What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.
In Delineated: Prose Writers on Poetry, we invite prominent writers of fiction and non-fiction to reflect on the poetry that inspires them. Our featured writers describe how poetry illuminates their creative lives, whether as inspiration, a daily practice, or a thread of hope through difficult times.
I remember encountering those words as an eighteen or nineteen year old undergraduate. I thought I was well read in black poets of the past, but here was an older poet who was completely new to me, writing in a style that by itself conveyed dignity and poise. There was a formality there that I usually didn't go for, but here it greatly moved me.
The bus ride in the poem seems timeless in the way of an allegory or a parable, partly because travel is a metaphor we all recognize but also because the poem uses a perspective that is intermittently omniscient. The long opening sentence describes the bus from the outside as it travels toward the setting sun with its "windshield flashing pink"—not as the passengers inside, or the lone traveler waiting some miles away, could have seen it.
The premise of “When You Go Away,” is familiar: when the lover is separated from the beloved, the order of the world changes. Given the limits of this conventional subject, how did Merwin make a thing both faithful to its convention and new? I found an answer to my question in the complexity of the poem’s final lines: “my words are the garment of what I shall never be / Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy.”
Maybe what we mistake for portents are only hauntings. We are forever caught in the lyric spirals of Horace, the worst seasons return again and again in new guise, Death, pale and impartial, ever at the door. So we cling to the simplest dreams: a drink of wine, a pretty youth, a line of poetry.
"Carrion Comfort" is music; it is magic; it is my old companion during the long dark nights I lie sleepless and wracked with hopelessness, clinging to the poem as evidence that another soul has met the struggle and come out of it burning, come carrying a beauty so dazzling it is hard to look at directly;
March 15, 2021
Delineated: Prose Writers on Poetry
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