Three Yaddo Poets Bend but do not Bow

April 9, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Tomaž Šalamun Photo: Blue Flower Arts

“’Historical brutality’” by Tomaž Šalamun

Source: Poetry (May 2015)

Louise Gluck writes, “At the end of my suffering / there was a door.” Beyond the door are the poems of Tomaž Šalamun, thumbing their noses at wretchedness and pain. There is no sugared coating here; brutality carries with it “a black scepter, silk / wings.” Yet, Šalamun’s speaker defies the sovereignty of hardship and commands it teasingly, deeming brutality no more than a common troublemaker: “Enchant me then, rabble.” Should we be consumed even momentarily, he tells us, may it be on our terms. May we empower ourselves, at least, to taunt history when it steps out of line. — SS

Mary Ruefle Photo: Hannah Ensor

“I Cannot Be Quiet an Hour” by Mary Ruefle

Copyright © 2018 by Mary Ruefle. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

As the ordinary leans and staggers into the absurd, one’s mind attempts to merge the two. Ruefle charts the variety of forms this attempt takes, her speaker confiding “I begin / to talk to violets. / Tears fall into my soup / and I drink them.” Isolation gathers momentum like dust. Any distinction between projecting humanity onto one’s surroundings, and projecting human pettiness onto them, recedes and grows vague. Mercy means turning the mind from the self to others whose absurdity finds communion with one’s own. Though one may feel alone, the “clock-repairers” attending to their benevolent, unrelenting business next door are “sleeping peacefully at night.” What is broken will be fixed. — SS

Stephen Dunn Photo: Matt Valentine

“The Revolt of the Turtles” by Stephen Dunn

Source: Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools, Hosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003

In Dunn’s telling, the meek inherit the earth but do not stop there. Having restored their collective dignity after enduring “various cruelties / such as turning turtles over on their backs,” our heroes dream of detaching power from punishment, redefining strength as a gentleness that breaks open all the world’s narrow corridors. Dunn’s turtles survive “People Who Among / Other Atrocities Want to Turn You into Soup,” and wish only to extinguish all cruelties. Suffering is not final. “Only fairness, only decency” lasts forever. — SS