John Irwin, who led The Hopkins Review from its rebirth in 2008, will retire from teaching at Johns Hopkins University this spring. David Yezzi took over the reins of the journal in 2015. A well-known poet, actor and editor, Yezzi joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2013. Yezzi joined us to talk about his new position and the special issue devoted to Irwin’s impact on the field.
Category Archives: Poetry
Emily Dickinson Journal publishes its 25th volume in 2016 under the guidance of a new editor. James R. Guthrie, Professor of English Language and Literatures at Wright State University, now helms the journal. He joined us for a Q&A about his new role and the journal’s anniversary.
How did you come to take the editor position at the journal?
I was invited to take the position by Cristanne Miller, the EDJ‘s previous editor.
What is one surprising thing you have found in the transition?
Learning to use ScholarOne. (Ed: An online system for manuscript submission and review) I was quite intimidated by ScolarOne when I took over the editorship. But now, with two issues under my belt, I’m much more comfortable with that program. ScholarOne is still not as user-friendly as I would prefer, but I’ve come to appreciate what it can do for me, as an editor.
Emily Dickinson Journal will publish its 25th volume in 2016. What does that milestone mean for you?
Twenty-five years is indeed a milestone for the EDJ. Personally, those 25 years coincide roughly with my own scholarly interest in Dickinson. It has been a real pleasure to watch Dickinson move from the fringe of recognized American writers to canonical status. My wife jokes now that she can rarely open an issue of the Sunday New York Times or the New Yorker without coming across a reference to Emily Dickinson. She has definitely entered the mainstream of American culture and literary history.
What kind of plans to you have in the short term for the journal?
Now that I’m more comfortable with the position of editor, I look forward to using the EDJ to encourage growth in particular areas of Dickinson scholarship. For example, I’m interested in encouraging interdisciplinary approaches to her poetry. I also like cultural materialist / new historical approaches. Also, there’s a good deal of interest among Dickinson scholars these days in looking more closely at literary kinships between Dickinson and other 19th-century American writers such as Melville and Thoreau. Then too, Dickinson scholarship has become increasingly international in scope. Foreign scholars have much to offer about the reception of Dickinson’s work in their countries, translations of the poems, and similarities between her work and that of local celebrated authors.
What kind of advice would you give to scholars looking to publish in the journal?
I would certainly advise scholars considering submitting work to the EDJ to go ahead and do so — we welcome any sort of scholarship concerning Dickinson. And Dickinson is something of a hot property these days in scholarship and the media — so young scholars may boost their own careers by focusing more intently upon Dickinson’s work. The network of Dickinson scholars is (drawing upon my own experience) welcoming, receptive to new ideas, and friendly. So, take a chance on Dickinson — I think all of us practicing Dickinson scholars are happy that we did.
The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars will host a reading by two long-time friends and JHU Press authors, John Irwin and Wyatt Prunty, on Thursday, February 25, at 6:30 p.m. The reading, reception, and book signing take place in Gilman Hall, Room 50, on JHU’s Homewood campus. The event is free and open to the public; find more information on the Writing Seminars website.
John Irwin has been an extraordinary friend and partner to JHU Press over many decades, publishing six scholarly books with us under his own name; three volumes of poetry under his pen name, John Bricuth; editing some 97 volumes in the distinguished series, Johns Hopkins: Poetry & Fiction, on behalf of the Press and the Writing Seminars; relaunching the literary journal, The Hopkins Review, in 2008; and serving as the intrepid cheer-leader, fundraiser, and inspiration for all these projects. We extend boundless thanks and good wishes to John, who retired last year as Decker Professor of the Humanities at JHU. He will be reading from and signing copies of his (John Bricuth’s) latest volume of poetry, Pure Products of America. Inc.
Wyatt Prunty is a professor of English at Sewanee: The University of the South and the founding director of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is the author of nine collections of poems (eight published with JHUP), including Unarmed and DANGEROUS and The Lover’s Guide to Trapping. He will be reading from and signing copies his latest collection from JHUP, Couldn’t Prove, Had to Promise.
In his book Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature, Jerry Griswold explores five sensations particularly important in childhood. In the excerpt below, he examines “snugness” and its particular association with Christmas.
