Three Yaddo Poets Nurture a Lineage of Grace

May 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.

Dorianne Laux Photo: John Campbell

“Ray at 14” by Dorianne Laux

Poem copyright ©2000 by Dorianne Laux, “Ray at 14,” (Smoke, BOA Editions, 2000. Poem reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

Laux’s speaker is struck by a boy’s “strong face,” a portal she recognizes to her late brother, “who jumped with me from the roof / of the playhouse, my hand in his hand.” These blessings of protection, communion, and joy are woven into a lineage that tragedy cannot tarnish. “I thought he was gone forever,” Laux writes. Our heroes, porous to the melody of an earlier music, received these gifts as we have before passing them on. We too can sustain this legacy: “But Ray runs into the kitchen . . . He says, Feel my muscle, and I do.” — SS

Denise Levertov Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

“The Broken Sandal” by Denise Levertov

“The Broken Sandal” by Denise Levertov, from Poems 1968-1972, copyright © 1970 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Levertov illustrates the slick and steep hill down which the quotidian slips suddenly into catastrophe, as the tangible detail of a broken sandal collapses into its imagined consequences. “The sharp stones, the dirt. I would / hobble,” she laments, “And — / Where was I going?” Yet pain focuses the mind, shaking it loose from ingrained persistence into more valuable questions. To travel in the direction of one’s salvation, one must first stop to identify one’s point of departure. “Where am I standing, if I’m / to stand still now?” — SS

Galway Kinnell Photo: Bobbie Bristol

“The Gray Heron” by Galway Kinnell

From Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. Copyright © 2017 The Literary Estate of Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Should we, as Kinnell’s speaker does, pursue the majesty we favor, and find ourselves instead face to face with “a three-foot-long lizard / in ill-fitting skin,” our unmet expectations may make available a separate grace. No matter the glimpse of glory we swear by, finding its kingdom and our ensuing crown is a lost cause. The unexpected lizard, both alien and prehistoric, bequeaths a magnificent, nimble grace when challenged, “watching me / to see if I would go / or change into something else.” — SS