The Art of Literary Study

I’m often pleased to see ALSCW members’ poetry, fiction, and criticism featured and reviewed when I open the New York Review of Books¸ the London Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, or other publications. In the June 22nd issue of the NYRB, for instance, there are poems by Rosanna Warren and Jane Hirschfield. Books by Edward Hirsch and Marjorie Perloff are reviewed. I’m equally pleased to learn of the steady stream of awards our members receive. Ernest Hilbert was the winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize; Jean Valentine won the 2017 Bolligen Prize; Ryan Wilson took the Donald Justice Prize; Al Basile, Luther Dickinson, and Mike Mattison received nominations in multiple categories for the Blues Music Awards. Kelly Cherry was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from her alma mater, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. And there’s the steady stream of books, articles, major lectures, teaching awards, and other contributions to literature and the arts that come to my attention.


After the exodus of light, let there
be black that doesn’t soak up white. Let there
be skin born back on every scar and tear.

Let there be no oceans or weapon wear
of tides raking the shores. Sister, stand there
after the exodus of light.

……………………………………. Let there
be not afraid, for you are with the fair
and mighty god of your body.……. Stare.

Be skin born back on every scar and tear
that undershirt, brother. Let us all bare
this weight. Let there be loose. Let there-

The Language of Knowledge and the Language of Power

Thomas De Quincey published in 1848 an essay on the poetry of Pope with a long digression on “the literature of knowledge” and “the literature of power.” I want to treat these categories speculatively, in order pursue the question of what we may mean by “knowledge”: a word that in the eighteenth century was synonymous with science, and that in De Quincey’s day hadn’t yet drifted far from that sense. The function of the literature of knowledge, De Quincey wrote,

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.

Willard Spiegelman at The Culture Center, New York, May 2, 2017

On May 2, 2017, Willard Spiegelman spoke at a regional meeting of the ALSCW. The event was held at the highly agreeable Culture Center at 410 Columbus Avenue, on the Park, on Manhattan island, with twenty-five guests in attendance. The space was conducive to such convivium: a lovely, well lit room, with walls covered in images of the Buddha and mandalas; the food was very good and the wine poured freely.

Between Irony and Optimism: A Review of Ned Balbo’s Upcycling Paumanok

The first question a reader of Ned Balbo’s Upcycling Paumanok (Measure Press, 2016) will most likely ask is, “Upcycling?!” Balbo makes us wait until the penultimate, and, as it happens, title poem for the explanation:

“Upcycling 2.0,” a plan requiring

what we throw away to serve some purpose,
trash not just recycled but improved,
suburbia changed, transformed to paradise.

Undying Love Beyond the Grave

Translation of Francisco de Quevedo’s “Amor constante más allá de la muerte.”

Perhaps the last shade that will take me
one white day may close my eyes,
and time, acquiescing to its pressing desire
may unmoor this soul of mine;

but it won’t leave love’s memory there
where it burned on that far shore, the other side:
my flame knows how to brave icy water
and ignore laws that pretend to confine.

A soul whose prison no less than divine has been,
veins that entertained the spread of so much fire,
marrow that smoldered gloriously in its pyre—

My Mother Calls from the Hospital To Say She’s Fine

Her old performance—how it seems so clear:
Lines sprawled across a script I didn’t read.
Love weltering like curtains, ceaseless and sheer,
While fog-grieved headlights drift along the road
Down to the cape. Tonight, her final year
Goes by in silence as waves rise and recede.

Our lives were woven from a single thread.

Hundreds of small decisions led me here,
None will bring her back. Snow glints on the pier.
The houselights rise, and now the end is near
Enough to touch—but what about the dead?

They never lingered long, standing like deer
Just past the saplings. Tell me what you need.

Adam, Waking

Magnolia blossoms: lustrous as the moon
and smooth as ivory, soft against his skin—
but even in his dreams, he’s cursed: as soon
as he reaches out, they fall apart—again,

again—that vision of the delicate
ghostly petals strewn across the stone,
the distant knowledge of the guarded gate—
and his waking realization:
……………………………….. the Garden is gone.

Restless now, he stares at the rising sun,
that golden apple laid in a pool of blood—
but the lambs were sacrificed,
……………………………….. the seed was sown,
and remembering the past has done no good.

Ever After

with a line from James Merrill

Like children who have found the world is good,
we slip into the shadows of the wood
and follow doe-tracks downhill to the stream,
then with the pressure of the current cold
against our knees, we cross from dream to dream,
pluck golden fruit of which we have been told,
and sing the songs of childhood—stray deep
in an enchanted forest, where lifted by wind,
the hardened branches over us rise and descend:
the heaving muscles of a beast asleep.