…the idea of alienation. And loss. I believe that that’s the beginning of poetry. Poetry begins with alienation, and poetry speaks against our vanishing. The lyric poem in particular seems to me to have the burden and the splendor of preserving the human image in words, as the most intense form of discourse. Poetry speaks about and against loss in its root function. I see the writing of a poem as a descent. The descent is psychological. That which is darkest in human experience. It can be in yourself, it can be in others, it can be in the death of someone you love. It’s a descent into the unconscious. You try to unearth something. You try to bring something to the light.
— Edward Hirsch (via ahuntersheart)
Maybe every author needs to keep faith with Nabokov, and every reader with Barthes. For how can you write, believing in Barthes? Still, I’m glad I’m not the reader I was in college anymore, and I’ll tell you why: it made me feel lonely. Back then I wanted to tear down the icon of the author and abolish, too, the idea of a privileged reader—the text was to be a free, wild thing, open to everyone, belonging to no one, refusing an ultimate meaning. Which was a powerful feeling, but also rather isolating, because it jettisons the very idea of communication, of any possible genuine link between the person who writes and the person who reads. Nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with a consciousness other than my own. To this end I find myself placing a cautious faith in the difficult partnership between reader and writer, that discrete struggle to reveal an individual’s experience of the world through the unstable medium of language. Not a refusal of meaning, then, but a quest for it.
To have loved
—Mary Oliver, from “Empty Branch in the Orchard” in Evidence: Poems
"And this is good for us."
I want to write something
or about pain
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.
—Mary Oliver, “I Want to Write Something So Simply” in Evidence: Poems
We shake with joy, we shake with
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same
—Mary Oliver, “We Shake with Joy” in Evidence: Poems
In my house there are a
hundred half-done poems.
Each of us leaves an un-
—Mary Oliver, from “Thinking of Swirler” in Evidence: Poems
What we love, shapely and
is not to be held,
but to be believed in.
—Mary Oliver, from “Swans” in Evidence: Poems
“There was a muddy ditch at the side of the road
where the road took a sudden turn. If I could jump—.”
Five Muselmänner abreast, the marching dead,
skeletons on the march to some other camp.
“I came up with a plan: If it wasn’t already too late,
if the weather held, if the guard didn’t turn his head,
by the grace of dark I’d make my way to the right
and take my chances. Chances were all I had.”
“Where in that hell did you find the nerve to live?
You knew what was ahead if you were caught.”
I thought he’d say, “No choice. Jump or be killed,”
but he wasn’t giving lessons on being brave.
“I was loved,” he answered, “when I was a child.”
I tell his story every chance I get.
—Chana Bloch, “Death March, 1945”
Like after a neutron bomb explodes,
You touch yourself—
where the memory of him is.
—Anzhelina Polonskaya, from “A person who is no longer here" (translated by Andrew Wachtel)
So today I tried to write again
about the most important things—the enormous sun
rising beyond the smokestacks.
The crimes of the entire nation.
And the twisted throat of a song bird
accomplishing its daily heroics during an argument.
But I couldn’t get a line by Elena Shwarts out of my head:
the heart is like a punching bag,
pounded from the inside.
—Anzhelina Polonskaya, “Today” (translated by Andrew Wachtel)
Wiping ovals of breath from the windows
in order to see ourselves, you touch
the glass tenderly wherever it holds my face.
—Carolyn Forché, from “For the Stranger” (via Read a Little Poetry)