Turning from space to time, we can note that there are certain occasions especially apt for an evocation of snugness. Mole and Rat [in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows], for example, are driven to Badger’s cozy home by a winter storm and find there a refuge where they can warm and dry themselves, relax and rest.
Meteorologically speaking, the best condition for an evocation of snugness is stormy weather. Horrific storms, like those that assault the alpine home in Heidi, demarcate even more dramatically the hostility of the universe in contrast to the snugness of the shelter. But even mildly inclement weather like that of the British isles can provide an occasion for a vision of indoor coziness. In the closing words of The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, Hugh Lofting’s character returns at long last to his home and invites his guests inside on a drizzling day: “You know, there’s something rather attractive in the bad weather of England—when you’ve got a kitchen fire to look forward to. . . . Four o’clock! Come along—we’ll just be in time for a nice tea.”
Besides stormy weather, seasonally, the best time for an evocation of snugness is winter, especially after snow has fallen. The heightened contrast between the cold outdoors and the warmth indoors, between the monochromes of a snow-covered world outside and a colorful vividness inside, sharpens boundaries and assigns value to the cozy haven.
In the northern hemisphere, at least, one of the best dates on the calendar for an evocation of snugness is Christmas. Perhaps the most touching moment in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is the family tableau created when father comes home from the war, steps out of winter’s cold and damp, closes the door behind him, and reunites with his wife and four daughters around the fire on Christmas Day. Indeed, Mole and Rat’s visit to Badger’s home takes place during this holiday season.
But more than any other occasion, nighttime and bedtime are especially apt times for visions of snugness. When Heidi comes to live in her grandfather’s hut, he allows her to choose where she will sleep during her stay. Investigating various places, Heidi finally climbs into the attic, assembles a cozy nest for herself from the hay there, covers it with a sheet, and retires at night to slumber there. Then follows a universally familiar and touching scene that might be called The Tableau of the Sleeping Child. Grandfather, worried that Heidi might be frightened on her first night in the Alps, checks on her: “He mounted the ladder and went and stood by the child’s bed. . . . Just now the moonlight was falling through the round window straight on to Heidi’s bed. She lay under the heavy coverlet, her cheeks rosy with sleep, her head peacefully resting on her little round arm, and with a happy expression on her baby face as if dreaming of something pleasant.”
In the middle of Spyri’s book, however, Heidi is taken from her grandfather and sent to live with strangers in Frankfurt. Not feeling at home in the Sesemann’s mansion and besieged by the tyrannical governess Miss Rottenmeier, Heidi feels more like a bird in a cage than a bird in its nest. She grows homesick and ill. Her distress is revealed by a sleep disorder: she begins to sleepwalk, always opening the door of the mansion she longs to escape. Fortunately, the family physician is also adept with psychological problems and prescribes a remedy for her dis-ease and somnambulism: Heidi is to be sent back to the Alps.
Heidi’s reunion with her grandfather is the most touching moment in the book. This homecoming is also a return to snugness and sound sleep:
Later when Heidi went indoors, she found her bed already made up for her; the hay had been piled high for it and smelt deliciously, for it had only just been got in, and her grandfather had carefully spread and tucked in the clean sheets. It was with a happy heart that Heidi lay down in it that night, and her sleep was sounder than it had been all the time she was away. Her grandfather got up at least ten times during the night and mounted the ladder to see if Heidi was all right. . . . But Heidi did not stir. She slept soundly all night long because the great burning and longing of her heart was at last satisfied.
Perhaps the connection between snugness and sleeping is obvious. Restful sleep, and even the light somnolence of napping, requires conditions of ease and security, a comfort absent of potential threats, a well being in which one is able to relax. Even a dog will not curl up and slumber if these conditions are absent. And these conditions for sleep—serenity, safety, agreeableness, and so forth—amount to a description of snugness. A snug place, we might say, is a place where one can sleep or nap.
In any event, all these temporal conditions—winter and Christmas, nighttime and bedtime, sleeping and dreaming—come together in Clement Moore’s well known poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” where under “the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,” Santa’s arrival is imminent:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.
Here, again, is the Tableau of the Sleeping Child (or children) seen in Heidi when grandfather looks in on the little girl so cozy in her attic nest and “dreaming of something pleasant.” Here, too, “visions of sugarplums” dance in the heads of dreaming children “nestled all snug in their beds.” So, there is one last topic for us to explore and that is the connection between snugness and dreaming.
