in Fall, 2007. She’s the recipient of the First Coast Writers’ Poetry Award, judged by Robert Bly, and a nominee for Best New Poets. *** COMPANY OF GEESE with a line from W. S. Merwin We get up sodden with dew and wait for the moon to fill, the men to come home, the dandelion heads to turn white. 34

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This week, they’ve been looking for three soldiers and our potted parsley stopped growing. The seagulls are rearranging their feathers while the city is killing geese, and the deer are moving to the other side of the lake, the side without yachts. We talk more of the geese dying or the deer being shot the next town over than we do of the body bags, but in our dreams we can’t ignore the sound of bullets, and we wake up feeling sand in our throats. We are widowed and fatherless, our lives no longer feel the ground under them. —KRISTEN ORSER is an MFA Poetry candidate at Columbia College Chicago. Her work has most recently appeared in The Trident, Columbia Poetry Review, and After Hours. She is also an editor for Columbia Poetry Review. *** LUCKY TO HAVE BEEN THERE William Merwin in Chiapas, Mexico, in the garden of old roses he planted decades ago at the house that was once a monastery. They’re still blooming. William and Paula on the lovely island of Maui, staring through the fluent palm trees they have planted and tended and tended to the ocean that’s all around. William Merwin on the highway in west Texas, asking to be let out of the car to collect seeds from roadside plants. He places them in small plastic bags in his many pockets in the old khaki jacket. The others of us, chatting madly, did not see what we were passing in a way that would make us want to stop and collect seeds. William and Paula Merwin in the dark staring at the winking Marfa Lights, DACTIONS

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off old Highway 90 between Alpine and Marfa, far west Texas. After more than a century the lights are still mysteries. They feel like the edges of poems, rich and glittering, spurring us forward in our thinking and imagining. I can’t bear to tell them when an “Official Viewing Station” is built a decade later. The stupidest thing of all – it is LIT. William Merwin at dawn, Big Bend National Park, speaking gently to a javelina that has nosed its way out of the brush to greet him. Wild pigs generally do not do this. The pig places its snout right into his palm. William feeds it only his close attention. The javelina seems happier. William suggesting I take a 20-mile dirt road in a car that has no 4-wheel drive. We don’t know how rough it will be. I think this car is not up to it, I say. William patting the dashboard. Sure it is. It’s a good car. Come on. Take that road! We take it and we make it. Stone ruins, miles of cactus. Miles and mounds of sky. The Merwins at a Mexican café in George West, south Texas speaking to the good-old-boys who have come in for enchiladas. William is interested in them and what they know. I think one of them is the mayor. We are on our way south to see the green jays at the border and the ancient palm trees in the Valley. They are impressed we are driving that far. William wandering down a creek bed crammed with knee-high palms at Palmetto State Park, Gonzales, Texas. He has a card that can get him into all parks free around the nation. Everyone should have this card. William at Baylor University in Waco, Texas with an overflow crowd. Two hundred people cannot make it into the large hall to hear him. They are milling outside the big doors, peering 36

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through, trying to catch a word or two. Somehow this feels like very good news. Waco is the nearest city to Crawford. William can’t stand what is going on in the world and he says so. He does not hold back. None of this guarded Neutral Zone Silence for him. He was one of the first outspoken Poets Against the War and the general Republican nightmare and continues to speak out strongly through the disasters and delusions. And if we don’t, what kinds of citizens are we, please? If we don’t? William at another university speaking for an entire day in huge sessions, small sessions, answering questions, caring about every line exchanged, attentive, respectful, never dismissive of anyone, and later the students will write to him about his obsession with RAIN. So many dopey pitiful letters about rain. I don’t recall rain even coming UP among the 1,000 things he discussed that day, but some of the students had his great book The Rain in the Trees. Scary. William in downtown Dallas, in a bedraggled plaza, early morning, before he speaks at Booker T. Washington High School for the Arts. Paula goes off to find a New York Times. We’re standing at a little distance when a homeless man approaches, holding out a rolled and raggedy blanket. He is trying to sell it to William, whom he imagines to be someone like himself, wandering widely, sleeping on stoops, living in margins and corners. Very gently, William thanks him, declines the blanket. —NAOMI SHIHAB NYE lives in San Antonio. Her most recent books are I’ll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK? Tales of Driving & Being Driven (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) and You & Yours (BOA Editions). *** DACTIONS

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Merwin I believe I read through several poems at first before seeing the lack. It was as if words had sprung from some aquifer, completely disburdened of tiny floating insects, parasites and dead leaf shreds. By which I mean, of course, punctuation. So what if he omits it? All becomes equal. At first, you feel giddy – as when standing on the glass floor of that spaceship in Toronto. You look down but your eyes can’t cut it – don’t know where to focus, where to stop. Because there is no stopping. Then suddenly, your sea legs sprout. You realize the whole thing floats, seems all geometric like a line in space, infinite in both directions. The writing doesn’t end when it ends, it didn’t begin when it began. Nothing’s parenthetical. There is no clutter. It is all part of some continuum outside our ken. As Merwin says, “the sound of true brevity.”* Every line’s a mini poem, equal in importance to the next. A rhythm sets up – a standing wave, an echo. Sounds in hollow spaces – caverns or cathedrals. Merwin=Merlin (I can’t be the only one who thinks this.) And water, always water channeling spirit: these are words as incantation or psalm, breathless – no, driven by an endless breath flowing upward, from a bottomless well. * – “Lament for the Makers” is from The River Sound. —ABBY MILLAGER lives and writes amid the mushroom farms of north Newark, in the humble state of Delaware. Her writings, at times, appeared elsewhere. *** ESTUARY Reading Merwin in a café, San Francisco, 2007 It occurs to me he is entirely of the old world, and I check the bookjacket to be sure he has never lived in California. Correct. But in Hawaii, which puzzles me: old world? New world? I’ve not visited Polynesia, and cannot say. He writes, they always gather on summer nights there – and reminds us everything is a matter of perspective. I do not know of which nights he speaks. Perhaps all of them. 38

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*

*

*

In San Francisco in June the bay estuary is clotted with copper mercurial fish and more to the point with fog. We know no summer. But like Odysseus, or maybe like Merwin, we journey to find it. Sunday on a walk in a place called the Open Space Preserve or Preserved Ocean Space or Open Space Place – We found it on a satellite map showing the fog lifted at that latitude, twenty miles north of the city, and drove there on a whim – We saw two kestrels, a jackrabbit, two horses and their riders, dogs, and many scampering lizards. Sun beat down and one raptor had a snake in its talons. My lover said it was only a stick, teasing; protesting, I made the motion the panicked serpent made with my hand, a wave curling back on itself, trying to reach the talons and pry itself free (with what hands? With what mouth?). I could not help it: my stomach turned as from thirty feet I pictured the innards beginning to spill out, and had to look away, and wished the kestrel had chosen only a rigid stick. But why was it we climbed up there? To cease longing for one day, I suppose, to ask some question tell some secret beg some pardon to look again on another valley green in the sun. And to bring my lover’s warm hand to my mouth and rest it there, thinking long afterwards, long after we never do this again, DACTIONS

