Came across this week’s poem reading through James Longenbach’s solid book, The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf Press). Longenbach does a great read of the poem, noting how the poem is grounded in straightforward syntax in the first line, and returns to this foundation in the poem’s last lines. In between, the poem plays out the ramble and run of memory.
When I read the poem the first time, it was cut and interspersed throughout Longenbach’s prose. Yet, when I read the final lines, I was blown away by them as if I had read it straight through. While Longenbach’s insights added to the piece, of course, it was the power of Glück’s lyricism – it’s ability to remain charged even through essayic insight – that ultimately had me catching my breath.
The last two lines of the poem stopped me with their clarity. What’s said there is said as clearly as the first line of the poem; the clarity here, however, rings out in such a way that I was compelled to read and reread the poem a few times. Like flipping a coin and watching the light change, then go back inside the coin when it falls flat, this poem delivers its lyric insight in an urgent way.
Nostos – Louise Glück
There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
off crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
from Meadowlands (HarperCollins)