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 some day-
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 look 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.
Robert Pinsky, 1940
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.
Copyright © 2011 by Robert Pinsky. Reprinted from Selected Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.”
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;
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.