Readings by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz



I'm going to begin with a poem I didn't even plan to read but because Robert just read directive to us and this sonnet lifts a line from that poem I'll start here this I wrote this poem for my friend Jill who is a colleague at BU she teaches through the Metropolitan College in the prison program that bu offers degrees gradually to prison inmates in Massachusetts and it's it's hard work sometimes for her and also hard for her to resist sometimes looking up information in the public domain about you know her students sometimes feeling terrified sometimes feeling really invigorated and and certainly always incredibly committed to that work I don't know how much that contributes am I telling you that but I'm going to tell you guys some stuff about the poems I guess between baths this is a sonnet the last line you'll recognize it's not mine bath for Jill here is the porcelain tub expectant cool it's ledges lined with lavender and lemon labeled jars of mud and salt and oil milled soaps that smell of rose or melon oatmeal scrub and peppermint shampoo black wedge of pumice ocean sponge a bristle brush with oaken handle all for you who love abundance of particular 'he's now turn the h and let the rising vapor cloud the aging tiles and oval mirror make tea or a martini grab the paper or a yellowed novel tie or tumbling hair and watch as the tipped liquid turns to lace here are your waters and your watering place hmm I'll read one section of a three section poem the sections are sort of meant to stand apart but the title is three dog night one I held the retriever in the dream like a bouquet of lilies the yellow weight of her Willis in my pocket flap of ear another loved dogs a broken off paw see I told the man at the scale it's been very hard I argued that the dogs once weighed more than the parts I'd managed to keep not enough he said as the Sun began to rise you see your girl is coming back to life and sure enough the dog fell from the counter flopping like a fish unfolding glowing I have suffered I said hushing the dog who was now standing upright holding my hand not enough he said your other dead I have photos I told him you will have more dogs I asked him dogs just get you in the door read a couple Texas poems do we have anyone from Texas this year I didn't think so okay oh there you go well then I feel more comfortable saying that i would hate texas i always did I and my in-laws live there and Dallas hate dallas awful concrete driving everywhere for it ever it and but my husband got a fellowship at the University of Texas in Austin and we lived on this little ranch all by ourselves in the middle of nowhere for six months in the hill country outside of Austin and I loved it there so I love part of Texas and about that time Paisano in Spanish means peasant really our countrymen but where we were the ranch was called paisano and in that part of the country meant Roadrunner the bird a Chuck wheels widow I'll tell you is a cousin of the whippoorwill and it's we can I should tell Heather about this bird if she doesn't know but it's that's the call it makes it doesn't say potato chips or cut it out it says Chuck wills Widow missing and seeing a rabbit rather than a man in the moon is a Mayan tradition Paisano the clouds still differentiate the dark at nearly midnight light they incubate makes silver nightshade bloom between the stars the day I saw a jackrabbit is ending for it's only time so I know more than when these clouds were born a blown time ago midnight the porch hovers and we lean in chairs with glistening bottles move our arms our mouths but not to kiss and not to speak the dog boxes a June bug with his shadow like a fox it's Texas now and then a star will blaze a trail past here to where it goes a bird will summon chuck wills Widow though she'll never come as I have called a ghost who's lost who's lost someone there is no room for that old desolation here the house is small the pasture rough with things to find the night is kindly lit and you are kind and what will happen is another day the rain lily will spring beneath the wheel the flycatcher will poke its crested head out of the Martin House I know these names and saw a scarlet wasp above the prickly pear I saw the place the star made when it fell I saw you say I love you to the dark and watched a fast shape died into the light of the rabbit hole in Mexico the moon mmm this is my only poem thus far that cites chapter and verse Matthew 6 19 to 21 and I deliberately did not provide the verses as an epigraph in the poem but I'll say the lines from King James for you if I can Matthew 6 19 to 21 lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal for where the treasure is there will your heart be also thighs yours i'm going to messed it up a little bit you get the point matthew 6 19 to 21 hold off a while moth and rust and thieves for I love this world my heart is here where a body breathes I've seen such treasures even of your making Knights wool the frayed holes light comes through burnt sky cracking the corroded ocean October's the Sun Goes thieves have taken grief and the thing one hated most so keep your work up elsewhere leave me my store the young geologist radioed this is it before st. helens sank him seized in a dream treasure of rupture and force what does one fear if not a loss how today's in the next world past nothing to tend nothing you're up against no moth no rust Oh Lord let there be thieves among the Angels I I resist the idea that i right domestic poems and yet I write domestic palms to me a lot of what's most interesting in a life most political most charged happens beneath the roof of the house or of particular houses so I'll read a couple poems that I don't wouldn't usually introduced in that way but what the hell um I'm nervous I think it's cuz the video okay