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I will remember everything about this day but mostly the kestrel and the way it limped through the sky burdened with the weight of the snake in its claws. *

*

*

I find I’m inured to Merwin’s supple sense of place. He tutored in France, Portugal, and Majorca, the bookjacket says. Lived “chiefly” in many locales. I suspect he was always grateful to move. I wonder how Portuguese informed his poetry – que parte da cidade – And I wonder if he ever loathed a place for its lack of seasons, found it hard to write there because the summer was gray. But Merwin had Paris and the West, the Lackawanna and Deception Island. The sunrise and the equinox, the wilderness and the estuary, where, he tell us, the wave from the end of the earth is breaking. But where in his heart is all this? I find – he returned gratefully to Hawaii and New York – I don’t know. *

*

*

Thinking a fleeting thought this morning the sun came up just a little and in the same month and in later years 40

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the sun came up many more times shuddered like a fragile yolk and the kestrel backlit Reading the book jacket again – for something I might have missed – I have the unmistakable sensation of crunching down on sand. These are my misgivings, taken up residence in my mouth. Outside the café a jackhammer does to the sidewalk what imaginary grit is doing to my teeth. How do we live in this noisy, this everlastingly noisy, world? The girls next table over are as obsessed with place as I. They attend the school up the street, a rough one, and I grow unduly impressed with she who tells her friends we should respect our elders. She is also the one who says

I will move to the South when I graduate, after all it’s where my people are from. Merwin she reminds me of me. I love to travel as much as thee – and I miss New England as I miss the sunrise, the equinox, some place called Deception Island. It’s where, after all, my people are from. *

*

*

Dead end. Rethink punctuation; rethink place. For a long time DACTIONS

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I’ve sat here wondering how Unlike Merwin one could become And how like Merwin one must Become. He wrote,

Inside this pencil crouch words That have never been written Really I want to say Really

Optimist. I fear whatever I have to do has not yet begun, and the wave from the end of the earth keeps breaking. Note: many of the lines in this poem were inspired or influenced by poems from Merwin’s Selected Poems (Atheneum Press, 1988), as was the title, after “The Estuary” (233). Some lines were directly or mostly stolen. They include: Line 8 (“They always gather on summer nights there”) from “The Gleaners” (65) Line 39 (“But why was it we climbed up there?”) and lines 41-46 (“to ask some question . . . valley green in the sun”) from “John Otto” (67) Line 73 (“the wave from the end of the earth keeps breaking”) from “The Estuary” (233), repeated in line 123 Lines 116-117, from “The Unwritten” (203) and Line 122, from “It Is March” (120). SUSIE MESERVE is a poet and essayist living in San Francisco. This is her second appearance in Redactions. *** Requiem and Blessing: W. S. Merwin’s “Vixen” There are many ways to enter a poem – a leisurely stroll that takes the reader down a well-worn, if not predictable path, a frantic sprint with a definite sense of immediacy, or a sort of breathless waiting – all according to the intent of the poet. In W. S. Merwin’s poem “Vixen” the reader approaches the poem as if from the edge of deep forest. Hackles at the back of the mind rise up and with senses heightened, the reader is acutely aware of breath and heartbeat. Exhibiting an obvious lack of punctuation, “Vixen” appears on the page as a wild and dense thicket of thought and images. Subtle and elliptical, almost cryptic at times, the phrasing trots along with a consistent sense of motion, much like the pace of a wild animal left to its natural ways. They are these elements of the poem, however, that allow Merwin’s elegant language to reverberate with imagination rather than reason; to suspend rationality and cause the reader to be neither pushed nor pulled, but rather led 42

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by intuition much like the vixen, that “keeper of the kept secrets / of the destroyed stories the escaped dreams.” The fox is gone, however, for she “no longer [goes] out like a flame at the sight of [him].” Paradoxically, she remains “unharmed even now perfect / as [she has] always been” in the memory of the speaker. As a spirit or ghost, the fox’s “light paws are running / on the breathless night on the bridge with one end.” There is an intensity here that reflects the beauty of man’s rare interaction with the natural world made even more poignant by the narrator’s sense of melancholy at the loss of that communion. In an attempt to reconnect with what is lost, the speaker appeals to the memory of the fox to appear and allow him to “catch sight of [her] again going over the wall.” For, in a prophetic moment, the speaker imagines “the garden . . . extinct” and “the woods [as] figures guttering on a screen.” Then with a supplication for absolution after the unthinkable, the speaker asks that his “words find their own/ places in the silence after the animals,” a silence that seems apocalyptic. Merwin never attempts to tell a complete tale here; but rather leaves the reader with a disturbed sense of detached foreknowledge: the fox is gone, the past is gone. The retreating footsteps of the ghostly animal grow fainter until only silence remains, a stillness into which the poet sends his words: a requiem and a blessing. —CHRISTINA LOVIN is the author of the chapbooks, What We Burned for Warmth and Little Fires. Lovin is the recipient of several artists’ grants from the Kentucky Arts Council (most notably a 2007 Al Smith Fellowship) and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. *** xiv. (from To William: A Poem) William as you did I skipped a grade supposedly too elementary for me I was the youngest before I did I’ve now it could be caught up with me Jeffers said he hadn’t been born until he reached thirty Frost & Stevens published first books in their forties you came so early into your own in my Smithtown High School chemistry classroom a huge chart of the elements but Emerson’s “mystic element of time” & “no greatness without abandonment” DACTIONS

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waited for me in that library I’d only begun to read after graduate school I wish Mrs. Pierce had pierced me with the single illuminated periodic table unified from within by whatever name we assign in prayer to whatever god even our dictionary in the end just one word circling within around even memory I was six eight ten standing in Island woods listening for scratching over deciduous ground a box turtle approaching me into whose burnished shell someone had cut 1892 this meant nothing to me in this way signs keep awakening in me from William Merwin’s e Archie oscillated in his mother’s womb the year Walt died who designed his own tomb why can’t I remember if I’ve ever visited there soon you’ll be eighty when I’m sixty-seven what have I learned about such things poets die or re-sound in me profound goings & stayings over coffee I mentioned The Idea of the Holy Rudolph Otto warns us away from him if we haven’t experienced such moments as he’ll study Das Heilige a confirmation for me to which I brought my intimations of immortality from when I was a boy where I am now when poetry allows me joy despite that SS maniac who holds a newborn child under a running faucet drowns it while singing Here you go little Moses down the stream

