Three Yaddo Poets Find Faith in Stillness

March 28, 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.

Jenny Xie Photo: Ben Rosser Photography

“To Be a Good Buddhist Is Ensnarement” by Jenny Xie

Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

When doing what is right means not doing what is wrong, we are stuck by inaction like butterflies pinned under glass. When life feels like the absence of life, restlessness pours over us, disbelieving that to be good is to be passive. Xie teaches that to sustain stillness when there is no identifiable “right” act or word is to persevere under an appetite that cannot be fed. To find food we hadn’t tasted and be nourished differently. To be newly good. — SS

Nick Flynn Photo: Geordie Wood

“forgetting something” by Nick Flynn

Copyright © 2011 by Nick Flynn. Reprinted from The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands with the permission of Graywolf Press.

Intimate bewilderment, and tender fear. Isolated communion, and knowledgeable questions. Flynn’s speaker is declarative within syntactic delirium, like a person putting one foot in front of the other as the sidewalk melts. Nothing is known in the poem but an immense devastation and the hope necessary to withstand it. Not even the other is known. but the future is real. If we cannot carry there all that shines, all that we know, we can carry our knowledge of the shine itself, and the faith that what we have will catch that light. — SS

Patricia Smith Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

“VOODOO V: ENEMY BE GONE” by Patricia Smith

Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Smith. From Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

There is grace in lending humanity even to an unfeeling enemy, in order to understand our own suffering more clearly. Smith’s collection “Blood Dazzler” harkens back to Hurricane Katrina, the effects of which New Orleans has not yet fully escaped. We look after a storm for what has been taken and what has been left, as though looking directly into the sun. We lend the storm our own emotional landscape, our own human fallibility, because we know that to be generous with our tormenter is to escape some part of its torment, and to return to ourselves that very kindness in our grief. — SS