Contemporary American poetry

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Contemporary American Poetry
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Robert Pinsky's Jersey Rain (FSG, 2000) paces between the complexities of opera and the intimacy of a string quartet. It is this range that places the Pulitzer Prize winner among our greatest living poets and translators. The Favorite Poem Project, launched when he served as US Poet Laureate, continues to bring poetry to the foreground of our culture.

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Robert Pinsky: Jersey Rain

pinsky poem, martínez animation

[For a printable version of this poem, please click here.]


Kathleen Wakefield's Notations on the Visible World (Anhinga Press, 2000) was selected by Judith Kitchen for the 1999 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. It is a solid and elegant debut.

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Kathleen Wakefield: Notations on the Visible World

  Reconsidering the Rift

I am thinking about error and beauty
and how it all began, the exactitude of spotted lungwort
and the meticulous divisions of the painted fern;

I am thinking about antimony and grace
and what constitutes an act of God, how the eagle's
7,000 feathers weigh a mere pound and a half in the human hand;

I am telling our son which is the meat-eater,
which is the plant-eater, not how all things devour one another
in the end, necessitating the red worm and dung beetle,

as I study his picture of the red-tailed hawk,
wings striped and speckled with green, gold, and blue bursting
into one crimson flame, its head thoughtfully turned

as if considering the spectacular descent.
I am thinking about the richness of our hurt as the veery in the pine
repeats a sweet descending sigh in the face of evening;

I watch the two-faced leaves of the linden and sassafras
go dark to light, dark to light, weighing
the possibility of transubstantiation, how one thing could be another...

He is telling me it is the hawk who is beautiful, and I see how it is,
how not to worry, the small footed creature at the bottom of the page
always slips away because it is too fast,

grace in the mouth of a child like the lamb wrapped
in the python's absent arms he is sure will rise up to walk again.
I am thinking about error and beauty and how it all began.

                                                            ©2000 Kathleen Wakefield


Peter Meinke's Zinc Fingers (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000) is collage of philosophy, love, nostalgia and optimism; it reminds us that one need not be a child to discover and to be in awe of the world.

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Peter Meinke: Zinc Fingers

  A Meditation on You and Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein never met you face to face
but fancied someone like you when he said
The world is everything that is the case

a maxim hard to fathom Nevertheless
its rhythms tug like Ariadne's thread:
the world is everything that is the case

the world's everything that is the case
(you for example asleep upon my bed)
Though Wittgenstein never met you face to face

he guessed logic lies in poetry's embrace
and in the same dark labyrinth has fed
the world being everything that is the case:

for love or a dream of love curls at its base
and if you miss it your heart's bled and dead
I wish he could have met you face to face

An ounce of loneliness outweighs a pound of lace:
what strange equations winding through my head!
Poor Wittgenstein never met you face to face
The world is only everything: that's the case

                                                            ©2000 Peter Meinke


Ana Menéndez is the author of In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd (Grove/Atlantic, 2001), a New York Times Notable Book selection, and Loving Che (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003), which Carlyn Kolker praised in the Washington Times as "a rich, unpretentious book, with a series of lessons . . . on the power . . . of memory . . ." By far one of the most daring voices of her generation, Menéndez keeps her poems buried in the yard, but one will surface now and again like a beautiful wild plant.

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Ana Menéndez: Loving Che

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Ana Menéndez: In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd


You do not live on a floating island.
There are no pelican men.
You own an old white Chevy,
Your boat does not have wings.
You don't even have a boat.
Horses, you know,
do not fly.
Your cat eats
from a can you bought on sale at Lucky's.
And the name causes you pain
because you are not
are not
are not
You will die
with things left to do.
Before you drink rain.
Before you eat roses for breakfast.
Before you fly to the moon.
You will die
before you send the thank you notes,
before you call your friend.
You will die before you grow your hair long.
And your fingernails will never be

                                                            ©2001 Ana Menéndez


Spencer Short "lifts his reader far above the dreary fields of subject matter," wrote U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins when he selected Short's debut collection, Tremolo (HarperCollins / Perennial, 2001), for the National Poetry Series.