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poets digest the slime of history as appalls them not one finds joy or soul except in writing some began in gladness overtaken by despondency Wordsworth prayed for the child’s e to sing from the father’s abyss Primo Levi’s periodic table included Auschwitz he insisted prose & poetry speak clearly of the unspeakable he threw himself down this stairwell toward freedom not assaying god’s absence that pre-empted good but once in a rainstorm tunnel another prisoner shared a radish with him for a time this gemstone baffled upwelling darkness in him George Steiner spoke of post-war language as haunted music from embers that crackle in cold ashes of the dead human fire in Germany after the war Primo’s train’s water tasted of ash that blew in from the coal-fired locomotive #174517 told his young companion

drink you can drink this water safely the chemistry of memory they say he lived without hatred drink you can drink this water safely —WILLIAM HEYEN’s Shoah Train: Poems (Etruscan Press) was a Finalist for 2004’s National Book Award. Other recent books include Home: Autobiographies, Etc. and The Hummingbird Corporation: Stories (MAMMOTH Books). His Holocaust essay “Sunlight” recently appeared in American Poetry Review. ***

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MONDAY A Monday is to come when someone who had not known what hands were for will be lifted and shaken and broken and stroked and blessed and made — W. S. Merwin Tall women in gingham dresses led children into a schoolhouse. I was older then, older even than now. I kept noticing how the cupola bell didn’t ring. My head level to white gutters, a gnarled giant among school children. There were things I could learn, even as an old man, about slow hands on a fake wooden clock, the spotted dog rolling in muck, mud roiled, dog black, morning’s hands stirred forward by a stern voice. I must’ve been eighty, old enough to know that killdeer act wounded in the rocks when their eggs are threatened. Dresses billowing like flags, those women hurried the line of children forward. In their minds these hands meticulously opened wounds. Alone, I scraped icicles from my sky of resounding tin. I, a clapper torn out of a bell, a stone sent through a stain-glass window where St. Anthony raised his sickly hands, this young man’s prayer that each brick be lost in the melting snow, in the dog’s roiling water. Later that evening, the sky of my mouth hurt, but there was too much to learn about hands to worry for the stars in my mouth, 46

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angling through the dark of my speech. I never meant to speak darkly. —CAL FREEMAN poems have appeared in The Journal, Cimarron Review, The Cider Press Preview, The Minnesota Review, and are forthcoming in Nimrod, New Ohio Review, and Ninth Letter. He currently teaches Creative Writing at The University of Detroit Mercy. *** SECRETS for W. S. Merwin A pile of windfall apples becomes a fox lying nose in tail, a sentinel for memory, as the late sun turns its fur into rusty barbed wire. We’ve traveled for days. I’ve told you before about these mountain roads. About the man who lived in a shack who borrowed water, fried me a plate of catfish for my Halloween treat. I called him Uncle Charley, but he wasn’t any relation of mine. The night we got caught swimming, there was another who wore a hood, leafy and torn, who watched with particular interest while I wrung out my undershirt, scrubbed my skin pink before we sat down to supper, and I was forced to eat what was good enough for them. What I thought I had left, I kept finding again. A pile of hoods in our attic left behind by the man and bleached white as bones. Clippings of the pineys and the baby who had been stolen. We find a fox lying nose to tail, a sentinel for memory, sun glinting its fur rusty and I tell you, with lips bruised like windfall apples, I can’t stay here. Me with my old coat mended so neatly where I had sewn secrets into its pockets. Me in my little girl’s voice who tells you a story with lips that are only slightly torn. --DACTIONS

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THE BIRD ARTISTS When my skin no longer fits, I carry a bag of bones, to the edge of the ocean. I steal the breath from a gull. On the beach a mother bends to help a young boy bundle up a baby cormorant. I watch as they cradle it, hold a wing into the air and fling it eastward. I thought you could teach me how to fly. I made you out of sand dunes and red clay. My husband sleeps. I conjure up you, Merwin, and you, Merlin. Palm trees and ancient words, a black cauldron of seawater and fire. You spread the fan of the cormorant’s wing and arrange your pigments and brushes, stroke each feather with woodland brown or green. I feel my skin begin to loosen. I pick away the lice, curl back the sclerotic welt of paint. —LAURIE BYRO’s work has have appeared in The Literary Review, Single Parent, Aim, Chaminade Review, Grasslimb, Re:al Journal, The New Jersey Journal of Poets, Red Rock Review, Potpourri, and The Paterson Literary Review, among others. *** I remember clearly the first Merwin poems I read on my own from Naked Poetry in 1972, especially “Air,” “The Asians Dying,” “The Gods” and “For The Anniversary of My Death.” I knew next to nothing about poetry from the 1950s forward, but whatever unconscious, communal, spiritual/human voice that lay buried in my brain or blood immediately recognized the purity, modesty and mystical resonance of those poems, a voice that spoke outside of personal concerns and complaint, that could elevate each individual with understanding and transcendence. “This must be what I wanted to be doing / Walking at night between the two deserts / Singing.” (Air); “Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead” (The Asians Dying): “If I have complained I hope I have done with it” “I / Am all that became of them / Clearly all is lost” “The gods are what has failed to become of us,” (The Gods); “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day” (For The Anniversary Of My Death). The flawless natural rhetoric and syntax of these lines/ poems, the core metaphysical vision stripped completely of pretense, seemed as direct, as honest as light. I bought and devoured the books from which these poems came: The Moving Target, The Lice, The Carrier of Ladders. And though I did not know much at 23 or 24, though I wanted to write and speak in that voice more than anything, I quickly realized that I did not have the skill, the innate talent, to do so. Working on another graduate degree in the mid ’70s, it seemed to me that most of the poets in the workshops and little magazines were trying to sound like Merwin – who could blame them? And though I 48

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must have written some failed inward imitations, I did not do so consciously, and headed off in a direction befitting my more modest talent. Still, as I went my own way, those lines, those poems, never left me. I carried them folded in an invisible inner pocket. My hope after all these years is that I might be finding my way back toward an aspect of that vision and music I first recognized and loved in Merwin’s poems. Who knows? We each do the little thing we can. Yet, all this time later, I pick up The Vixen and read “Completion” realizing how little I have moved down that road, what pure music and inimitable vision W.S. Merwin has, and continues to give us: Seen from afterward the time appears to have been all of a piece which of course it was but how seldom it seemed that way when it was still happening and was the air through which I saw it as I went on thinking of somewhere else in some other time whether gone or never to arrive and so it was divided however long I was living it and I was where it kept coming together and where it kept moving apart . . . —CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY is a Guggenheim fellow in poetry for 2007-2008. In 2008 his 15th & 16th books will appear: Modern History: Prose Poems 1987-2007 from Tupelo Press, and Rolling the Bones from Eastern Washington University Press. ***

