To celebrate National Poetry Month, I called in to Boston Public Radio to read some of my favorite works in the genre of “Ars Poetica.”
I explained these works as being “about the art of poetry in some way, shape or form.”
You can follow along with the selected poems here:
Burning in the Rain
Someday compassion would demand
I set myself free of my desire to recreate
my father, indulge in my mother’s losses,
strangle lovers with words, forcing them
to confess for me and take the blame.
Today was that day: I tossed them, sheet
by sheet on the patio and gathered them
into a pyre. I wanted to let them go
in a blaze, tiny white dwarfs imploding
beside the azaleas and ficus bushes,
let them crackle, burst like winged seeds,
let them smolder into gossamer embers —
a thousand gray butterflies in the wind.
Today was that day, but it rained, kept
raining. Instead of fire, water — drops
knocking on doors, wetting windows
into mirrors reflecting me in the oaks.
The garden walls and stones swelling
into ghostlier shades of themselves,
the wind chimes giggling in the storm,
a coffee cup left overflowing with rain.
Instead of burning, my pages turned
into water lilies floating over puddles,
then tiny white cliffs as the sun set,
finally drying all night under the moon
into papier-mâché souvenirs. Today
the rain would not let their lives burn.
How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?
Naomi Shihab Nye
When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.
It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.
Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.
Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.
When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.
I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well
leave it that way.
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Teaching the Ape to Write Poems
James Tate – 1943-2015
They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
“You look like a god sitting there.
Why don’t you try writing something?”
This episode of the Village Voice first aired on Boston Public Radio on April 13, 2020.