On a shelf at about eye level to my desk I have a paperback of Michael Schmidt’s
Lives of the Poets (Phoenix, 1998) a one-volume history of poetry in English.
Over the course of a thousand plus pages, the reader travels from Piers Plowman to post-modernists via the work of over 250 poets. Showing how politics, history and accidents combine to create the poetic imagination over the centuries, this book is an incredible achievement. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read through it chronologically, but I do return from time to time to browse and learn. If you don’t know this book I can recommend it, and am particularly impressed by its lack of jargon and clearly expressed, if sometimes contentious opinions.
This evening the spine caught my eye and I found myself writing out the draft below. I’ve cut it down from about fifty lines. I like it alright now, but may not tomorrow.
Lives of the Poets
Who fondles bones,
who sees the ripple before he throws the stone,
who laid petals on your eyelids while you slept,
who steps unharmed from the avalanches fist,
who is trapped in the amber of a paperweight life,
who dived to find Excalibur but rescued a child,
who writes with blood in the dust of a cell,
who muffles the drum, amplifies the heart,
who draws out the thorn and holds it to the light,
who glimpsed a deer, hunted in the mist,
who listens for the signal of an intermittent god,
who translates the pulse, makes music of words,
who is a butterfly resting on a wheel,
who levels their eyes at kings and queens,
who invites the firing squad and lines up his dreams.