Robert Pinsky – Samurai Song
Poem by Robert Pinsky
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.
When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.
When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.
When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.
When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.
When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.
Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.
[Part 5 of 6] From “The Art of Poetry” online course with Robert Pinsky on edX. Robert Pinsky (vocals), Laurence Hobgood (keyboard), Stan Strickland (flute), and John Lockwood (bass) perform the poem “Samurai Song,” by Robert Pinsky. This performance takes place in Chapter 6: Music and Poetry. Filmed at the Boston University Playwrights’ Theater on March 11, 2013.
By Craig Morgan Teicher
I’m thinking of you beautiful
and young, of me young
and confused and maybe
beautiful. There were lots of us—
these were our twenties, when,
post-9/11, we were about to
inherit the world, and we had no idea
what to do with it. And look
what we did, and we didn’t.
And now look at us, and it.
We turned away for a blip, started
whispering, kissing, had kids,
bought houses changed bulbs,
submitted claims changed channels,
FaceTimed, streamed, upgraded,
were two-day-shipped to, and midway
through our prime earning years
we look up again, decades groggy,
decades late. Forgive us, we thought—
but now it doesn’t matter. These are our
outcomes, consequences, faults,
forties, when the hourglass
is beeping and bleak and people
like us have memories like this
and wonder if the beauty that’s left
is really still beautiful, if it was.
Published in the print edition of the April 5, 2021, issue.
Craig Morgan Teicher is the author of, most recently, the poetry collection “Welcome to Sonnetville, New Jersey.”
Clare Sestanovich Reads “You Tell Me”
Clare Sestanovich reads her story “You Tell Me,” from the August 1, 2022, issue of the magazine. Sestanovich was named a “5 Under 35” honoree by the National Book Foundation in 2022. Her début story collection, “Objects of Desire,” which came out last year, was a finalist for the pen/Robert W. Bingham Prize.
Eileen Myles joins Kevin Young to read “Without” by Joy Harjo and their poem “Dissolution.” Myles has published more than twenty books of poetry and prose. Their honors include the Publishing Triangle’s 2020 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, multiple Lambda Literary Awards, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Arthur Sze accepts the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry for Sight Lines
Arthur Sze in Conversation with Prof. Khaled Mattawa. (Zell Visiting Writers Series)
Arthur Sze is a poet, translator, and editor who recently won the National Book Award. He has published ten books of poetry, including Sight Lines, Compass Rose, The Ginkgo Light, Quipu, The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998, and Archipelago, all from Copper Canyon Press. He has also published The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese and edited Chinese Writers on Writing. A bilingual Chinese/English selected poem, Pig’s Heaven Inn, was published in Beijing, and he has also collaborated with sculptor Susan York to create a book and installation, The Unfolding Center. Known for his difficult, meticulous poems, Sze’s work has been described as the “intersection of Taoist contemplation, Zen rock gardens, and postmodern experimentation” by the critic John Tricia. The poet Dana Levin described Sze as “a poet of what I would call Deep Noticing, a strong lineage in American poetry… Dispassionate presentation of ‘the thing itself is its prevailing attribute, yet Sze’s attention is capacious; it’s attracted to paradox; it takes facing opponents and seats them side by side.” In addition, K. Michel, a Dutch poet writing for Poetry International says, “Sze’s work is characterized by its unusual combination of images and ideas, and by the surprising way in which he makes connections between diverse aspects of the world. In his poetry, he combines images from urban life and nature, ideas from modern astronomy and Chinese philosophy as well as anecdotes from rural and industrial America. In this way, he creates texts that capture and reflect the complexity of reality.” Sze’s many awards include The Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Lannan Literary Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowships, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, and five grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. From 2012-2017, he served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and, in 2017, was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We pour sand into brown lunch bags, then place
a votive candle
inside each; at night, lined along the driveway,
the flickering lights
form a spirit way, but what spirit? what way?
We sight the flames
and, swaying within, know the future’s fathomless;
we grieve, yearn, joy,
pinpoints in greater darkness, and spy sunlight
on a half-lit moon; in this life, you may try, try
to light, a match, fail,
fail again and again; yet, letting go, you strike
a tip one more time
when it bursts into flame— now the flames
are lights in bags again,
and we glimpse the willow tips clutch at a lunar
promise of spring.