Jerry Griswold is professor emeritus of literature at San Diego State University and former director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. He is the author of seven books, including Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story and Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature, both published by Johns Hopkins University Press.
We’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this fall—and pleased to share this series of “Fall Books Preview” blog posts! Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Fall 2015 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on pre-pub orders. Here are some of our forthcoming books in literature and classics:
Pure Products of America, Inc.
A Narrative Poem
This propulsive narrative poem tells the extended story of the popular born-again televangelist Ray Bob Elray—better known to all his fans as Big Bubba—his twin sons, Nick and Jesse, and his niece and adopted daughter, Donna.
“The outrageous John Bricuth has surpassed himself in this sublimely mad narrative poem about our ongoing America. There is no one quite like Bricuth. He tries to play all the notes at once and frequently succeeds. Wickedness, supernal wit, eloquence always just off the beat, and a fierce verve animate this unsettling leap into our deepening abyss. To read this poem is to imbibe a tonic for these darkening times.”—Harold Bloom
“In his hugely enjoyable new verse novel, John Bricuth recounts the rise and fall of Big Bubba, preacher, faith healer, and entrepreneur, ‘the Donald Trump of holy rollers,’ whose long-kept secret has torn his family apart. It’s a captivating story, a real page-turner, poignant yet often hilarious, told in high-energy language by a master poet.”—X. J. Kennedy
Available in November
Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language
Mark L. Louden
In this probing study, Mark L. Louden, himself a fluent speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch, provides readers with a close look at the place of the language in the life and culture of two major subgroups of speakers: the “Fancy Dutch,” whose ancestors were affiliated mainly with Lutheran and German Reformed churches, and conservative Anabaptist sectarians known as the “Plain people”—the Old Order Amish and Mennonites.
“Mark L. Louden is the foremost scholar of Pennsylvania Dutch. A significant contribution to linguistic, sociolinguistic, historical, and anthropological scholarship, his book is extensively researched, accessible, and filled with a wealth of language examples that will appeal to a wide audience.”—Karen Johnson-Weiner, SUNY Potsdam, coauthor of The Amish
Available in January 2106
Narrating 9/11: Fantasies of State, Security, and Terrorism
edited by John N. Duvall and Robert P. Marzec
Narrating 9/11 challenges the notion that Americans have overcome the national trauma of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The volume responds to issues of war, surveillance, and the expanding security state, including the Bush Administration’s policies on preemptive war, extraordinary rendition, torture abroad, and the suspension of privacy rights and civil liberties at home.
Touching on some of the mainstays of 9/11 fiction, including Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and John Updike’s Terrorist, the book expands this particular canon by considering the work of such writers as Jess Walter, William Gibson, Lauren Groff, Ken Kalfus, Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, John le Carré, Laila Halaby, Michael Chabon, and Jarett Kobek. Narrating 9/11 pushes beyond a critical focus on domestic realism, offering chapters that examine speculative and genre fiction, postmodernism, climate change, and the evolving security state, as well as the television series Lost and the film Paradise Now.
Available in September
Women and War in Antiquity
edited by Jacqueline Fabre-Serris and Alison Keith
The martial virtues—courage, loyalty, cunning, and strength—were central to male identity in the ancient world, and antique literature is replete with depictions of men cultivating and exercising these virtues on the battlefield. In Women and War in Antiquity, sixteen scholars reexamine classical sources to uncover the complex but hitherto unexplored relationship between women and war in ancient Greece and Rome. They reveal that women played a much more active role in battle than previously assumed, embodying martial virtues in both real and mythological combat.
“A fascinating, intellectually stimulating, and useful volume, Women and War in Antiquity sheds important new light on a complex issue while offering penetrating interpretations at the intersection of history and literature. This excellent book should interest scholars far beyond those specializing in Greco-Roman culture.”—Kurt Raaflaub, Brown University, coeditor of Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law
Available in November
British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason
What role should reason play in the creation of a free and just society? Can we claim to know anything in a field as complex as politics? And how can the cause of political rationalism be advanced when it is seen as having blood on its hands? These are the questions that occupied a group of British poets, philosophers, and polemicists in the years following the French Revolution. Timothy Michael argues that much literature of the period is a trial, or a critique, of reason in its political capacities and a test of the kinds of knowledge available to it. This book bridges for the first time two traditional pillars of Romantic studies: the period’s politics and its theories of the mind and knowledge. Combining literary and intellectual history, it provides an account of British Romanticism in which high rhetoric, political prose, poetry, and poetics converge in a discourse of enlightenment and emancipation.