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Turning Sixty Strangely, it is day. Beside the upright violin with its four broken strings I am feeling lost which is a familiar silence. Everywhere and nowhere, the sunlight. I am deaf to it all and I stop here, where I am. I forget about the blossoms wishing me well and the summer. I forget the warm grass with its thousand ways. The grass giving up its existential scent. Everywhere. Old as I feel, young as I was, I remember yesterday, the hopeful philosopher, the mystic. I remember a story hidden behind the leaves. The rich veins of tomorrow in the sky. The gate unlocked, opening into forget-me-nots. I remember laughter, a boy-ghost’s lost frown. This wasn’t what I wanted to write, hovering all day inside my cave, without my inner music. —SUSAN KELLY-DeWITT is the author of The Fortunate Islands (forthcoming, Marick Press, 2008). She teaches for University of California, Davis Extension and is an editor of Swan Scythe Press. This poem was based upon her own assignment to her poetry workshop: model a poem based upon/after W.S. Merwin’s poem “Air.”

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THANK YOU & HAPPY BIRTHDAY W. S. MERWIN

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ABBY MILLAGER ON NIN ANDREWS’ SLEEPING WITH HOUDINI In the guise of a little girl’s father, close to the beginning of Sleeping with Houdini, Nin Andrews says, “no one tells the truth. No one likes a man who can escape every time, who can fool a crowd and perform impossible feats and make the women swoon” (“Houdini”). Presumably, this father is, himself, a liar. The reverse of what he says must therefore be true: the man described is exactly the sort we do desire, the sort the speaker pines for, later in the book. But is it really a man? Throughout this cohesive collection of prose poems, Andrews speaks of lost love but at the same time warns, “Please be advised. You should not write angel poems. They have been done like death and sex poems. Like love and loss poems, only worse” (“Advice About Angel Poems”). Having said this, Andrews perversely gifts us with all of the above, pretty much exclusively. And apart from some sporadic wordiness, she gets away with it. How? Someone else obsessing over some lost lover is intrinsically boring. Also, sad. But Houdini here isn’t just a disappearing man. This is a book in search of a node. The node where x telescopes into y. The intercept of having and not-having, of living and dead, real and unreal, earthly and transcendent, arguably-visible and just-beyond-the-horizon. “The mind is but a door,” Andrews says (“The Kiss”). She seeks the exact locus – always and by definition hidden from us – of escape: earth to sky. Then to now. Here to gone. She shows us evidence of these worlds beyond: imprints they leave upon us while we float, bound up in our tank. As birds, bats, bees and other things (okay, angels) fly over, we sense the shadows of almost, their reverberations. The lover’s touch still sears flesh, long after he’s gone: Until you were in the silence too, when the words were no longer visible, when they no longer held what meaning means. Until you were no more than a memory. Even then you were touching me. Even then. And after. And after that, too. (“The Aftermath”)

Sleeping with Houdini echoes our attention into that micro-groove imagination spores up from.

Andrews, Nin. Sleeping with Houdini. Rochester, NY: BOA, 2007.

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ED SCHELB “THE FAITH OF SCHUBERT WOULD ENTER THE HERAKLITEAN TRUTH”: ON REREADING ROBERT DUNCAN’S BENDING THE BOW I fear that the pictorial analogies I immediately draw to Robert Duncan’s Bending the Bow are unjust: the Arthurian illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, the glittering Oriental fantasies of Gustave Moreau, the classical friezes of Puvis de Chavannes with their languid color and vague scent of decay. In his Romantic theater, Duncan loved to play with masks. But, instead of irony, he donned masks to hallucinate immediacy. He created a theater of Wagnerian dimensions, despite invoking Ganymede instead of Wotan. He returned to classical figures of Greek mythology and made them emblems of erotic desire, and, in the grand tradition of erotic love, he restored to Eros the qualities of madness, frenzy, and wounding. In “The Torso,” a explicitly homoerotic love poem, Duncan writes: … and at the treasure of his mouth pour forth my soul his soul commingling I thought a Being more vast, His body leading into Paradise, his eyes quickening a fire in me, a trembling hieroglyph. In passage after passage, Duncan writes with a Gnostic yearning, a troubadour’s delight in the voluptuousness of absence and non-fulfillment. Yet he also embraces Whitman’s “procreant urge” of the cosmos. Duncan was a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s. Along with his friends Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser, he revolted against modernist strictures. For years he had been an outspoken defender of homosexuality and a fierce opponent of cultural forms of oppression. But, for a rabble-rouser, Duncan was paradoxical: he was both a lover of tradition and a literary anarchist, a Romantic zealot and a collagist with affinities for John Cage. Instead of attempting to forge a singular style, he embraced multiple selves and cultivated myriad poetic styles, yet he cultivated a persona with the ferocity of Swinburne. He viewed Shoenberg’s tone-rows as a way to return to an Orphic inclusiveness, and championed poetic inspiration and soul-making while never straying too far from Freud’s play of Eros and Thanatos. “Life demands sight,” Duncan writes in his introduction, “and writes at the boundary of light and dark, black upon white, then color in which the universe appears, chemical information in which Argus eyes of the poem strive.” You can hear Shelley’s apology for poetry laced with chemical terms, with DNA as the unacknowledged legistlator of mankind. I’ve always been ambivalent about Duncan’s decadent and extravagant work. The loveliness of his sound has the preciosity of lacework and filigree, not modernist rigor. Unlike Olson’s Maximus, built of heaped stones, Duncan’s epic amasses bits of silk and string and erotica, along with philosophical fragments dipped in honey and rolled in 56

