On Sundays, We Read Poetry

Each Sunday, I post a brief introduction to a collection of poetry I've been loving. I include one poem that I think really sings. No review. No need. If it's here, you'll know I recommend it. If you have one to recommend (yours or someone else's), send it along. I'll do my best to be here every Sunday.

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I've been reading A. R. Ammons since December 6th. That's the date in 1963 when he began typing a long poem on a roll of adding-machine tape. It was experimental and somewhat odd, but the effect -- Tape for the Turn of the Year -- is a book-length poem full of quotidian observations and unexpected insights.


Here's an example:


acquiescence, acceptance:

the silent passage into

the stream, going along,

not holding back:


I try to transfigure these

days

so you'll want to keep

them:

come back to them: from

where?

from the running honey

of reality & life?

come back:


I hold these days aloft,

empty boxes

you can exist in: but

when you live in them

you hurry out of your own

life:

if my meaning is

to befriend you

must I turn you

away?


January 10 was the day the tape ran out and Ammons finished his poem. I've been reading along, each day's entry read on the day it was written, so I, too, finished today. Fitting that it be on a Sunday.


Though it was originally posted back in November, I saw this tweet today, and while I don't begrudge those who find other versions of Sunday more compelling, I think we would all do well to make a little more room for this option.

Just before I started the Ammons poem, I decided to embark on my own experimental and odd venture, an digital-age homage to his great effort. Mine took place on twitter, a few tweets each day, limited in scope and structure just as Ammons was. I haven't yet revised or edited the errors, but here are a few excerpts:


from 23 Dec:


what does it look like

to choose the side of

possibility?

to glance over the shoulder

of God:

to want endlessly

and without warning:

I choose today

the solemnity of milk,

the stern apology

of a cat’s tongue,

the sleek head of an

unexpected

otter

& her warning whisper:


from 5 Jan:


language is my proving

ground, that stage on which

I strut & fret:

but what to do

when the idea

outstrips the word?

what name for a group of

angry footfalls?

what to call

a nest built of

berry &

starshine?

the soliloquy grows

threadbare, outrageous:


the slings & daggers

of survival arise:

skyhoney words

in mellifluous sin:

tattoo-parlor love

on the back

church pew:

shots fired & ballots

mailed:

story is accounting,

a gathering of neighbors:

despite all my misgivings,

all evidence to the

contrary: still

I hope:


and the final stanzas from today:


somewhere

nearby

a mockingbird is making

his Sunday offering,

the plate

passed

sermon

preached

and now a hymn

of rebuke

& forgiveness

blistered

with sunlight

blinking,

we emerge

from life

to life:


I can't remember the last time

I took communion,

the last time

I sat in

congregated

wealth

and

white

privilege:

I can't remember what

drew me there

or why now I turn away:

I once was a child

raised up

in the light:


the Sabbath

remains a sacred

space, even as

I recognize

the anagrammed

reality:

scared:

how much of my faith

has grown of my fear?

how much now can come

from turning:

the year has been

born again

& we each resolve

afresh

even in our failure:


for me:

the soil

the page

the tables:

abolition over absolution

submission to the

wisdom of elder

oaks, switchgrasses,

& jays:

infinitude of beauty:

vacancy of worth:

I've given

you my

emptiness:

how does one come

home:


I include these meager efforts because this silly exercise reminded me of something that Marilynne Robinson asserted in Home:

People have always made poetry, she told them. Trust that it will matter to you.

Those who observe the Sabbath see it as a setting apart. It is an act of trust that returning again and again to a practice sets it apart from the ordinariness of everyday. And in so trusting, we are reminded that it matters.

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