In light of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend—and what is probably always seething beneath the life of the United States—here are a few lines from my Civil War poem, To the House of the Sun. After speaking with a few captured Confederate soldiers in Washington DC, one character has these handful of questions to ask. (While…
While I’d like to say that after Four Quartets, I don’t know of another long poem from the last century that’s meant as much to me as Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for his mother, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956. But it’s so powerful that even describing it as a poem seems silly: it really doesn’t matter what you call it, as it easily inhabits its own genre. Just as Joyce’s Ulysses has prompted so many forgettable experimental children, when in reality it was a one-off that only a single genius could have attempted, Kaddish eclipses all the bad confessional poems we are heir to, including much of Ginsberg’s other work, down to our own glut of verses that will never reach beyond our blogs. Nowhere else does Ginsberg’s infusion of autobiography, explicit sexuality, or personal or familial admissions of such intimacy or shame work as well as they…
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What to make of any of these voices? This week’s posts—the words not of those protesting the bomb after, but of those who made and decided to use it—are the sum of something I have wanted to put together, quite literally, for years, and talking with my wife about each of them has convinced me…
Finally, voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When The New Yorker dedicated its entire August 31, 1946 issue to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the editors wrote that they did so “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to…
Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project had families in Europe, or were refugees from Europe themselves, and so the atomic bomb they were helping to make had an obvious adversary in mind. When Germany surrendered, however, many felt much less animus against Japan, and in part this conflict is narrated in…
Impossible decisions remain impossible, even after they’ve been made. Following on yesterday’s post, here are the voices of those scientists and politicians who admitted the horror of the atomic bomb, but saw its creation and deployment as unavoidable; who felt caught up and even powerless in the equally inevitable march of scientific discovery; those who…
With the anniversary of the Trinity Test just passed, and the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming up, I realize the atomic bomb has been following me for years. The first book of poetry I ever owned was the anthology Atomic Ghosts, which featured dozens of poets responding to the nuclear age; and after I first…
A sequence of new bog body poems, up at Underfoot. I welcome any thoughts & comments.
Their stomachs a bestiary only of grain
during a time of feasting and boasting and meat,
bellies a mush with the barely digested
gruel of barley and rye and buttercup,
goosefoot and hawksbeard, linseed and clover
and knotweed, with spelt and yarrow all a last
gnarl or bit of weight above the waist,
a feeling of fullness near midwinter,
a last meal before being dragged away.
HARALDSKAER WOMAN (DENMARK, 450 BC)
My bones lasted down there, as did my skin
and my insides—but so did the stakes
that were hammered down to hold me in,
so did the weight of more branches belted
across my chest, and the same for a pile
of pointless clothes, since I was thrown in naked.
My hands were clean too, but my body pristine
and even plump from a healthy fifty years.
They didn’t dare to cut my hair
and I was…
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Most interesting stuff found in July: On Thomas Hardy’s as a London as much as a country writer More on Thomas Hardy How to Raise a Reader Daniel Paul Marshall does the Grenfell Towers, Wallace Stevens, and more photography from South Korea Radiohead’s OK Computer turns 20 Once again, modern culture said to be horrid…