Thomas McGuane Reads “Balloons”
Thomas McGuane reads his story from the May 10, 2021, issue of the magazine. McGuane has published more than a dozen books of fiction, including the story collections “Gallatin Canyon,” “Crow Fair,” and “Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories,” which came out in 2018.
Thomas McGuane is one of my most beloved contemporary authors. I began with 92 degrees in the shade and kept reading thru Bushwacked Piano, Panama, Nobody’s Angel, Nothing But Blue Skies, Keep the Change.
The Way Things Were Up Until Now
By Bianca Stone
I am bored of all the excuses.
Bored as Mayakovsky
at the Finnish painters’ exhibition
barking like a dog through the foreign minister’s toast
until he cried and sat down. Deadly serious.
I am bored as an elegy. I mean,
why care at all, speaking as a pitfall
in a world of pits. But we do. To the death.
We all agree to garden this year.
And my raspberry bushes,
picked over by wrens—
I’ll make them great again
and let America go wild.
It’ll be all trumpets and leeks and lilacs
from here on out.
Let’s stop paying for it, get it free.
Let’s plan our victory gardens to supplement grief,
boost morale, as though something new
and uncontrolled were available—
it is the original new hot future joy.
We’re making it out of dough.
And the illusion of separateness,
let it go back into remission.
Just look at you—you look
like a resurrected child.
A serious drama in a cosmic joke.
Scarred, masked, dangerous.
And what of the new Eucharist?
How hungry I always am. How I long to lack.
Though in Walmart
my heart beats a little faster.
I want the world to heal up.
And the world is a field—as if it were indeed flat, curving
and caving, as if it were a piece of paper,
a Gustave Doré engraving
from the Divina Commedia,
the one with the silhouettes of Dante and Beatrice
standing in front of the blinding
exploding white rose
that you realize when looking more closely
is all made up of bodies and wings twisting together;
the “saintly throng,” they call it, mashed and hurtling,
an image of Heaven, and the creation of angels, though it is
frenzied as any image of Hell, around a divine nipple,
Odin’s lost eye in the well, the drain to the other side,
joy that gets more frantic
the more you try to quiet it down.
Published in the print edition of the April 26 & May 3, 2021, New Yorker Magazine issue.
Bianca Stone is the author of “The Möbius Strip Club of Grief.” Her forthcoming collection is “What Is Otherwise Infinite.”
Louise Erdrich’s ‘The Sentence’ explores racial tensions in a divided Minneapolis.
2020 was a time of upheaval in Minneapolis — from the pandemic to the police killing of George Floyd. A new novel, ‘The Sentence,’ by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Minneapolis resident Louise Erdrich, reflects on that tumultuous period. Jeffrey Brown reports for our ongoing arts and culture series, CANVAS.
This new short story, Featherweight, read by author Sterling Holywhitemountain is clearly not a poem, rather it is damn good original prose. I listened to this featured short fiction piece on Newyorker.com and was overtly impressed with this writer’s gift. Any studious reader knows a unique voice when they hear it. This read by author piece features such a resonant new voice, not like another, that it deserves your full attention. Quiet the distractions, lock the door, and commit to active listening for the complete 29:28.
“Sometimes the irony is so great that the irony turns into cherry pie: I met Allie on the first day of Native American Heritage Month.”
Sterling HolyWhiteMountain reads his story from the April 5, 2021, issue of the magazine. HolyWhiteMountain is a former Stegner Fellow and current Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. He is an unrecognized citizen of the Blackfeet Nation. He is at work on a novel.
False Star Read by Sterling HolyWhiteMountain March 13, 2023
When the rain begins, I wake up.
The night air is somehow bright.
With more grace than I have, the world
receives the downpour. By now, I am at my window, watching petals
from the weeping cherry gather darkly
in the whirlpool by the storm drain. Behind me, the husband sleeps.
I want to believe this is not unlike
how it felt to lie awake in the womb:
water abounding; breath somewhere in the distance; the whole world
dark and full of muddled sound— not knowing that you’ll have to leave this house someday. That when
you do, water will collapse from a kind of sky. It will wake everyone.
Published in the print edition of April 19, 2021, New Yorker Magazine print edition.