“Ambitious, well executed, and timely, this book provides valuable insight into some of the most abiding questions of Romantic studies.”—Charles W. Mahoney, University of Connecticut, editor of A Companion to Romantic Poetry
Available in December
By Hilary S. Jacqmin, JHUP Staff
How did you become a writer? What drew you to poetry specifically? What were your early poems like?
It’s hard to imagine that my early poems weren’t a lot like those of many others. Long on adolescent angst and abstraction. A little lonely and sad with a healthy twist of alienation and a garden variety of anxieties associated with growing up. All those things probably got me into writing in the first place—at sixteen or seventeen. If those first poems I wrote are embarrassing, I can’t very well disown the person who composed them. I mean, I’m still trying to figure that kid out all these years later. As for what drew me to poetry specifically, I’d probably say it was my early belief, as a “sensitive” boy, that poetry (as opposed to prose) was the appropriate venue for my griefs and my grievances and hurt.
When I went through the Writing Seminars it was a one-year program. This was in the late 80s. It all passed by so quickly, to be honest. I couldn’t get past the feeling that everyone I was at Hopkins with (poets and prose writers alike) was smarter and better educated than I was. I still think that’s true. In the end, though, they made me scrutinize who I was and what I wanted to do as a writer and a teacher. It wasn’t that they were back-biting or competitive at all. In fact, quite the opposite. They were generous critics and friends. We took ourselves quite seriously. But we also managed to laugh a lot, too. It was a very happy, if dizzyingly brief, time.
How has your writing changed over the years? And what are you doing differently in The Night Guard at the Wilberforce Hotel? It seems to me, for example, that your lines—while iambic—have gotten shorter and more flexible since your first book of poetry, January Rain, came out.
I suspect that the technical answers to that question—about line length and measure—wouldn’t be that interesting to many people. A lot of it has to do with the way I’ve learned to listen over the years. The big difference or progression, I think, is that the older you get, the more you actually have to write about. At least that’s what I believe. When I was in my twenties, starting out, I had to pretend to know more than I did, that I was wiser than I was, or that I’d experienced more than I had. I suppose if you stay at it long enough, for better or worse, life gives you plenty to work with. Looking at the difference between my three books, I’d say my subjects are more my own. My ideas are more my own, too.
I’m probably drawn to rhyme and meter because the poets I love and study and teach use rhyme and meter in their work—or, at the very least, they explored the possibilities of those elements in their poetry. Even someone like Whitman, right? It also seems to me, because I have a challenged and atrocious memory myself, that rhyme and meter increase the odds (however overwhelming and futile and depressing those odds actually are!) that someone just might remember something I have written. Not that I expect this to happen, mind you, but isn’t that what all writers want or should want? To compose something memorable?
The New Formalist wrangling of the 90s—by which I mean the battle (however academic) fought both for and against New Formalist poetry—has ebbed, but many poets writing now seem perhaps better versed in formal techniques than they were a few decades ago. What do you make of the presence of form in contemporary poetry? Who is currently shaping the field, and to what end?
I studied with and alongside of people who were associated with the New Formalist conversation, but I wasn’t too involved. Or let’s put it this way, the opposing dogmas were pretty uninteresting for me and remain so today. Those debates often turn out to be more about the people arguing than the matter at hand. I think it’s ridiculous that anyone would suggest that rhyme and meter and received formal structures in poetry are something oppressive or obsolete. Similarly, I’m equally ambivalent people clubbing readers over the head with their sonnet sequences and sestinas and villanelles.
I take a lot of pleasure asking students to consider the basic formal (and musical) elements in poetry. Most of the students I’m around get teased out of their complacency by rhyme and meter. It can be fun to watch—when they write a line that really works. It’s important for anyone who wants to be a poet to understand just how difficult it is to write a formal line that sounds like natural speech, or one that sounds like someone thinking beautifully and intelligently out loud about the world. Plenty of people can do a forced march through the form—and I think this was the case with a lot of the New Formalists—but that’s not the same thing as writing a poem necessarily. But then again, neither is talking your way down a page, snapping your sentences off here and there in the name of line breaks, and addressing an unnamed intimate second person who you and—thanks to the obscurity of the poem—only you have feelings about.