thanks i'm not usually look yes okay perpetual between a book a hinge the page a hinge the mind this way and that a hinge your hand opening the music of the instrument a hinge the instrument a hinge the mood hinged upon the song the song a hinge and you and I Oh metaphysicians hinges the body hinged the jaw the lids the valves the house a hinge holding things in and out the moment opens closes opens closes the night the clock the thought the heart the door the breath that's that that's a poem in one line stanzas the only I've written that way this is the yellow house 1978 the kitchen in the house had an oak for eating a groove for the broom behind the door and the woman moved through it like bathing reaching ladles from drawers turning to lift the milk from the refrigerator while still stirring the pudding as if the room and everything in it or as intimate to her as her body as beautiful and worthy of her attention as the elbows which each day she soothed with rose lotion or the white legs she lifted again and again in turn while watching television to be in that room must be what it was like to be the man next to her at night or the child who at six o'clock had stood close enough to smell the wool of her sweater through the steam and later at the goodnight kiss could breathe the flavor of her hair cod fish and broccoli and taste the coffee which was darkness on her lips and listened then from upstairs to the water running down the mattress drifting down the river a pale moon mark on the floor and hear the clink of silverware the stars their distance speaking and picture the ceiling the back of a woman kneeling covering the heart and holding up the bed and roof and cooling sky um it's it's hard for me to read that poem without laughing and if my husband were here I wouldn't have been able to do it because he knows the story of my mother you know if she's seen the poem it's in the book but I gave it to her at one point years ago you know just after I had written it and at some point she was mad at me and this must like months later and she says oh yeah that's me old cod broccoli breath and I said though that poems not about you mom wasn't the breathy there was the hairlessness immortalized um okay I'll just read a couple more three or so hmm since we're a group of teachers this is um there's a series of three poems in my book that begin come out of a time that I spent in the Dominican Republic when I was 16 and very green and very Midwestern and naive and I went home I think less Midwestern and less naive Altos to light crested as the leaves moved from green to green like breathing from the roof jungle Cain and see moved to the rhythms of wind sickle and tide various bodies none more naked than the pink transparent lizards whose entire workings gut muscle and vein were visible to the naked eye as they climbed the walls visible through them evenings music and the hard-working moon so many chinks and spaces through which to make patterns bodies move together in patterns toward nakedness beneath us the cat's brawled and cried like babies cried so high and deep the music couldn't drown them out now and then a mango fell with a thud or a giant moth made shapes against the flames among the welcome elements not one thing did not hunger to be changed the heat held still between us this is a mmm short poem written in terza Rima and i'll just say because a couple of you have asked me then I'm moved by the question and a bit embarrassed by the answer but but I don't know the poem is titled prayer to a suicide the first word in the poem is brother we've talked some during the course of this institute about poetic voice and and and who is speaking in it in my mind in this poem the speaker is not me I did not lose a brother to suicide but I did lose a dear friend to suicide so don't get to explain that very often except kind of person to person when people ask me that said short poem carrots and Rima some of the elements of the rhythm of this poem come out of a Catholic tradition prayer to a suicide brother when they laid you down I touched the break-in lashes where the chicken pox had blown the lid up long ago small brushes that stroked out you're seeing hours I wish the clouds would wash us down with unrepentant power that pounding rain would soak in to your newly opened grave our mothers breath is broken hersey scar tingles after many years our Father has not spoken all night the faucet drives hard tears down into the Silent House they say it is beyond repair wherever you are cry for us so I'll end with a poem titled kemppi kemppi um some of you some of you know i had twins a year ago and so I wasn't at the Institute last year they just turned one Lionel and chem p and this poem comes out of a time when I didn't think that maybe I was going to have the kids that I'd always sort of imagined and given names to and this kind of thing kempi the name is from a folk song called mole in the ground and my husband I realized that we've doomed ourselves like doomed our daughter to spelling her name her whole life people say tempe like Tempe Arizona or Campion and I think I we didn't think it was that weird her brother's name is Lionel kemppi when I was like you know one spoke to me for a while I'd see you only while I slept smoky reels of silent family films often on your birthday not anymore your cart wheeling past the window now brown shoes flickering like birds knock-kneed with small teeth and a laugh like a rifle shot too big for your britches kid if you're so smart what's taking you so long so the universe is huge plenty of people find their way there's a picture you drew on the fridge a blue walrus there's a story you wrote about a kangaroo look take any room I'm sorry I resisted giving up the study let's put it behind us remember when you didn't have the croup I stayed up all night making steam remember when you