friday roundup: hidebound opinions, ‘those beautiful names of horses,’ & ‘the ax that breaks this lock’

Perhaps the only remotely good thing about a poet dying is that we are sent sharply back to her words. And isn’t it true that the words of poets become more weighty after their deaths, because we know there will be no more from them? At any rate, I have gone back sharply and here is what I’ve found:


hidebound adj. constrained by tradition or convention; narrow-minded

At poetry group last weekend, the person in charge of the craft talk led us in a discussion of the work of C. D. Wright—who is perhaps the least constrained by tradition or convention, the least narrow-minded poet of recent memory, but who gathered her poetics in an essay called “69 Hidebound Opinions, Propositions, and Several Asides from a Manila Folder Concerning the Stuff of Poetry.”

I’ve been living with the essay this week. All of her little quotes and quips about poetry I’ve gathered over the years in my notebook of quotes are there, along with so much more. Here are a couple of my favorite bits:

“It is poetry that remarks on the barely perceptible disappearances from our world such as that of the sleeping porch or the root cellar.”


“It is the quality of omission or suppression I believe which determines the quality and degree of a reader’s participating in the telling—what is latent in the work that the reader alone can render active and integral to it.”


(and this one is my favorite:)

“This is the poet’s choice: to attend to a presence no one else is aware of, to spend the better part of a lifetime preparing for an arrival that could not occur but for her attention, that would not in fact otherwise make its blaze on this world.”

You can read the whole essay here.

those beautiful names of horses  Now for another dead poet: Larry Levis. I think of him as the Poet Laureate of Oblivion, his poems ache so with love and loss and the fleetingness of, well, everything. I’ve been reading his work these last two weeks, traversing his long, wandering lines & coming face to face with his ampersands. I’ve been thinking about his ampersands and what they achieve—what does the ampersand do that the word ‘and’ cannot do? Where, how, and why does Levis use them?

Well, someone else has been thinking about Levis’ ampersands, too, and far more cogently and poetically than I have. Yesterday, I read Mairead Small Staid‘s essay “The 27th Letter,” and I fell in love.

The essay looks at the ampersand—its history, what it can do that the word “and” can’t, etc.—and its function in Levis’ work: “Both ways is the only way it is.” Beyond that, the essay is beautiful and poetic and carries its own ideas about why we read and write poetry. Here’s a teaser:

“To list what you love, many-chambered as the heart; to couple one part to the next to the next, forced to give nothing up; to carry what you love, to wear it on your chest, to possess it as fully as you can—this is one reason, at least, to write poetry or to read it, those beautiful names of horses grazing on the tongue.”

You can read the whole essay here. And huge thanks to Sandy Longhorn who linked to the essay on Facebook, which is how I found my way to it.

“the ax that breaks this lock”  About two seconds after I posted the last roundup, I heard the news that the poet Francisco X. Alarcón had died.

Dear Universe, enough with all the poets and artists dying already.

Here is a beautiful love poem he wrote to round out the roundup this week:


by Francisco X. Alarcón, translated by the poet


there has never been sunlight for this love,
like a crazed flower it buds in the dark,
is at once a crown of thorns and
a spring garland around the temples

a fire, a wound, the bitterest of fruit,
but a breeze as well, a source of water,
your breath—a bite to the soul,
your chest—a tree trunk in the current

make me walk on the turbid waters,
be the ax that breaks this lock,
the dew that weeps from trees

if I become mute kissing your thighs,
it’s that my heart eagerly
searches your flesh for a new dawn


Happy weekend and thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “friday roundup: hidebound opinions, ‘those beautiful names of horses,’ & ‘the ax that breaks this lock’

  1. You’re welcome and thanks right back as I hadn’t read the C.D. Wright essay before seeing it here. I love the poetry world!

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