An Interview with Katie Condon
I was lucky enough to get to talk with poet and academic Katie Condon about her new poetry collection Praying Naked. In the interview, Katie delves into what made her begin to write poetry, why it’s often a refuge for her, and just what it means to make poetry today. Her work encompasses so many different aspects ranging from an unflinching look at sexuality and desire to challenging the narrative handed down to women through the generations.
Lunch Poems – Aria Aber
We Feel Now a Largeness Coming On
By Tracy K. Smith
November 16, 2020
Being called all manner of things
from the Dictionary of Shame—
not English, not words, not heard,
but worn, borne, carried, never spent—
we feel now a largeness coming on,
something passing into us. We know
not in what source it was begun, but
rapt, we watch it rise through our fallen,
our slain, our millions dragged, chained.
Like daylight, setting leaves alight—
green to gold to blinding white.
Like a spirit caught. Flame-in-flesh.
I watched a woman try to shake it, once,
from her shoulders and hips. A wild
annihilating fright. Other women
formed a wall around her, holding back
what clamored to rise. God. Devil.
Ancestor. What Black bodies carry
through your schools, your cities.
Do you see how mighty you’ve made us,
all these generations running?
Every day steeling ourselves against it.
Every day coaxing it back into coils.
And all the while feeding it.
And all the while loving it.
Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith Inaugural Reading
Tracy K. Smith gave her inaugural reading as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. She was joined by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who opened the event with an original poem.
Speaker Biography: Tracy K. Smith was born in Falmouth, Mass. in 1972 and raised in Fairfield, Calif. She is the author of three books of poetry, including “Life on Mars,” winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; “Duende,” winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award; and “The Body’s Question,” winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the author of a memoir, “Ordinary Light,” a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Nonfiction and selected as a Notable Book by The New York Times and The Washington Post. Her fourth poetry collection, “Wade in the Water,” will be published in 2018.
Tracy K. Smith served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019 and is now chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. A Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2011 collection, “Life on Mars,” she here reads “The United States Welcomes You” from her latest collection of poetry, “Wade in the Water: Poems” (Graywolf). Her recent anthology is “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time” (Graywolf).
Poem of Names
By Robert Pinsky
October 7, 2019
A new poem by Robert Pinsky (published in the October 14, 2019 issue of New Yorker Magazine).
The chains of begats and births, the chains of names
Are meaning itself. The chains of deaths and doings.
The black rain fell on Osamu Shimomura.
On the walk home, it turned his white shirt black.
“My grandmother got me quickly into a bath.
It likely saved me from death by radiation.”
Tougaloo’s Ernst Borinski would not discuss
His family, killed by Nazis: “An area I
Have liquidated, for my mental health.”
His grave at Tougaloo a kind of shrine.
Salma begat Obed and Obed begat Boaz.
Underground rivers of passion and retrenchment.
Thank you, Elliot, Simon & Hazel, for wanting
To talk with me about my dying someday-
Catfish had been so cold when you touched his body.
A compliment for me, that conversation.
It almost doesn’t matter what we said.
I thought of Milford, your great-grandpa, that time
I asked him, did he believe in life after death?
“I guess that you are my life after death, ” he said.
A boy named Christian, at a Q&A in Texas,
Asked me, the visiting poet, “What motivates you-
What gets you out of bed each day? Good question.
Willie Lee Rose, Historian of Reconstruction.
Micheline Dumont-Ugeux, Belgian Resistance
(The Nazis killed her family as well, she ran
An underground that saved American pilots).
Congressman Pellegrino Rodino, called Pete.
It’s the dead people, the ones whose names I need
To tell you, Christian—that’s what motivates me.
Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats.
The shame of Nathan Forrest, of Fort Pillow.
The pride of Ernst Borinski, of Mississippi.
Joyce Lander, his student. Christian looks it up.
As to your name, I remember Don Polk saying
“A lot of Jewish people think they’re white
But no they’re not.” In some ways, Yeats was a jerk.
Arphaxad begat Salah; Salah begat Eber.
“Oh yeah?” said Ruby to Don, “Well, most black people
Don’t know they’re goyim.”
Somebody said about
Rodino and Sirica, “The night-school guys
Are saving the country.” Borinski needed a job
But no white school could offer him a position–
Tougaloo did. At his famous Forums there,
He asked his students to sit one chair apart
so the white kids from Millsaps sat among them.
Pete Seeger, Ralph Bunche, Joan Baez at the Forums.