didn't win the spelling bee we were so proud dust and stars the roads between the moon and sun the spokes of light wheeling through the room where are you living I keep missing you stubborn girl if you're waiting for some better future it's too late you've got a mother kemppi and you've got a name who knows possibly someday can people write a poem about what she smelled on her mom's hair she won't be able to imitate her mom's Wisconsin voice it was very very beautiful Maggie is wonderful reading I'll try to make my reading personal in the sense that i'm very aware of of you all and this favorite poem thing bringing out things and me to do with other people that i don't think it was absolutely natural to me and it endlessly amuses me to deal with teachers and talk to teachers as sort of drastic underachiever in school myself I'm always embarrassed to say this because it's so much like this point it's almost like bragging in the eighth grade in middle school I was in the dumb class and it had it had a kind of permanent effect on me and I can't tell you to this day exactly why I found it impossible to do anything I was asked to do I can remember I think I'm hope that what I'm doing is pleading you for understanding for a certain kind of child that you come in contact with I can remember reading the history textbook for pleasure but not the parts that we were signed and if I found I accidentally had stumbled onto a part that was assigned a kind of electric shock would go through my body oh I almost it almost hit homework and I was the kid in the class who prayed for a pop quiz rather than something respect preferably on something we had never discussed her had never been designed and one of the reasons I love talking to you is that I feel sort of healing aspect of that quality of just hating other people hating school feeling as people were kind enough to point out destined to be a bomb and it improved over the years by the end of high school wasn't too bad at all but there were years when I really did worry about being a derelict and would study winos see how bad it would feel so I'm gonna read some short poems to you that related my mind to this thing of how you related to other people and this poem basically says I don't need you I'm not going to be involved with you in order to say that I name every relationship of a category of relationship there is notice how tough I am and how I'm without other people the poem is called summarized song summarized song 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 that formula for that poem when I this I this when I decide that by the way was inspired by a favorite palm reading I've attended there been thousands of them around the country i attended one in Kansas and a man who was a welder by profession read a 14th century Japanese poem that had that formula and I was so taken by the formula that airplane home from Kansas I stole it very important to me in the period that I've described to you where I think I in my mind I'm speaking partly to you as my teachers when I was young and then speaking to you as one of your students very important to me with music it gave me a social identity and was the one thing I could do properly high school my graduating class definitely not most literary boy and absolutely not most likely to succeed but I was voted most musical boy and the saxophone was immensely important to me it gave me it was a very fashionable instrument at the time it's kind of ironic and glamorous instrument and it gave me something I didn't have by other means and it remains to me a very important symbol of culture it was invented by a European named sax adolphe sax and it is clearly not a European instrument in the sense it's Americans it's a black American instrument because it was made so by geniuses named Charlie Parker and Lester Young and johnny hodges and dexter gordon they made it their instrument which is what we're trying to do for our students poetry the 17th century the English language history of the Civil War medieval verse epitaphs what you're trying to do for the child to say you can make this your instrument this can become instrumental for you I think I've indicated to you that I'm patriotic about America's hybrid mixed quality as a culture saxophones an example of it the poem is called Ginza samba there is a tune called Ginza Samba Ginza of course is Japan Samba is Brazil in the record I have it's played by the white Jewish jazz musician Stan Getz and it's written by Italian guy of evening trolley venturi Ginza Samba a monosyllabic European called sax invents a horn voila rula d wha a kind of twisted brazen clarinet but with its column of vibrating air shaped not in a cylinder but in a cone widening ever outward and bajwa spouting infinitely upward through an upturned swollen Golden Bell rimmed rocky gloxinia flowering in saxes belgian imagination and in the unfathomable matrix of mothers and fathers as a genius graven humming into the cells of the body or cupped in the resonating graph of memory changed and exchanged as in the trading of brasses pearls and ivories callicles and slaves slave laborers and slave girls to cousins in a royal family of niger known as the birds or Hawks in Christendom one cousin's child becomes a quote favorite negro end quote ennobled by decree of the Tsar and he founds a great family a line of generals dandies and courtiers including the poet Pushkin killed in a duel concerning his wife's honor while the other cousin sales in the belly of a slave ship to the Port of Baltimore where she is raped and dies in childbirth but the infant will marry a Seminole and in the next chorus of time their child father's a great hawk or bird with many followers among them this great grandchild of the Jewish manager of a Pushkin estate blowing his American breath out into the wiggly tune uncurling it's triplets and 16th