Tuesday, December 14, 2010

O pen -- Monday Dec. 13 -- Wiman and Wilbur with a touch of Saudade

Poems for December 13

"The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see -- it is, rather, a light by which we may see-and what we see is life." -- Robert Penn Warren

"Let us remember that in the end
we go to poetry for one reason,
so that we might more fully
inhabit our lives and the world
in which we live them, and that
if we more fully inhabit these
things, we might be less apt to
destroy both." – Christian Wiman, Editor, Poetry

From a Window – Christian Wiman
This talented poet, a disciple of Richard Wilbur has been stricken by Cancer. The poem above imbues a sense of awe beyond a hospital window, and the power of paying deep attention beyond our own condition. Like O’Henry, “The Last Leaf” he turns to remind us we have no control...
Richard Wilbur
While Wilbur continued to produce composed, reflective, and largely optimistic poetry in collections like Things of This World, (1956), Advice to a Prophet (1961) and Walking to Sleep (1969) using traditional patterns of rhyme and meter, the poetic landscape of the times meant that his work was often judged harshly. “The typical ghastly poem of the fifties was a Wilbur poem not written by Wilbur,” wrote Donald Hall in 1961, “a poem with tired wit and obvious comparisons and nothing to keep the mind or the ear occupied.”
(you can read more about him here:

He also has written children’s verse.
Example from Opposites (with illustrations!)
The Disappearing Alphabet

Beasts — a terrific poem — in my copy of “Collected Poems” it is centered, so each five-line stanza spins like a small top :
The first stanza has a dreamy lullaby feel; the second, has an eyebrow-raising detail of “The ripped mouse, safe in the owl’s talon, cries/ Concordance. The next two stanzas, with moon as observer, create a larger than life experience of a man turning into a beast.
The final two stanzas show the beastly actions of men (“suitors of excellence) in the name of “dreams for men”.

Hopefully that will make you want to read it!
Boy At the Windows
I heard him read Dec. 2 at Amherst where he mentioned the background to this poem — his 5 year old son, not wanting to leave his snowman outside.

We concluded with a reading of “This Pleasing Anxious Being

What was even more terrific is that I saw this article about Wilbur early Monday, although for a different poem, “Love Calls Us to the Things of this world” which brought up the Portuguese concept of “Saudade” -- which has been described as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”

The poem and article can be accessed here:

** on Goodreads posted today:
If you don't know Wilbur, try his poem "Beasts" where six stanzas of five lines arranged like spinning tops and language will grip at your heart. You will move you from the dreamland of animals through the transformation of werewolf to the beastly actions of men (“suitors of excellence) in the name of “dreams for men”. There is nothing insipid or trite about form crafted by such a master.

His poems probe without any ponderous posturing what it is about being human. His "Disappearing Alphabet" and "Opposites" with accompanying doodles, go beyond an Ogden Nash sense of whimsy to deeper levels of thought. One of my favorites, "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" at first caught my eye with the line, "the air awash with angels" and seeing the sheets flapping on the laundry line, but then, I read again, and thanks to some background reading on Stoic philosophy, and an introduction to the term "Saudade" see how Wilbur fashions great poems that are not at all trite exercises in form and polish. Poems to read again and again.
I put the date December 13 as the date I "finished the book" -- but have been reading it in snatches for a long time and will continue to do so.
I had the pleasure of hearing him read at Amherst, 12/2/2010.

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