I really wouldn’t be able to say who is shaping the field. In part because I think in this age there are many fields or schools or cartels that yell at and over and around one another all in the name of poetry. The only thing that seems to unite poets is when someone criticizes Poetry at large, about how irrelevant it often seems or out-of-touch or impenetrable or self-absorbed or small-minded. When that happens, look out! Everyone becomes indignant. They organize rallies. They write angry letters about whoever said such a thing. They start long-winded threads in the public forums and on Facebook. It’s hard not to be somewhat overwhelmed and discouraged by the bickering. Who learns what from it? I’m never sure.
The poems that appear in The Night Guard are wonderfully image-heavy and meditative. They are engaged with rich detail, light and color, the contrast between society’s rules and nature, nostalgia, householding, food, love, regret, death. Are there any particular themes or subjects that you are interested in writing about at the moment, or any incidents from your life that demand to be written about, but that you feel you haven’t been able to adequately address thus far? And I was hoping as well that you could tell us a bit about your childhood and growing up, as well as your family, which comes into play in poems like “Insomnia at Forty-Six” (“My mother, who was never very young / or happy or at ease”).
I’m working on a nonfiction prose project right now about a childhood friend who committed suicide. Some of the essays I’ve been writing have started cross-pollinating with the poems. In fact, one from The Night Guard at the Wilberforce Hotel, “Someone is Burning Leaves,” percolated out of the prose endeavor. A couple more poems seem to be itching to come out, too. But that’s just a small handful. I have poems in the queue I want to write or think I want to write. But you never know how your childhood or family experiences will sneak up on you when you’re writing a poem.
As for my upbringing, it was fairly unremarkable. I grew up in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. I was the last of five children and, technically, just squeaked in under the wire to be a “Baby Boomer,” in December 1964. My parents were older than the parents of nearly all my peers, and that was always something I was aware of and somewhat self-conscious over. It certainly wasn’t their fault. But that’s where the observation in “Insomnia at Forty-Six” originates. My parents also divorced when I was seven. I seemed to have grown up in the uncomfortable gap between the generation that was born around the Great Depression and fought in WWII, and the generation that was sent off to fight in Vietnam. I’d say those two conflicts are something I still think about today, and how they shaped my perspective. Throw in Watergate, then Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. It was a bit of a rollercoaster looking back on it, though at the time (as a kid) I had no idea what was going on. Zero.
In a way, these poems, even though they speak so much of nostalgia, seem out of time, perhaps because they allow the reader to linger in a concentrated moment. The primary exception to this timelessness would perhaps be “Provinces,” which conjures up a scene straight out of today’s Middle East, most likely Iraq, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, although the poem is never actually placed specifically: “It is a chiseled, godforsaken place. / Unmapped. Ambiguous. Potato-beige . . . / But lately, on the hamlet’s Western edge, / there have been strange movements— / convoys of trucks arriving after dark. The construction of a generator shed. / An ever-slight increase / in local population.” The poem’s introspective attitude is characteristic of your usual voice, and its uncertainty about the possibility of terrorism—and how to thwart it—is moving, as is the way you contrast this scene with the supposed innocence of a typical middle American summer. Why did you take on what some might think of as a politicized subject?
It’s interesting that you would make the observation that “Provinces” has a politicized subject. I’ve always thought I did a fairly decent job keeping it apolitical. In much the same way WWII and Vietnam shaped my psyche growing up, September 11th certainly shaped my perspective as an adult (as it did for many people as well as our government). I have strong opinions about what we did after 9/11, opinions that are clearly political and unapologetically partisan toward the people who led us into Iraq, for instance. The same people who began that destabilization now insist on blaming the current holder of the presidency for not being able to foster order and tranquility and, above all else, fear and respect for the United States. And frankly, it wouldn’t have mattered which party held the Presidency in the aftermath of the Iraq war. The irreversible spiral had begun. You can’t have it both ways—you can’t make the mess then blame others for not being able to make it better. See, now that’s what I would call political.