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lavender. Despite Olson’s warnings against “wisdom as such,” Duncan embraced sentiment as a force, asking the poet “to be taken in by whatever sweetness moved him or deep sounding thing or flaming that came on him in reading the green of a tree, the promise taken in a star, or the wisdom texts of Plutarch, Boehme, or, second-hand, third-hand, whatever hand.” When I was younger, I admired his work from a distance, never quite at ease with that second-hand wisdom. I suffered too much from a distrust of the spectacle. Duncan’s God is hidden while his Self is flamboyantly visible, and I’ve always preferred those ratios reversed. But I delighted and still delight in Duncan’s poetics – I know of no contemporary poet who so captures the erotics of syntax and the carnality of the word, with that vibrant double-helixed evolutionary rhetoric. But, more than delight, I am moved by his evocation of the Vietnam War. His faith in the democracy of Spirit was threatened by war, and he embraced chaos as a form of soul-making, a breaking down of assurances and a move into the “dark alight with love’s intentions,” into the “life-spring of dissatisfaction in all orders.” Like Christ, he underwent a symbolic sparagmos, a rending of the flesh, but he also allowed himself to feel a fiery hatred, a moral outrage that shatters his Romantic atmosphere. Suddenly his canvas turned somber, closer to the ashen colors of Goya or the monochromatic newsprint horrors of Picasso’s Guernica. The grandeur of his Romanticism appears against the background of napalmed forests and squadrons of B-52s: “and in the crescendo of the War, / exact the line of melody, as if / the faith of Schubert would enter the Heraklitean truth.” With death-metal screaming out of tanks in Iraq, Schubert seems ghostly, unreal, as faded as the medieval tapestries so loved by Duncan. But those melancholy lieder seem necessary as well, if only a dream of delicacy and civility. I find it hard to imagine Schubert blasting from the speakers in an Apache attack helicopter. I cannot imagine soldiers reading Bending the Bow or Opening of the Field in their barracks. Duncan’s poetry keeps open the possibility of a healing violence, destroying false righteousness and moral duplicity. Ultimately, he dreams of restoring deep spiritual orders in ways unimaginable to the prophets of war. As Duncan writes of the Holy Grail in “Shadows,” From the thought of the smasht gold or silver cup once raised to his lips, we would raise shadows to hold the blood the drinkers desire so.

Duncan, Robert. Bending the Bow. New York: New Directions, 1968.

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WILLIAM WRIGHT ON DAN MORRIS’S FOLLOWING THE DAY Occasionally, a chapbook surfaces in a sea of ephemera that catches a reader’s attention and inspires feelings of luck at having encountered such treasure. Dan Morris’s Following the Day, his first chapbook, is such a collection and deserves a large audience. Although these poems are noticeably influenced by Richard Hugo’s muscular cadences and overarching motif of travel to find identity, Morris escapes his ghost-mentor through a redemptive tone, a tempered optimism. Like Hugo’s best poems, Morris’s fight against stasis but actually achieve liberation through movement. The collection’s title poem, for example, flirts with and subverts the maudlin by reminding readers of the significance of change. The poem’s speaker encounters the ultimate stasis: I feel sad for him, that dead German shepherd on the right shoulder next to a driveway on 97. Instead of taking advantage of this sympathy for the dead animal and limiting the poem to a microcosmic sentimentality, the narrator leaves the creature behind, entering where “trees fade to fields / of wheat cropped short / like a crew cut and yellow / as summer.” The fields, trees, and German shepherd become a mosaic of decay and fecundity, a revivifying synthesis. Refreshed and aware, the speaker keeps traveling the road to see “where it goes.” Certain poems personify the natural world not simply to reflect an existential acknowledgment of death’s encroachment; rather, nature braids itself to the human psyche and becomes a sentient catalyst to deeper understandings of the self, as in “Scuba Diving off Alki Beach,” my favorite poem in the collection. Morris’s narrator, descending to 35’ feet, notices “anemones loitering,” a “vertical flower patch brushed by an aquatic breeze.” The description expands beyond the painterly when he suggests that the anemones “are all aware, / though only slightly curious of us and our gaseous / exhaust.” Morris lends a beautifully eerie cognizance to the sub-aqueous world, reminding us of connection to places usually unseen, where “everyone knows / their space and acts like they’re not afraid.” “The Dichotomy of Morning,” a peculiar, evocative poem, suggests that our sleeping world is analogous to a corporeal version of heaven. As the narrator rouses from slumber, birds singing in the rhododendron in the very early morning, “warmth … rises from the sheets like a prayer” and “an hour ago the world meant nothing.” As the day encroaches, the narrator concedes to “how great it all felt,” this nightly ritual when he forgot his mortality. Now that he surfaces into the waking world as from water, he reminds us of this complex duality between day and night, sanctifying the latter. Other poems like “Golden Gardens, Ballard” and “Fading Spokane” anthropomorphize 58

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natural elements like dusk and dim fires to elucidate a Hopkins-like interconnectedness. Morris inspires comfort in readers by suggesting that perhaps humans are not the only marginalized organisms, that, in all reality, each distinct life feels its own form of loneliness. This, paradoxically, brings us all together and consolidates our uneasiness into a unified beauty. Following the Day is more than worth the time and money. It marks the beginning of a long, fruitful career and an original, attractively positive literary voice.

Morris, Dan. Following the Day. Columbus, OH: Pudding House, 2007.

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TOM’S CELEBRATIONS Wiman, Christian. Am mbitionn annd Survvivvall: Beccom minng a Poet. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon 2007. Wiman’s voice is strong & powerful in Ambition and Survival, and if I were younger, before I knew who I was, before I knew my writing ways & its limits & its strengths, this book would have influenced my writing, much as Pound’s prose did. Instead, Wiman is just influencing my thinking. An early challenge of this book, a challenge that is discussed throughout the book in various ways, is a response to form. Wiman notes the argument of the critics that since “our experience of the world is chaotic and fragmented, and because we’ve lost our faith not only in those abstractions by means of which men and women of the past ordered their lives but also in language itself, it would be naive to think that we could have such order in our art” (p 94-5). Wiman responds to this argument: What I am interested in, and what I want to focus on here, is a kind of closure that compromises itself, a poetry whose order is contested, even undermined, by its consciousness of the disorder that it at once repels and recognizes. (p 95) And what underlies Wiman’s response are two thoughts. One, Wiman wants us to confront our conventions & forms. From that I extrapolate, we are the new generation, and this is our obligation. Wiman is shouting for my generation. The second thought and what underlies much the book is the conflict that many poets/artists have – the separation of art and life. Should there be a split? Wiman thinks not. He wants more life in poetry. More experience in poetry. But he doesn’t want a life that is lived for an experience to put into poetry. He realizes that we live in a universe of a large-order through which we flounder in our own chaos and there is an inability to express that perfectly. So, is the poem “more authentic if rough and unfinished,” as critics would suggest? It’s a theme that keeps me thinking throughout the book. Another theme is silence – the silence between the finished poem & the beginning of writing the next poem, and how the poet handles that silence. Wiman is quick to realize that all of us poets don’t write a poem a day (& I wonder how many of us younger poets actually do write a poem a day). For those who don’t write every day, there is much silence to fill. Wiman tells us why some poets drink – drinking fills the horrible silence (or perhaps quiets the screaming anxieties of not writing, either way there is silence that needs to be dealt with). Wiman, however, suggests writing prose, which is not the same as writing poetry, but it does rid the silence and the prose will have lots of attachments to the poet’s poetry. This theme of silence is explored with more intimacy and details throughout the book, though not directly. Now, I want to talk about that Pound voice I mentioned earlier. It comes through loud and clear in “Fourteen Fragments in Lieu of a Review.” Here’s the opening fragment from what was supposed to be a review of an anthology of sonnets. 60