Rodino in the House impeaching Nixon.
Pellegrino means pilgrim.
Discovered cells that made a jellyfish glow.
He garnered a million samples in Puget Sound.
A protein in Aequorea victoria, embedded
To glimmer in other life, transformed the study
Of living things. Years later, the Exxon Valdez
Oil spill left nearly all those Aequora dead,
A poisoning that Shimomura indicted—-
He whose grandma had washed away the ashes.
Afghan Funeral in Paris by Aria aber
The aunts here clink Malbec glasses
and parade their grief with musky, expensive scents
that whisper in elevators and hallways.
Each natural passing articulates
the unnatural: every aunt has a son
who fell, or a daughter who hid in the rubble
for two years, until that knock of officers
holding a bin bag filled with a dress
and bones. But what do I know?
I get pedicures and eat madeleines
while reading “Swann’s Way.” When I tell
one aunt I’d like to go back,
she screams It is not yours to want.
Have some cream cheese with that, says another.
Oh, what wonder to be alive and see
my father’s footprints in his sister’s garden.
He’s furiously scissoring the hyacinths,
saying All the time when the tele-researcher asks him
How often do you think your life
is a mistake? During the procession, the aunts’ wails
vibrate wires full of crows in heavy wind.
I hate every plumed minute of it. God invented
everything out of nothing, but the nothing
shines through, said Paul Valéry. Paris never charmed me,
but when some stranger asks
if it stinks in Afghanistan, I am so shocked
that I hug him. And he lets me,
his ankles briefly brushing against mine.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award
Black Zodiac offers poems suffused with spiritual longing—lyrical meditations on faith, religion, heritage, and morality. The poems also explore aging and mortality with restless grace. Approaching his vast subjects by way of small moments, Wright magnifies details to reveal truths much larger than the quotidian happenings that engendered them. His is an astonishing, flexible, domestic-yet-universal verse. As the critic Helen Vendler has observed, Wright is a poet who “sounds like nobody else.”
Co-winner of the 1983 National Book Award for Poetry, Country Music is comprised of eighty-eight poems selected from Charles Wright’s first four books published between 1970 and 1977. From his first book, The Grave of the Right Hand, to the extraordinary China Trace, this selection of early works represents “Charles Wright’s grand passions: his desire to reclaim and redeem a personal past, to make a reckoning with his present, and to conjure the terms by which we might face the future,” writes David St. John in the forward. These poems, powerful and moving in their own right, lend richness and insight to Wright’s recently collected later works. “In Country Music we see the same explosive imagery, the same dismantled and concentric (or parallel) narratives, the same resolutely spiritual concerns that have become so familiar to us in Wright’s more recent poetry,” writes St. John.
Robert Pinsky reads his poetry to improvised jazz at Monmouth University in his hometown of Long Branch, New Jersey. State of the Arts takes a tour ‘round the old neighborhood with Pinsky, who says all his poetry started here. Pinsky also says he became a poet only after it became clear he wouldn’t make it as a musician. He performs with bassist Ben Allison and guitarist Steve Cardenas.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins comes a twelfth collection of poetry offering over fifty new poems that showcase the generosity, wit, and imaginative play that prompted The Wall Street Journal to call him “America’s favorite poet.”
Candle Hat by Billy Collins, poet laureate from 2001-’03
In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrandt looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.
But in this one, Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.
He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.
You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.
But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.
To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.
Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.
Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.
Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
“Come in, ” he would say, “I was just painting myself,”
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.
Charles Wright: After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside To The Dwarf Orchard
East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.
Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.
The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
up from the damp grass.
Into the world’s tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.
Our favorite Poems of our Poet Laureates
Cloud by Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate from 2008-’10
A blue stain
the deep pile
of the evergreens.
From inside the
forest it seems
like an interior
wholly to do
with trees, a color
passed from one
to another, a
to which they
like soldiers or
Then the sun
comes back and
it’s totally over.
History Lesson By Natasha Trethewey, poet laureate from 2012-present
I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips
of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each
tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side
of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,
forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,
her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.
Selected Haiku By Issa by Robert Hass, poet laureate 1995-1997
Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
the love life of a cat.
Mosquito at my ear—
does he think
Under the evening moon
is stripped to the waist.
Even with insects—
some can sing,
All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
Napped half the day;