Elizabeth Bishop said she didn’t have a clue how her poems got written. It’s tempting to disbelieve her disarming Yankee understatement. How could she not know how “The Moose” got written? Bishop said poems were a lot of hard work and then suddenly there they were. She said to Richard Wilbur she was lucky if she wrote one poem a year. I relate to Bishop. Her comments comfort me and seem appropriate to reference here as I write about the two poems Adroit has kindly published.
These two poems are from Acts—Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish the book in 2024. Or 2023 if I can get my act together. The book seeks a new sound, different from The Clerk’s Tale, different from The Road to Emmaus. The Clerk’s Tale was compact, hermetically wound and bound from the isolation of fifteen years of thought. The Road to Emmaus pushed the lyric until it snapped, evolved as I moved from sales clerk to priest, as I went from unknown to known, a sound of a pilgrimage of another order that took another decade. Acts benefits from both efforts. Acts benefits from the poet’s memoir I published. Acts benefits from living abroad ten years and becoming bilingual. Acts is a new canvas: there’s more chiaroscuro. Lyric and love drive Acts. There’s sometimes no punctuation. There’s speed and fiat. Acts sounds like “ax.” The poems axes. The poems acts.
“Taize” came to me after I went to Taize. Lines come to me when I travel. I lived in Madrid then. Like in the poem, I went off with a friend, named Sam, who asked me to be the godfather to his young boy. We prayed with the monks. The poem closes with “whatever / the question the answer is love.” The theme of this book: love. The poem has been written over six or seven years.
“Old Lyme Rhyme” is ten years in coming and about Old Lyme and my parents. I wanted to praise Connecticut, this state I keep coming in and out of my whole life. I was born there, went to college there, and have fled the place too many times to count. The poem is about my parents’ long marriage. I’ve witnessed their romance more than I’ve experienced romance myself. This long rare union! Struggles. Trust. Faithfulness. Now their infirmity. The scene hurts me. The scene defines me.