Review of Firsts: 100 Years of Yale Younger Poets

Firsts is a curiously democratic gathering of poems by poets who have won the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The title could stand for the first time these poets were brought into prominence by winning a prize, or that they rank first in the company of poets. Each poet gets three poems, much like the guidelines of a proper contest. At first, the anthology seems to be about the judges. Indeed, the editor has written an introduction that is mostly about the judges of the prize, and if you turn to the end, you will find a list of judges, listed by year, followed by a list of the winning poets. Turning to the poems, you might be mildly irritated that each poet is presented to the reader with a mini cv, stating place of birth, books, and prizes, as well as occupation. Could there be a stuffier volume of poems? What was Carl Phillips thinking, augmenting tweediness with tweed, the fustiness of academia?  
Obviously, Phillips knew what he was doing.

A call from the Earth who calls when we cannot or will not hear

Indira Ganesan, droplets, June 2019

Two things happened this last week that moved me considerably, the week that is that is not defined by Julian.  First, Toni Morrison passed, transitioned as Nikki Giovanni said in an interview with the BBC, and our hearts, those of us who not only adored her work, but looked to her for guidance, spilled open.  She transitioned, said Nikki Giovanni, and she is still with us.  Toni Morrison not only gave us story after story which blossomed into poetry but clearly, strongly, spoke out against, because she recognized it for what it was, and how persuasive it is, the horror of white supremacy.  

And Jorie Graham came to speak at the local arts center in Provincetown.  She spoke and read, and made the world stand still for an instant as we listened to poetry.  Like Toni Morrison, Jorie Graham looks at life in its face, and does not turn away.  She does not serve it to us neat on a plate with a platitude about how things will get better.  Her poems, incantations of sense and sensibility, are like clear drops of water steadily dripping onto a plate that we did not know needed to be filled.

Poetry moves us, and it moves us best when we forget about ourselves, and pay attention to something much bigger. I have not learned this completely, but remember, when I read, and when I write in moments of stillness, broken by a horse’s neigh, the passing truck, the invisible breath of my cat asleep on the desk.  Something tumbles down now, the cat shifts and sighs, and the horse cries again.  

April’s Ocean, April’s Poem

April can never make up its mind.  

Backed by the uncertainty of weather, I think of options, what elses, the looming future.  When can I plant outside?  Where will I be next year?  I comb job listings, fully aware the years of applying for a full-time steady-income job are beyond me.  I’m decades beyond thirty.  I have a full-time job. My full-time job is supplemented by part-time teaching to add structure to my days. My full-time job is making coffee for myself, and catching ideas from the air.  My full-time job is wandering around my apartment, gazing out the windows, moving a chair there, moving a comma here.  

Indira Ganesan, April Sea (closeup), 2016

Indira Ganesan, April Sea (closeup), 2016


I chanced on a blog site devoted to the sea called The Scuttlefish because I was looking for a poem by Neruda where he chants, the sea! the sea!  I found this poem instead. 

It is Born

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back.
its rays all silvered,
and time and time again, the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning.

On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea, Pablo Neruda, trans by Alastair Reid


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