In “Provinces,” I never intended to blame anyone for the persistent and sometimes exhausting anxiety that came in the wake of 9/11. I certainly don’t hold any one political party responsible for that change in our lives. I guess I always saw the writing of that poem as an exercise in expressing a dark and rather guilty gratitude for the peace we do enjoy here. At least the peace I myself am fortunate to enjoy.
I was hoping that you could speak more about “Four Voices for the Afterlife,” a sort of multi-part eulogy for an anonymous figure (M.M.). Why four parts? And how did you compose this poem?
“Four Voices” is a kind of elegy in-the-round, though the poem is a fiction. I wanted to play with different voices that meditated on a particular common grief—the suicide of a woman named Martha McEnroe. I had a lot of models in my head when I was writing it. William Faulkner and William Blake for starters. But also Emily Dickinson and I would also say Anthony Hecht, too. But you almost always have someone’s voice going off in your brain when you’re writing a poem. I believe that.
How do you think about organizing a collection of poetry? What goes where, and why?
That’s a hard question. Much of it is intuitive. I usually lay all the poems that are going into to the book on a table and start grouping them, putting them next to one another, stacking them, rearranging them, etc. It can be a little unnerving, though, because you start seeing patterns and all your tricks and gimmicks—or things that can start to bother you as your own personal tricks and gimmicks—neatly lined up in front of you. At a certain point, you just have to give it up to the higher powers and hope that no one sees the faults you recognize in your own work. I suppose it’s a lot like looking at your reflection. I’m reminded of the line from Auden’s poem about The Tempest, “The Sea and the Mirror”: “All we are not stares back at what we are.”
I was hoping that you could tell me a bit about your writing and revision process. What do you do when a poem is giving you trouble?
I usually write quite slowly and revise as I go along. I get a few lines down then give myself permission to proceed. I don’t write whole drafts and go back and re-write. And when a poem gives you trouble, you learn that there are plenty of others that are waiting for your attention. It took a long time for me to figure that out, but now I’m relatively quick to let a poem sit in a quiet space on its own until I come back to it. Makes for much healthier and happier relationships with the work, I find. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated because I do. I’m just less obsessive than I used to be about insisting a poem into the world.
Which poets are you reading now? Whose work is inspiring yours?
I’m mostly reading nonfiction. I just finished a biography on Norman Rockwell and am starting one about Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m teaching a craft seminar at the University of Oregon next year on Shakespeare, whom I never tire of reading. So I’ll be going back to those plays over the summer, which I’m looking forward to. As far as poetry goes, I find myself often returning to three poets in particular—Richard Wilbur, Elizabeth Bishop, and Philip Larkin. They’re the ones who always seem to be hanging around in my brain most of the time. They make good company.
And finally, you’ve spent a long time as a teacher at several very distinguished universities. What advice would you give to young poets?
I am so unbelievable lucky to have the job I do. I taught prep school for eight years before I was fortunate enough to get a visiting position at the college level. There was a lot of uncertainty along the way, and there were times when it looked like I would have to give up teaching altogether because the market was so brutal. It’s still brutal, and I worry for all of the fine writers who are also excellent and deeply committed teachers who will be driven out of the field because there are infinitely more candidates than there are jobs. I don’t think setting your sites on teaching at the university level is a viable career plan, that’s for sure. I know that’s not advice, exactly. (Again, I feel unbelievably lucky to be where I am in this age.) If I have any advice at all, it’s to pay attention to the work—your own work—rather than all the noise and chest-thumping and quasi-author photos your friends and contemporaries and even nemeses are posting on social media. I think about the things I scold myself over on a daily basis—not that anyone should use me as a model—and much of it just has to do with getting to the quiet place for clean, uninterrupted blocks of time, where there aren’t any bright colors on a screen blinking at me or ringtones or text-tones jarring me out of my thoughts. Where there are a couple poems and notebooks on a desk or in a stack near that desk. Or where, next to a comfortable reading chair, there are a couple of books. Someplace where people aren’t yelling at each other on the TV about a presidential race that’s a year and a half away, either. I guess I’m saying this more to myself than offering advice.
This First Hot Saturday in May
by Daniel Anderson
The plump, governing bees
discover our tomato blooms,
our squash and watermelon blooms.