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There isn’t much literature there couldn’t well be less of. A four-hundred-page anthology of sonnets? It takes a real aberration of will to read straight through such a thing. Another man might win an egg eating contest, with similar feelings, I would imagine, of mild shock, equivocal accomplishemnt, obliterated taste. Before I get further into the Pound voice, I need to side track for a moment. Anyone who wants to learn about sonnets, what sonnets should do, how they should behave, and how they work in larger view than iambic pentameter, voltas, etc., needs to read this essay. It’s a damn fine discussion that won’t be heard in the classroom, and he presents arguments/ideas, again, that make me think. New arguments and ideas. Now, rerturning to the Pound voice. Yes, Wiman is like my generation’s Pound. Both worked for Poetry. Pound as Poetry’s foreign correspondent and Wiman as Poetry’s editor. Both are smart & influential. However, Wiman doesn’t come across as authoritative as Pound, in tone that is. Wiman is authoritative, but his authority comes across different. His tone is like what Pascal says and that Wiman quotes, though not in reference to himself. “One must have deeper motives and judge everything accordingly, but go on talking like an ordinary person.” This is what I like about Wiman. He talks smart, but he also talks ordinary. Yeah, I could have drink in a bar with this guy and have a good time chatting, whether it be about poetry or something else. There’s much more to be said about this book, but not the room to do it. So now I must end this celebratory review, and I have three ways to end it, but I don’t know which way to choose, so here are my three endings. One. I’ll leave you with these three out-of-context quotes that underscore the themes of Ambition and Survival. [A] poem that is not in some inexplicable way beyond the will of the poet, is not a poem. (p 123) There are varying depths of this internalization, though varying degrees to which a poet will inhabit, bridge, endure, ignore, enact (the verb will vary depending on the poet) the separation between experience and form, process and product, life and art, and one can see a sort of rift in literary history between what I’ll call, for simplicity’s sake, poets of observation and poets of culmination. (p 134). I’m increasingly convinced that there is a direct correlation between the quality of the poem and the the poet’s capacity for suffering. (p 136) Two. Ambition and Survival is really a search for this: how “[m]ore and more I want an art that is tied to life more directly” (p 23). Three. I recommend Ambition and Survival to two types of people. One, those who write poetry. Two, those who write poetry & who are two to three years out of college & who now have to create their own writing energies in the absence of the energies a DACTIONS

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college created and radiated out, & who, in the absence of energy, are starting to question the significance of poetry in their life or the need to write it. *** Longenbach, James. Draft of a Letter. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. In a previous issue of Redactions, we put out the question, “Can you use ‘soul’ in contemporary poetry?” Many poets responded with fine answers. Somehow Longenbach got wind of this question, as he mentioned in a reading at Writers and Books in Rochester, NY, & though he didn’t respond to the question through Redactions, he did respond. Longenbach, instead, explored using “soul” in poetry, & he succeeded. He affirmed what most of our responders to the question said: Yes. It’s not like every poem has “soul” in it, but, ah, they all have soul. You can feel it in the lines. The slow lines with long pauses at their ends. The implication of each line is: “Hey, reader/listener, read & listen. When my line ends, hold on to it for a moment. There’s more magic that will happen if you stop before making the turn. The unexplainable occurs here. Listen to the reverberations. Listen for the echo of the line that is about to arrive.” And then Longenbach, in a way, tells us this in these lines, which are not directly about poetry: In time, Without trying, I found a rhythm Of thought ineffably Hesistant, serene. (“Draft of a Letter”) I also want to mention one more thing that I hadn’t planned to talk about until I read Wiman’s book (see above). My first encounters with Longenbach were his critical books on poetry and Modernism. All very good and intelligent, which you can gather from an early review/celebration of mine in Redactions on The Reistance to Poetry. Between that review and Draft of a Letter, I read Fleet River, which is a fine book of narrative poems, with wonderful vertical moments (Li-Young Lee vertical and not the vertical I mention below in the Gerber celebration/review). So Wiman says two things: I have little patience for people who see the application of critical intelligence as somehow inimical to poetic creation. (p 61) The worth of a poet’s critical awareness will have been determined by the truth and intensity of the poetic activity that preceded it, the depth to which he descended in his poems. (p 62) I agree totally with those two statments, and I’m overwhelmed when a person can both 62

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be critically intelligent and have intense poems, especially when the poems are accessible. And Longenbach does this. The poems in Draft of a Letter are accessible with a music of tones and with rhythms of a soul that have found depth, or a person who found the depths of his soul. Yes, Longenbach can play both sides of the ball, well. *** Kennedy, Christopher. Enncouragem mennt for a Mann Falllinng to His Death. Rochester, NY: BOA, 2007. You could read these poems & hear irreverence, and I imagine if I received them individually at Redactions, I would. Or you could read the whole of Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death, and realize that you are just hearing a tone of irrevence that is covering up fear, aloneness (“the germ / of [. . .] loneliness”), and absence (“when every presence became his [his father’s] absence”). Yes, the speaker’s father was lost, but how he was lost is a mystery between what happened, what happened to someone else, and the memory splicing the two together. In “To the Man who Played the Violin and Fell from a Plank into a Vat of Molten Steel,” we learn of a violinist who fell into a vat of molten steel, but before he fell, he gave the speaker’s father, who was a fiddle player, his violin. Later in the poem, when the speaker reflects on when he was young and missing his father, his mother would comfort him, and we hear a different story. The way the story is told, perhaps the person who fell in the vat was the speaker’s father, and this is suggested by the the tone and language of speaking. And every time the mother would say, Your father worked with a man from Portugal who played the violin, and one day at work, he fell from a plank into a vat of molten steel. The tone and what precedes and the subject of the sentence imply the father died, and because the way the mother speaks implies it may be the violinist who fell into the vat. There’s an ambiguity here. Perhaps, it was in a house fire where his father died, as is hinted at in “My Father in the Fifth Dimesnsion.” Nonetheless, the father died somehow. However the father died, he is dead. And once when the speaker was a child, he tried to mend his dead father’s pants, but as he tries in “My Father’s Work Clother,” his “hands keep folding, mysteriously, into prayer.” This is what the speaker has to deal with from that point on – how to deal with his father’s death. As he grew, he must have learned to hide his fear through biting humor and irrevence. Consider the prose-poem, “Broken Saints.” It’s the day of his father’s funeral, and he is waiting for his babysitter to arrive. While he waits, he “bit the heads DACTIONS

