Posts Tagged ‘David Yezzi’

David Yezzi on poet Richard Wilbur: “lines of gemlike endurance”

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
Share

I’ve spent several onerous days emptying cabinets and boxes in the garage, throwing away many back issues of magazines and journals. It’s a sad business. But it has a few delights and surprises: the occasional rediscovery of a forgotten poem or essay, or the discovery of an article I never read in the first place. This one caught my eye. Poet, librettist, and playwright David Yezzi, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford (and editor of Hopkins Review), reviewed Richard Wilbur‘s slim collection of poems, Mayflies, in the February 2001 of Poetry. 

An excerpt:

The combination of Wilbur’s self-proclaimed work ethic and his fondness for formal resistance produces lines of gemlike endurance. The poems’ polished surfaces betray very few flaws, each word inexorably, memorably placed, each separate lyric hardened by passionate thought and considered feeling into a vivid object that continues to reflect new shades of meaning.

Wilbur rejects perfection as a description of formal excellence (it suggests “immobility”), preferring instead to “endanger” his chosen forms. Most poets seek a degree of spontaneity, their patterns of utterance meant to seem, as Yeats says, but a moment’s thought. One strategy involves an attempt to capture something of the verve of first-thought-best-thought discovery. Wilbur affects spontaneity of a different kind – one that lies not with the maker in making the poem but with the reader in reading it. He takes pains to ensure that sounds and movements worked deeply into the texture of his poems are not quickly expended but continue to enliven the work, occurring as a series of structural and semantic discoveries. Take the opening line of “Mayflies,” a poem of later life in the vein of “The Wild Swans at Coole”:

In somber forest, when the sun was low,
I saw from unseen pools a mist of flies,
.    In their quadrillions rise,
And animate a ragged patch of glow,
With sudden glittering – as when a crowd
    Of stars appear,
Through a brief gap in black and driven cloud
One arc of their great round-dance showing clear.

***

Howard Nemerov, who like Wilbur was fond of enigmas, once proposed an ideal for poetry based on the riddle: “1. a poem must seem very mysterious, 2. but it must have an answer (= a meaning) which is precise, literal, and total; that is, which accounts for every item in the poem, 3. it must remain very mysterious, or even become more so, when you know the answer.” Poets who employ opaque and private imagery hope their poems will hold readers with an immediate and cryptic surface beauty. The problem: often no answer to such riddling imagery exists, or none that the poem persuades us to keep looking for. Like Virgil leading us responsibly onward, Wilbur takes great pains – through acute description and careful reasoning – always to let us know exactly where we are. What lends his poems their enduring mystery is the fact that, though we recognize the scenery (it’s straight out of the tradition), we have never been this way before. Like a shudder of déjà-vu, Wilbur’s correspondences return us to remote places completely new to us. It’s a way of possessing our lives, which but for poetry we would never have so palpably again.

I’ve said it before, Dick Wilbur is, in my very humble opinion, America’s greatest living poet. And at 96 years old, we’re lucky to have him with us. David Yezzi’s article is online at Poetry here.*

Postscript on 7/18:  We received an early comment from poet R.S. Gwynnwhose observation was so good we thought we’d share it in this post: “’One arc of their great round-dance’–This is typical of Wilbur’s genius–to associate the Mayflies with both celestial motion and the ’round-dances’ of the Maypole and fertility rites. The adult (imago) mayfly rises for only a single day to reproduce, then dies to complete its own ’round-dance.’”

David Sanders: “And the moment? Well, moments are always disappearing.”

Thursday, September 15th, 2016
Share
sanders-2010

The poet, editor, publisher David Sanders

I met David Sanders many years ago. The occasion was the West Chester Poetry Conference – but circa when? The year 2000, I think, at an evening celebration at the home of the conference’s co-founder, Michael Peich. I don’t remember what the two of us were discussing so earnestly. I simply remember standing on the back porch with David, his cigarette embers glowing in the dark, a sea of crickets somewhere in the distance, and the orange tip of light making circles as he gestured. He was the director of Ohio University Press/Swallow Press then, and I thought of him as publisher, not a poet. Later, he became the founding editor Poetry News in Review at The Prairie Schooner – the Book Haven has discussed it here.

Recently, however, I was pleased to see the more personal side of the poet emerge, with the publication of his collection Compass & Clock. (The title does not refer to a poem in the collection – why the title then? Perhaps because one measures space, the other time.)

Poet, actor, and editor David Yezzi called the collection “the strongest new book of poems I have read in quite some time.” Poet Joshua Mehigan noted that the poet’s “kind, observant clarity can lull you into a sense of ease, even as he lays open the poignancy and diverse fascinations of existing on earth.” According to poet Andrew Hudgins, “Sanders knows well it is love itself that makes us miss and mourn the things we’ve lost.”

Here’s one on a topic we’re all too familiar with, the quotidian effects of death on the living – written, curiously, in first person, from the p.o.v. of the dead:

sanders-bookHousekeeping

The living pack us up.
Now that we have gone and died
it’s comforting to them
to know what’s left is tucked inside

a box, an urn, or closet
where memories, like dreams, abound.
They tend to the mess
our dying first has left around.

