What I’m Reading

There are a number of books I’m currently reading, by which I mean they are on the silver radiator next to my bed:

  • Sophie Blackall’s Missed Connections: Love Lost and Found (Workman, 2011)
  • Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter’s Of Lamb (McSweeney’s , 2011)
  • Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House, 2011)
  • Anna Moschovakis’s You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake (Coffee House, 2011)
  • Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations, translated by John Ashbery (Norton, 2011)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s Baudelaire (New Directions, 1967)
  • Michael Schmidt’s The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets (Knopf, 2004)
  • Elizabeth Willis’s Address (Wesleyan, 2011)


On Influences

There is a blue book on the orange chair beside my white desk as I write this: Medieval and Renaissance Medicine, an eight-hundred-plus-page book from 1959, which for the last month I’ve been skimming as I sit down to write. Here is a sample sentence: “One of the essential methods of treatment was the ‘temple dream’ during which the gods manifested themselves in the form of serpents who visited the patient and licked the diseased portion of the body.” I guess that might just be a zany anecdote about my forebears. Did you hear how Uncle Gregory used to touch the inflicted areas with the dust of saints? Yet I find myself attracted to and maybe twenty-five percent believing such sentiments. It is both the religious authority and mystical confidence coupled with the presentation of the extraordinary as matter of fact that appeals to my sensibility. I’m well aware of my particular and problematic historical luxury in filching these texts for inspiration, but I hope my other view of the world as cold with a fifty percent chance of redemption balances any romantic notions.

On a completely unrelated note, my MFA thesis was titled “A Permanent Piece of my Medium-Sized American Heart,” which is a lyric from The National’s song “Looking for Astronauts.”

On Inspiration

I’m fortunate to have jobs (at the Poetry Society of America and the journal A Public Space) that allow me the opportunity to read a great deal of contemporary poetry. There are submissions and countless journals and books coming across my desk with poems that are often inspiring. For instance, all the poets featured in the Poetry Society’s Biennal New American Poets feature, which I’ve worked on over the past eight years, always provide me with rewarding and in-depth reading experiences.

And, for me, inspiration can be a two-sided experience—both the awe, and envy, but also the experience of being compelled and spurred on from frustration with poems. So having permitted myself to admit that, I’ll say the books that I find myself always re-shelving on my bookcase due to the former experience are Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems and Eliot’s Four Quartets

Favorite Line of Poetry—Ever.

Maybe the first stanza of Auden’s “Lullaby”:

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

In a pinch, I might be able to survive with just the first two lines of “Lullaby.” Or maybe the fist line of Wallace Steven’s “Re-Statement of Romance”:

The night knows nothing of the chants of night.

On Contemporary Poets

Two recent books, Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation (Wave, 2010) and Matthew Zapruder’s Come on All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon Press, 2010) are books that I’ve read and reread this past year. They are stylistically and formally very different, each with a long list of masterful accomplishments, which many other people have written about—but one of the numerous things to which I respond in both books is their thoughtful and honest expression of empathy, compassion, bewilderment, and vulnerability toward the wonders, errors, and horrors of the world.