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off plastic statues,” and then “arranged the headless bodies like bowling pins and rolled the heads at them until all the bodies fell down.” When the female babysitter arrives, “she shook her head” at what he had done, then: She sat me down on the floor, and we began matching heads to bodies, gluing them together. The key, I learned, was eyeing the uneven necklines to see where the curves would mesh. They were never exact; the heads bowed slightly at times in prayer. And no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t hide their shame. Already, we can begin to see the complexities of irrevence and the confrontation of death. Kennedy, throughout, becomes “a man of conviction in an era of who gives / a fuck.” *** Gerber, Dan. A Prim mer onn Paralllell Livves. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007. Holy cow, an American lyricist who’s accessible. What a rare find. And Dan Gerber is a damn good one in A Primer on Parallel Lives. He can even write narratives. What’s more, Gerber’s got a Spanish soul. A bloody, dusty, old Spanish soul. He’s got Machado, Lorca, and Jiménez all rolled up in him. And when he does the lyric, or the meditative, it speaks to the universe and to us. As for the Spanish soul, what do I mean by that? I mean: he risks the sentimental. He rubs right up against it, but, most important, the language is fresh, the images are new, and the language and images connect us humans and our souls. It’s a poetry that lets everyone in and excludes none. For example: Facing North Ninety billion galaxies in this one tiny universe – a billion seconds make thirty-two years. No matter how many ways we conceive it, this generous wedge called Ursa Major more than fills my sight. But now, as I turn to put out the lights and give my dog her bedtime cookie, my eyes become the handle of the great Milky Way, and carry it into the house. Except for one line, this poem flirts with the sentimental, builds towards the sentimental, then yokes it all together in the final burst of the last line. 64

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Gerber is also what I want to call a vertical poet. What do I mean by vertical poet? Well, let me divert my attentions for a moment. Vertical has nothing, or very little, to do with content or how the poem moves or with Li-Young Lee’s vertical moment. It has to do with staring while composing. From what I can tell of American poetry (and maybe English poetry in general), most of the older poets – over 50, over 100, six-feet under – wrote with pen or pencil on paper. They stared down at the page. Their eyes staring into the words/page (perhaps beyond). They hovered over what they wrote and revised. The back of their heads faced the universe, gods, and infinity. A conduit was established between the page, the poet’s mind/imagination, and the universe. Of course there are exceptions – Pound typing in a prison camp near Pisa, Dr. Carlos typing out those triple lines. Pound and Dr. Carlos faced the page and stared with a similar intensity as the pen/pencil poet. Poets like Ez and Dr. Carlos are horizontal poets. The former (the pen/pencil poets) are vertical poets. Today in American poetry there seems to be more horizontal writers – and many of them write on the computer screen, as I am doing now. (Perhaps we should call them neo-horizontal poets as they use the screen instead of a piece of paper curling in front of them.) The neo-horizontal poet stares into the screen. The neo-horizontal poet tends to neglect the universe. And from what I’ve noticed, the lyric is dying (at least the comprehensible, non-ellipitcal lyric), and there is a predominance of the narrative, especially the narrative about the individual. There is nothing wrong with any of this, except the universe is being neglected and the lyric is disappearing. (The lyric is our oldest form of poetry, no?) With the neo-horizontal poets, there is more dedication to time instead of the obliteration of time. I mean, don’t all us poets want to obliterate time? When are we at our happiest? When we are writing. When we come out of our half-unconscious, mostly hypnagogic state, and realize that hours have gone by, when it only felt like 10, 20, or 30 minutes. The lyric poem best destroys time. I’m not saying the vertical poet can’t be personal and narrative. They have been. But they are more often in both veins lyrical and narrative. (I’m including meditative under lyrical, by the way). But with the rise of the neo-horizontal poet has come the decline of the lyrical poem and the connection with the universe. And as I said, Gerber is vertical. His poetry connects the universe. I’ll leave you this as an example:

Six Miles Up The shadow of a hand brushes over the mountains, as if smoothing rumpled sheets. And now I see that the mountains are clouds. In my dreams, I search for what I won’t remember in the morning, but I do remember the searching. DACTIONS

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In Venice I ate cuttlefish, steamed in its own black ink, and now it’s coming out of my fingers. Across the aisle in a window seat, a man like me is reading a book in which words appear, tracing an indelible line through the invisible sky while the pilot’s skill keeps us flying. *** Fellner, Steve. Blinnd Date with Cavvafy. East Rockaway, NY: Marsh Hawk P, 2007. “How many men are worthy of a memory?” asks Fellner in the poem “Blind Date with Cavafy.” I ask how many men are worthy of a fantasy. At least one – & it is Fellner, in Blind Date with Cavafy. In these poems, we see how the fantastic thinks in Fellner, Cavafy, Socrates, Fellner’s family members, and more. More specifically, the book is a graph of Fellner’s mind with fantasy and reality as the axes, and with the poems curving towards the fantasy axis. I think these fantasies, which are everyday fantasies & not like dragons and fairies, allow Fellner, to a certain degree, to persist/survive in reality, even when the fantasy isn’t his. Consider his history teacher with Alzheimer’s who misremembers the date of the Spanish Civil War but the students later learn the correct date. Consider how this false date became a reality. A reality so real, more real than the correct date, that Fellner provides the false date as an answer in another class, & everyone believed him, “No one questioned it.” It’s this inaccuracy and how others grasp it that sustains Fellner. The fantasy of sustaining the false date & the memory of it “stopped / me [him] from killing myself [himself] / on at least nine different occassions. For Fellner, it’s the fantasy world that provides hope. Consider the lines from “Upon Discussing Whether We Should Condescend to Science-Fiction Writers,” where he is talking about aliens invading Earth. Let’s pretend we’ll take their advice [. . . ] Let’s pretend that on other planets seeing the end of infinty is even more common than winning $37,687,324.90 in the state lottery. Except you expect it to happen every other day. And even though Fellner can be a god in these fantasies – he can create, script, and direct how he wants life to move forward – Fellner is still aware of the realities of life: 66

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Don’t yell too hard. You may wake up and realize life isn’t like that. It isn’t really like anything. But life does like itself and it needs you.