(Letters dried to mica,
clothes gone further out of style,
souvenirs of us
in storage, kept a little while.)

They allow themselves sadness,
drifting near this windy border.
But grief has raked out its embers,
which cool and die among the order.

His poem “Lascaux” naturally caught my eye – I recognized immediately which poem he honors when he writes “after Miłosz.” The Nobel poet’s very early 1936 poem, “Encounter” is the first in his Collected Poems. You can read it here to see the Polish maestro’s earlier treatment of the same idea. One poet answers another through time. Here’s David’s unusual take:

Lascaux

Jacques Marsal, who as a boy discovered the prehistoric paintings of the Lascaux cave with three friends and became the cave’s guardian for life, died Saturday after a long illness.

lascaux_megaloceros– (AP) July 17, 1989

The first day, his dog disappeared in the forest,
lost down a hole. The next, exploring with friends,
he found the cave – leaping stags, buffalo,
prehistoric horses.
.                         Alone a moment, one French boy lived
a dream boys dream: to stand at the place
where for thousands of years no one has been.

That was 1940. Boy and dog are dead.
And the moment? Well, moments are always disappearing.

.                         after Miłosz

David Yezzi on the late great Geoffrey Hill: “He was that rarest of things: a musician of genius.”

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
Share
yezzi

The multi-faceted Yezzi at Hopkins…

Poet, librettist, and playwright David Yezzi, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, writes about the late great Geoffrey Hill in the New Criterion, where he is poetry editor: “I remember him scolding an audience once for needing poems to be ‘What’s the word?’ he growled. ‘Accessible?’ He drew out the vowels like they were poison on his tongue. So much for any hope of wide popularity.”

More from Yezzi about the English poet who died earlier this month:

“He was not a popular poet, to that the extent that poets can be popular, and in a sense he was not of his time. If this rankled him at all, it did not affect the way that he wrote. One gets the sense in reading Hill that he did not measure his poems by any contemporary lights but by his eminent precursors and sometime models such as Hopkins, Milton, and, more recently, the modernism of Tate and Eliot. His poems are moral without being religious in any conventional sense, skeptical of power and the duplicity of language, and tonally fluent in ways that recall both the Jeremiad and the Psalm.

Asked if he liked a particularly severe photograph of himself, he replied: "It terrifies me."

Not popular, and he didn’t care about it.

“He was that rarest of things: a musician of genius, able to strike in language a new “pitch” (his prized word adapted from Hopkins). Perhaps that is why he was so little known in the end; his copious and original gift was for something that few readers of poetry and even many poets truly understand, let alone value—a language able to convey precise shades of emotion through sound as well as sense. It is telling of how dependent poetry has become on subject matter to the exclusion of much else these days. It’s not that Hill has no subjects; quite the contrary. His books range over huge spans of history, literature, and intellectual life. He is also one of the greatest pastoral poets of the English landscape.”

Read the whole thing here, with links to poems, reviews by William Logan, and an additional essay by Yezzi.

 

The Many Masks of Conquest

Sunday, March 11th, 2012
Share

Hat tip to the incomparable tipster Dave Lull for letting the us know about Robert Conquest‘s newest poems in the March issue of The New Criterion … or rather, the poems of poems of “one Fred Faraday (1917–1979),” in a volume Blokelore and Blokesongs, forthcoming later this year from Waywiser Press.

David Yezzi‘s introductory note is coy:

Readers will be forgiven for divining a greater involvement on Conquest’s part than mere amanuensis. Conquest has worn such masks before. In Kingsley Amis’s New Oxford Book of Light Verse (1978), Conquest’s poems appear under four names: his own, as well as the pseudonyms Ted Pauker, Victor Gray, and Stuart Howard-Jones. To these we must add the limerick writer Jeff Chaucer, whose Garden of Erses (2010) includes poems attributed elsewhere to some of these other fellows.

Old Fred, which is Faraday’s pseudonym de plume, may be Conquest’s liveliest poetic invention to date.

When I asked Bob his advice to young poets in 2010, he replied in a beat: “Write under a pseudonym, and pretend it’s a translation from the Portuguese.” Clearly, he takes his own advice to heart.

Other matters of the heart are included in the poems here and here and here.  A sample:

Was she a rose without a thorn?
Fred asks as one of those
Who’s more than once been scratched and torn
By thorns without a rose.

Conquest at work (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

A far cry from Bob’s landmark works, which made him one of our greatest living historians. With The Great Terror, published in 1968, he became the conscience of an era, a historian denouncing Stalinism when communism was trendy with the left in the West.

But maybe it’s not so far a cry, after all.  Said Editor Yezzi, “One cannot read ‘Fred on Fascism’ without recalling Conquest’s great limerick on Communism called ‘Progress,’ which John Gross included in his Oxford Book of Comic Verse (1994)”:

There was a great Marxist named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
—That’s a lot to have done in,
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.