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I have two new favorite poets. Well, one’s an old favorite who’s become new again, and another I found by happenstance while reading through a stack of lit journals.
First, the old favorite: my graduate school teacher, Bill Knott. There’s so much I can say about him, but let’s just leave it as this–he was crazy, brilliant, and crazy-brilliant. And some think he’s gone off the deep end, flaming other poets, touting his bad reviews, self-publishing his books on lulu.com. But really, that’s just how he is. A kind of true punk rocker poet–always tearing down the powers that be.
His book that I want to mention is Poems for Death, which is available as a free download.
Many years ago, he gave a reading in Boston to a packed house. I specifically remember the poem “The Closet,” a gorgeous and haunting poem, and how it made us stand and cheer. After we cried a little bit.
And then Bill threw chapbooks–which he’d made himself–at us.
(. . .after my Mother’s death)
Here not long enough after the hospital happened
I find her closet lying empty and stop my play
And go in and crane up at three blackwire hangers
Which quiver, airy, released. They appear to enjoy
Their new distance, cognizance born of the absence
Of anything else. The closet has been cleaned out
Full-flush as surgeries where the hangers could be
Amiable scalpels though they just as well would be
Themselves, in basements, glovelessly scraping uteri
But, here, pure, transfigured heavenward, they’re
Birds, whose wingspans expand by excluding me. Their
Range is enlarged by loss. They’d leave buzzards
Measly as moths: and the hatshelf is even higher!
As the sky over a prairie, an undotted desert where
Nothing can swoop sudden, crumple in secret. I’ve fled
At ambush, tag, age: six, must I face this, can
I have my hide-and-seek hole back now please, the
Clothes, the thicket of shoes, where is it? Only
The hangers are at home here. Come heir to this
Rare element, fluent, their skeletal grace sings
Of the ease with which they let go the dress, slip,
Housecoat or blouse, so absolvingly. Free, they fly
Trim, triangular, augurs leapt ahead from some geometric
God who soars stripped (of flesh, it is said): catnip
To a brat placated by model airplane kits kids
My size lack motorskills for, I wind up all glue-scabbed,
Pawing goo-goo fingernails, glaze skins fun to peer in as
Frost-i-glass doors. . . But the closet has no windows.
Opaque or sheer: I must shut my eyes, shrink within
To peep into this wall. Soliciting sleep I’ll dream
Mother spilled and cold, unpillowed, the operating-
Table cracked to goad delivery: its stirrups slack,
Its forceps closed: by it I’ll see mobs of obstetrical
Personnel kneel proud, congratulatory, cooing
And oohing and hold the dead infant up to the dead
Woman’s face as if for approval, the prompted
Beholding, tears, a zoomshot kiss. White-masked
Doctors and nurses patting each other on the back,
Which is how in the Old West a hangman, if
He was good, could gauge the heft of his intended. . .
Awake, the hangers are sharper, knife-’n'-slice, I jump
Helplessly to catch them to twist them clear,
Mis-shape them whole, sail them across the small air
Space of the closet. I shall find room enough here
By excluding myself; by excluding myself, I’ll grow.
Now for a new poet, someone I’ve never heard of before. The poem I really like is an interesting contrast to Knott’s focused gaze at a particular space, because its speaker wanders in convoluted ways, kind of like mentally swinging from vine to vine. I love it when a poem wanders like this, a mind forging a way out of the abyss. In this case, the abyss is much like Knott’s, and much like so many other poems. Loss, in a shape both general and intimate.
Here’s “The Romantic” by Jay Nevel:
I’ve been to the movie about the flood where the boy and girl float
under the latticed bridges, miraculously still, their bodies only touching
from elbow to wrist, and somehow, they stay together
amidst the wreckage of refrigerators and station wagons,
soggy stuffed animals, wooden houses, eyeless dolls
and picket fences that drift through a city, held together tenderly
as the ash of a cigarette. They survive, get married,
live happily for six months, never fight, make love
on the kitchen tile, until one morning a water logged greeting card
shows up on their doorstep, a heart felt fuck you
scratched on the inside. We find out he has cancer, only one day
to live, and we feel cheated as they spend the last hours feeding
the ducks on Laurelhurst Pond, because we have to return
to our ordinary lives, snapping you bare ass with a wet towel
on Halloween, or you splitting my lip months earlier
in a wrestling match. Or leaving me standing there
in a Home Depot parking lot wondering if you would ever
come back with our two Chihuahuas and the new barbecue loaded
into the backseat of the car, pissed because I paid too much attention
to the cashier, my marriage driving away with her hands
on the wheel, music blaring, the wind smashing her in the face.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these poems.