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Spencer Short: Tremolo

  Divine Hammer

The afterimage which is the image of God.
Or the stormfront the river follows like a fuse
so that any moment now we're expecting

its fallout to rearrange our landscape like a new metaphysics,
dampness, fungal acridity, the difference between
Plato's bed & the Ideal

is that Plato had to make his in the morning:
shiny shiny life we call shelf life writes D
& I think he means this one,

the cicadas keying up in their atonal pitch,
the trees murmuring something about the dew point,
something about ground zero,

the cicadas rending like a machine,
yes, but like a machine bent on its own destruction,
even my heart a machine bent on its own destruction,

(who doesn't love the sky torn open like a letter?)
who doesn't love the way we're driven
to bliss as if across a bridge

at dusk, gulls colliding like atoms
& separating in the orange strata over the light
& broken glass we call "the inlet,"

the light & broken glass we call
"the teleological truth," who doesn't love the way
our bodies collide & separate,

separate & collide, which is
a play called Eros in which I'm an understudy,
the way X & I collided promising

always, always to separate,
the way we're driven to the impossible as if

to destruction, as if to distraction.

                                                            ©2001 Spencer Short


Mary Elizabeth Pérez was featured in American Poet, the journal of The Academy of American Poets. "I wander into syntax," she says of her unpredictable work. "Strictly Deliberate" originally appeared in Seneca Review.   Strictly Deliberate

It shows me drenched.
A handful of crippled orchid-green
limps into a difficult double-bloom.

The language sweats.
It grips a deficient arm of basket
in out-of-control-cultured

oratory. (True stories vary.)
Maybe there’s a waiting time for certain
amenities like food and water?

Branched petals are floating
terrified of each other’s presence or aim

of rough-winged tongue,
curious and discrete at best;

the narrowness of a nametag, humid
self-stick, lands in the soil.

Yet half-stapled till the last,
you cannot say crippled.

One can say Orchid all one wants.

                                                            ©2000 Mary Elizabeth Pérez


Silvia Curbelo knows the subtleties of loss as intimately as a great painter knows the shades of a particular color. W.S. Merwin called  the poetry in The Secret History of Water (Anhinga Press, 1997) "accomplished, daring, full of energy and intelligence."

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Silvia Curbelo: The Secret History of Water

The Secret History of Water

The body is a stone house     the body
pins you to the ground
crowded with loss     empty
with longing     the weight
of the world falling through it
the way a body falls
fast asleep then suddenly awake     deliberate
in the way it sees you
The body anchored in sleep     suddenly
lifted     suddenly unfurled
a crawlspace for wind     for rain
falling on a simple
city street      the clean map
of your childhood with its hundred
roads back to the leaky house      the room
where you first opened
your eyes saying     This is the place
You are the one
     until I felt
my hands wash over you      and the glass
of my desire break and spill     water
we could sink through

                                                            ©1997 Silvia Curbelo


Stan Sanvel Rubin, writes Marvin Bell, "lifts the tangible into the realm of  the lyrical imagination without losing it" His most recent poetry collection is Five Colors (Custom Words, 2004). He is founding director of the Rainier Writng Workshop low-residency MFA program at PLU in Tacoma, WA.

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Stan Sanvel Rubin: Five Colors

The Leap

The void is just under our bodies,
just under the net.

                           —Charles Wright

A man leaps from a burning building.
His arms spread in the biting air.
His fingers reach
for the invisible which will not hold him
and, as he fall, he imagines
he sees himself standing on the ground, waiting.

A man leaps from a burning building.
His arms spread like wings
and he finds this resemblance funny,
a cliché brought to life in order, once more,
to display his inadequacies. As he falls,
he composes a list of the clichés that are now his life.

A man leaps from a burning building.
I have done this too often, he thinks,
surrendering himself to what
he knows isn't there, the mountain
of silence that, just for an instant, sustains you.
And, for that instant, he is sustained.

                                                            © 2002 Stan Sanvel Rubin