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Books Received Wright, C.D. One Big Self: An Investigation. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007. Wiman, Christian. Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet. WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007. Wiese, Anne Pierson. Floating City. Baton Rogue, LA: Lousiana State UP, 2007. Waldrep. G. C. Disclamor. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007. Uribe, Kirmen. Meanwhile Take My Hand.Saint Paul, MN: Greywolf P: 2007. Tognazzini, Anthony. I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occassions Such as These. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007. Smith, Tracy K. Duende: Poems. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press. Schimel, Lawrence.Fairy Tales for Writers. New York: Midsummer Night’s P, 2007. Robins, Michael. The Next Settlement. Denton, Texas: U of North Texas, P, 2007. Pereira, Peter. What’s Written on the Body. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007. Morris, Dan. Following the Day. Columbus, OH: Pudding House P, 2007. McInnis, Amy. Cut River. Kearney, NE: Logan House, 2007. Longenbach, James. Draft of a Letter. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. Kutchins, Laurie. Slope of the Child Everlasting. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007. Kennedy, X. J. Peeping Tom’s Cabin. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007. Kennedy, Christopher. Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007. Hughey, Elizabeth. Sunday Houses the Sunday House. Iowa City, IA: U of Iowa P, 2007. Hall, Donald. Eagle Pond. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2007. Gerber, Dan. A Primer on Parallel Lives. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007.

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Dougherty, Sean Thomas. Broken Halleujahs. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007. Darwish, Mahmoud. The Butterfly’s Burden. Trans. Fady Joudah. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007. Conners, Peter. Of Whiskey and Winter. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press, 2007. Chiasson, Dan. One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. Caston Anne. Judah’s Lion. Halifax, PA: Cider Press, 2007. Bass, Ellen. The Human Line. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon P, 2007. Andrews, Nin. Sleeping with Houdini. Rochester, NY: BOA Edition, 2007.

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CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES WILLIAM WRIGHT is author of Dark Orchard, published by Texas Review P and winner of the 2005 Breakthrough Poetry Prize. He has been published in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and Phoebe. He is co-editor of the Southern Poetry Anthology series (with Stephen Gardner) and is a Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow at the Center for Writers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. JUSTIN VICARI’s work has recently appeared in American Poetry Review, Third Coast, Phoebe, Rhino, Eclipse, Interim, Slant, Megaera, The Modern Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and is forthcoming in 32 Poems, Paper Street, Snow Monkey, International Poetry Review, and Poetry Motel. CINDY ST. JOHN is currently an MFA candidate at Western Michigan University where she is also assistant editor of Third Coast. ED SCHELB has scribbled scholarly essays and poems that range from lyrical meditations to rockabilly persona poems. In his lyrical excursions, he generally tends to hide his honky-tonk soul, though occasionally his evil twin brother can be seen caterwaulin’ and stompin’ around like a tornado in a trailer park. He lives with his family in Rochester, New York. JOSEPH RADKE’s poems have appeared in Boulevard, Versal, Poetry East, Natural Bridge, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize. He is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he teaches writing and works on The Cream City Review. Salt&Sand, his poetry manuscript, is seeking a publisher. ADAM PETERSON is a young writer living in Lincoln, Nebraska. His work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, The Cream City Review, The Cupboard Pamphlet, and others. Recently, a story he co-wrote was picked by Aimee Bender to win the 2006 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award at The MidAmerican Review. It is forthcoming. SARAH PERRIER is author Just One of Those Things (Kent State U P, 2003). Her previous journal publications include The Cimarron Review, Hotel Amerika, The Journal, Pleiades, and Mid-American Review. Her work has also been featured on Verse Daily. She works as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, where she teaches courses in both writing and literature. BEN MILLER holds an MFA from Columbia University and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in composition theory at the City University of New York. His poems have recently appeared in The Greensboro Review, No Tell Motel, and small.spiral.notebook, among other journals. Most days, Ben aspires to become a poorly kept secret.

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ABBY MILLAGER lives and writes amid the mushroom farms of north Newark, in the humble state of Delaware. Her poems and other texts have, at times, appeared elsewhere GARY L. McDOWELL is currently the Assistant Poetry Editor for Mid-American Review. He is the author of the chapbook, The Blueprint (Pudding House, 2005). His poetry is forthcoming in Posse Review, The Southeast Review, Ninth Letter, The Yalobusha Review, Caffeine Destiny, and The Eleventh Muse and has appeared recently in No Tell Motel, Pebble Lake Review, Bat City Review, and others. He also has work forthcoming in The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, 2nd Floor (No Tell Books, 2007). He was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. C. L. KNIGHT is the associate director of Anhinga Press, where she designs and edits books. Her poetry has appeared in Louisiana Literature, Tar River Review, Poetry Motel, Footsteps, Earth’s Daughters, The Ledge, Slipstream, Comstock Review, Northwest Florida Review, Epicenter, and in the anthologies Off the Cuffs (Soft Skull Press), Touched by Eros (Live Poets Society), and North of Wakulla (Anhinga Press). She is the co-editor of Snakebird: Thirty Years of Anhinga Poets. She is the winner of the 1996 TWA Penumbra prize for poetry. She has exhibited her drawings, pottery, sculpture and computer images throughout the eastern United States. ALICIA HOFFMAN recently completed an M.A. in Poetry from the SUNY Brockport. Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in journals such as Red Wheelbarrow, The Flask Review, Poetry Midwest , and Whimperbang. She also has the unique experience of having a poem of hers read aloud to unexpected visitors at an antique phone booth, dubbed the “Poetry Booth,” outside of the Writers & Books literary center in Rochester, NY. JOHN HODGEN’s Grace (U of Pittsburgh, 2006) won the AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. His first book In My Father's House won the 1993 Bluestem Award, and his second, Bread Without Sorrow (Eastern Washington U P), won the 2002 Balcones Poetry Prize. Hodgen used to dig graves but now is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Assumption College in Worcester, MA, and reports that the jobs have some similarities. JOHN ESTES is a doctoral student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Wallace Stevens Journal, Dogwood, DIAGRAM, and The Notre Dame Review. DAVID CAZDEN is the author of one book of poems, Moving Picture (Word Press, 2005). His work has recently appeared in The Comstock Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, and online in The Apple Valley Review. He was one of the presenting authors at the 2007 Southern Fesitval of Books in Nashville, Tennessee. He makes his home in Lexington, Kentucky.

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WALTER BARGEN has published eleven books of poetry and two chapbooks. The latest are: The Feast (BkMk Press-UMKC, 2004), a series of prose poems, which won the 2005 William Rockhill Nelson Award; Remedies for Vertigo (WordTech Communications, 2006); and West of West (Timberline P, 2007). His poems have recently appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, New Letters, Poetry East, and the Seattle Review. Visit his web site at: www.walterbargen.com.

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Redactions: Poetry @ Poetics Issue 10