They tickle, kiss, and plumb
the open, velvet flower heads
of iris and hibiscus blooms.
They levitate and drift
among the purple hanging clouds
of blossoming wisteria.
This first hot Saturday of May,
the doused and dripping garden smells of green.
The catbird and electric finch,
the feisty jay and oriole
nip thistle, millet, milo seed, and corn
from feeders I have filled.
The world has come alive
with energy and appetite
and all the grand astonishments of sex.
It used to be the only thing
I ever thought about.
Cleavage. Athletic legs.
Tan lines, tight jeans, and lacy bras.
Now it’s the nest egg and the ass at work,
a water heater that’s about to blow,
election politics, and how
it feels the globe is going all to hell.
This would have seemed miraculous if not
entirely impossible to me
a quarter century ago.
What do the young expect?
I guarantee it isn’t this:
a mortgage and a morning picking weeds,
the pleasurable shade
and savory tobacco scent of mulch.
Our fig tree and our lemon tree
survived an April frost.
Now they relax in clear, gold light,
and this, I confess, this brings me joy,
but more than joy it brings
a thankfulness that I’m no longer young,
uncertain, and obsessed.
Besides, it isn’t youth I want.
Who needs the grudges and the big ideas?
The idiot decisions and the hurt?
It isn’t youth I want,
only the high, luxuriating sense,
beneath these excellent and clean
procrastinations of the sun,
that certain days—this one—
may never end.
Daniel Anderson teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Oregon and is a winner of the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of January Rain, Drunk in Sunlight, and The Night Guard at the Wilberforce Hotel and the editor of The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov.
In honor of Arbor Day, we share two poems from Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry, edited by Karen L. Kilcup and Angela Sorby.
PLANT A TREE
by Lucy Larcom
He who plants a tree,
Plants a hope.
Rootlets up through fibers blindly grope;
Leaves unfold into horizons free.
So man’s life must climb
From the clods of time
Unto heavens sublime.
Canst thou prophesy, thou little tree,
What the glory of thy boughs shall be?
He who plants a tree,—
Plants a joy;
Plants a comfort that will never cloy;
Every day a fresh reality,
Beautiful and strong,
To whose shelter throng
Creatures blithe with song.
If thou couldst but know, thou happy tree,
Of the bliss that shall inhabit thee!
He who plants a tree,—
He plants peace.
Under its green curtains jargons cease.
Leaf and zephyr murmur soothingly;
Shadows soft with sleep
Down tired eyelids creep,
Balm of slumber deep.
Never hast thou dreamed, thou blessèd tree,
Of the benediction thou shalt be.
He who plants a tree,—
He plants youth;
Vigor won for centuries in sooth;
Life of time, that hints eternity!
Boughs their strength uprear;
New shoots, every year
On old growths appear,
Thou shalt teach the ages, sturdy tree,
Youth of soul is immortality.
He who plants a tree,—
He plants love;
Tents of coolness spreading out above
Wayfarers, he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow, are best;
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! Life does the rest!
Heaven and earth help him who plants
And his work its own reward shall be.
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
As a quiet little seedling
Lay within its darksome bed,
To itself it fell a-talking,
And this is what it said:
“I am not so very robust,
But I’ll do the best I can;”
And the seedling from that moment
Its work of life began.
So it pushed a little leaflet
Up into the light of day,
To examine the surroundings
And show the rest the way.
The leaflet liked the prospect,
So it called its brother, Stem;
Then two other leaflets heard it,
And quickly followed them.
To be sure, the haste and hurry
Made the seedling sweat and pant;
But almost before it knew it
It found itself a plant.
The sunshine poured upon it,
And the clouds they gave a shower;
And the little plant kept growing
Till it found itself a flower.
Little folks, be like the seedling,
Always do the best you can;
Every child must share life’s labor
Just as well as every man.
And the sun and showers will help you
Through the lonesome, struggling
Till you raise to light and beauty
Virtue’s fair, unfading flowers
Karen L. Kilcup is a professor of American literature at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her books include Teaching Nineteenth-Century American Poetry and Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781–1924. Angela Sorby is an associate professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Her books include Schoolroom Poets: Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865–1917, and three poetry collections, most recently The Sleeve Waves.