On the “Extreme Silentness” of W.S. Graham

Read W.S. Graham a while, and one begins to notice the spaces between the words. Read Graham a while longer and the spaces widen, and the wide white margins become a different kind of border. Oceans of silence surround these poems, many of them written at the seaside, as if the poems were seines for meaning and feeling, and silence might pour through the spaces and submerge or subsume the caught meaning. Whether they have ideas in them or not, words can be knocked together, or braided, or knotted; they can leave an impression like breathed-on glass or a slap in the face. Silence is their medium, is what they press against (or what they are hurled or furled or hoisted against). Graham posed his ambition for each poem as a question: “Does it disturb the language?” The more telling or cutting question, which we are prompted to ask about too few poets but naturally arises when reading Graham, is: Does it sharpen the silence?

To Speak From Experience: Thoughts on Frank Bidart’s Interviews

In “The Tragic Sense of Frank Bidart,” her review of Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, Helen Vendler claims, “Bidart’s last words to the reader define his aesthetic: ‘The aim, throughout, has been not chronology, but a kind of topography of the life we share—in chaos, an inevitable physiognomy.’”1 [670] As she had been considering the title poem I wondered what “last words” she referred to, since these are not the last words of the poem “Half-Light” but the last words of Bidart’s Note on the Text. And while these may be the “last words” of the “Text,” the last words of the book’s matter—not counting the index—also sound like the definition of an aesthetic: “Whatever it takes to get the whole soul into a poem. An emphasis on voice isn’t fashionable in contemporary practice. I hope my poems make people reconsider that.” [714] These are the “last words” of Bidart’s interview with Shara Lessley, first published on the National Book Foundation website in October 2013.

Doug Powell at the University of Chicago, April 20, 2017

The 5th meeting of the Chicago chapter of the ALSCW was the occasion for a reading by the poet Doug (D.A.) Powell, whose initials emphatically do not belong after his name. Powell, the author of five collections, is a law of one. His work has received many honors, including the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and, for Useless Landscape or A Guide for Boys (2012), his latest, the National Book Critics Circle Award.