the Ginza Samba of breath and brass the reed vibrating as a valve the ether the unimaginable wires and circuits of an ingenious box here in my room in this house built a hundred years ago while I was elsewhere it is like falling in love they add a vist the comparative of someone voice or face the skill the copper filament the Golden Bell full of notes twirling through their invisible element from Rio de tokyo and back again gathering speed in the variations as they tunnel the twin haunted labyrinth of stirrup and anvil echoing here in the harkening instrument of my skull another poem about an instrument a piano I loved very much I said I would be personal a key central event in my childhood was my mother fell on her head and had a severe can crush concussion when I was 11 and it meant an even stranger phase for someone who was what Mel Brooks would describe is very very very very nervous I never know how seriously whether to speak or write about this at comically or tragically sort of like what do you do fall on your head well in fact yes you ought to see a psychiatrist yeah but wasn't that kind of social impedance and my sister was present when our mother fell and my sister would he gave me this poem I very typically was not present everyone else in the family was there she fell I very typically was home in this tiny apartment they had three children in a two-bedroom apartment and they had this intense piano and I spent all my time bonging at that piano and my sister said what she could remember was she couldn't remember the fall her earliest memory is there carrying our mother into the apartment and seeing me my back and think now Roberts going to no no Robert screen or mother she know she's going to live or die and that image brought me back to the piano as you'll see in the poem is a peculiar piano and my mother was in some ways replaced by the piano and my sister reminded me of physical things about the piano that sort of forgotten the first word of the poem is a trademark the green piano the green piano aeolian gratis great Thunderer half-ton infant of miracles torn free of charge from the universe by my mother's will you must have amazed that half respectable street of triple decker families and rooming house house painters the day that the bowl ankled oversized hams of your legs bobbed in procession up the crazy paved front walk embraced by the arms of mr. Popick the Seltzer man and card on his black skinned helper tendering your thighs thick as a man up our steps we are not reptiles even the male body bears nipples as if to remind us we are designed for dependents nutriment and dependents passed into future oh Europe they budged your case its ponderous guts of iron and brass ten kinds of hardwood and felt up those heel pot risers and treads its splintering tinder angelic nurse of clamor yearn Tinkler Dominator Oh elephant you were for me when the tuner mr. Otto Van Brunt pronounced you excellent despite the cracked sounding board we obeyed him and swab your ivories with hydrogen peroxide you blocked a doorway and filled most of the living room the sofa and chairs dwindled to a ram and use cowering now the colored neighbors could be positive that we were crazy and rich as we thought the people were who gave you away for the moving out of their carriage house they had painted you the color of pea soup the drunk man my mother hired never finished antiquing you ivory and umber so you stood half done a throbbing mistreated noble genuine my mother's swollen livestock of love lost one unmastered you were the Beast she led to the shrine of my genius mistaken endlessly I bond according to my own chord system humoresque the talk of the town what I say then one day they painted you pink pink is how my sister remembers you the Saturday afternoon when our mother fell on her head dusty pink as I turn on the bench in my sister's memory to see them carrying our mother up the last steps and into the living room inaugurating the reign of our confusion they sued the builder of the house she fell in with the settlement they bought a house at last and one day when I came home from college you were gone Oh mahogany breast who nursed me through those years of the concussion and there was a crappy little Baldwin accra sonic in your place gleaming walnut shell you were gone too spoiled one pink one forever green one white and gold one comforter a living soul the recent book golf music has a section in it called first things to hand in which it's the rule is the next thing I touch I have to write a poem about it I've write a poem about a podium or a water bottle or cat5 cable or pompton and you start writing about you know podium is oak energy use and the point is not that ordinary experience is beautiful and poetic but something more like that anything that the human intelligence focuses on can become a portal into the entire universe almost anything can lead you into history and indeed society into other people so that a solipsistic or escapist or narcissistic concentrating on your music or your book or your life or whatever it's a doorway into the whole world it's the doorway into everybody you know and don't know and all the past that wasn't if that was the talking before the poem this is the poem I'll read I'll read two or three of these here's a poem called book book its leaves flutter they thrive or wither it's outspread signatures like wings open to form the gutter the pages rippling brush my fingertips with their edges whispering erotic touch this hand knows from ages back what progress we have made their burning my books not me as once they would have done said Freud in 1933 a little later the laugh was on him on the Jews and his sisters o people of the book Wanderers under asst when we've wandered all our days said Walter Raleigh time shuts up the story of our days raleigh beheaded his life like a book the sound book lips then palate outward plosive to interior stop book wow the Beechtree pale would incised with germanic rooms enchanted wood glyphs and characters between boards the readers dread of finishing a book that loss of a world and also the readers dread of beginning a book becoming hostage to a new world to some spirit or spirits unknown look with my mind cannot contain you can commit to these waste blanks the jacket ripped the spine cracked still it arouses me torn crippled god like Loki this schemer as the book of Lancelot aroused Paolo and Francesca who cling together even in hell Oh passionate so we read love that turns or torments or comforts me love of the need of love need for need columns of characters that's things sometimes deeper than any music or movie or picture deeper sometimes even than one body touching another body and the passion to make a book Passion of the writer smelling blue and ink sensuous the writers dread of making another tombstone my marker orderly in its place in the stacks or to infiltrate and inhabit another soul as a splinter of spirit pressed between pages like a wildflower odorless brittle so this one called glass jar of pens inevitably that had to be one called other hand this is other hand other hand the lesser twin the one whose accomplishments and privileges are unsure getting to touch the tattoo on my right shoulder wearing the mid I feel it's familiar weight and textures as the adroit one rests against it for a moment they trine fingers lefty continues to experience considerable difficulty expressing himself clearly and correctly in writing comparison with his brother prevents him from putting forth his best effort yet this halt 12 has felt the breast thigh clasped an ankle or most intimate of all the fingers of a hand and possibly his trembling touch as less merely adept and confident is subtly the more welcome of the two in the Elysian Fields where every defect will be compensated and the last will be first this one will lead skillfully while the other will assist and as my shadow stalks that underworld the right hand too will rejoice released from its long burden of expectation the yoke of dexterity finally laid to rest the book closes the book closes a lot of the book is goes back to a kind of adolescent anger and takes a kind of political forum my disappointment in the in the bush administration becomes a theme in the book and there's a lot also sort of irritation about forgetting I mean I was sort of slightly mock aggressive with you all when I was asking you who was the most popular poet ever when I said your guests as that kind of theme of the one who remembers and kind of raged forgetting in a kind of acceptance of forgetting and uh in the very last canto of his commedia Dante has a passage about forgetting and I think it's where he if accepts his own death his own extent to which much of him will be forgotten we remember the great Allah Gary but so much of him is gone most of his work survived not all so we have the love poems we have a lot really prose and verse but he confronts how little anybody can ever remember and he confronts how much is always forgotten and it gave me wait in the book on a note that was somewhat had some peace to it he uses the virgilian myth of the Sibyl some of you may not that Hopkins palm wonderful strange Gerard Manley Hopkins bombs spelt from Sybil's leaves the Sybil was an Oracle who knew everything the civil knew everything that would ever happen and she wrote it down she wrote down everything that had ever happened and would ever happen she wrote down all knowledge and she wrote it on these delicate thin leaves and people loathed her and her temple says Virgil the reason I loathed her is that as soon as the door to the sibyl's temple began to turn a little breeze went in and sent the leaves up into chaos so that no one could ever read what she wrote because it was written on these super fine leaves so it's an image of knowledge is conceivable but unattainable and it for me was way to end the book and to me it's also as a teacher one has to accept limitation also as in every other pursued a thing we say two very young teachers sometimes is you know you're not going to make every student in the class into an absolutely effective writer not have every student the class become a sensitive devoted reader of literature you're going to try to help as many of them as you can as much as you can and try as hard as you can not to harm any of them which you know we should take the same oath as the doctors because it's possibly very inadvertently sometimes we do harm pre but if you do this profession for 30 or 40 years somebody will remember you as having harmed them sad we have to face it it comes with all the joy although I mean we were so lucky no you do it for a few years there are hundreds of people who were thinking about you who remember you and you hope that many of them will be grateful to you for something or other anyway this is my poem it's a terse arima translation of a passage in Dante and I will close with from the last canto of paradise from the last canto of paradise paradiso 33 lines 46 48 52 66 as I drew nearer to the end of all desire I brought my longings order to a final height just as I ought my vision becoming pure entered more and more the beam of that high light that shines on its own truth from then my seeing too large for speech which fails at a sight beyond all boundaries at memories undoing as when the dreamer sees and after the dream the passion endures imprinted on his being though he can't recall the rest I am the same inside my heart although my vision is almost entirely faded droplets of its sweetness come the way the Sun dissolves the snows crust the way in the wind thats third the light leaves the Oracle that the Civil road was lost

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