Sixteen great quotes from the poetry I read in December 2016

Here’s my project. I read a poem a day, imbibe its rhythms and use this as an inspiration for my own writing. Because it’s 2016, I chose 16 quotes from 16 of these poems to feature on A Bigger Brighter World so you got to enjoy a taste of them too. Sixteen poems a month for 12 months meant 192 poems by the end of the year. December’s poems conclude this excellent feast of poetry … and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

1. ‘Beach Walk III’ by Lesley Walter

Wombarra, February 2009
The sand is soft and yielding underfoot, / the pounding surf a rhythm in your head, / Gazing south, the coastline’s smudged with mist // (there’s so much we can’t see, or know, or speak), / but birds, sea, air, have given rise to thought: / how his eyes don’t hold yours when you talk.

Lesley Walter was a widely published Australian poet who lived in Sydney. She published two books of poetry: watermelon baby and Life Drawings, in which ‘Beach Walk III’ appears. She was awarded the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize and the Dame Leonie Kramer Prize for Australian Poetry from the University of Sydney. She also served a term as President of the Society of Women Writers NSW. She died in May 2014 after a long battle with cancer.

2. ‘Card 19: The Sun’ by Brenda Shaughnessy

who are you? Is it the liquidity of her skin / that bathes the world for you, // or her face, captured like a she-lion / in your own flesh?

Brenda Shaughnessy is the author of four poetry collections including So Much Synth, published 2016. Her work has appeared in the Yale Review, the Boston Review, McSweeney’s and Best American Poetry, among other places. With C.J. Evans, she edited the anthology Satellite Convulsions: Poems from Tin House Magazine (2009). ‘Card 19: The Sun’ was published in Poetry in 2011.

3. ‘Forbidden City’ by Gail Mazur

Asleep until noon, I’m dreaming / we’ve been granted another year. // You’re here with me, healthy. /  Then, half-awake, the half-truth— // this is our last day. Life’s leaking / away again, and this time, we know it.

Gail Mazur is the author of seven books of poems, including They Can’t Take That Away from Me, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Zeppo’s First Wife, a Massachusetts Book Award winner and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is distinguished writer in residence at Emerson College. ‘Forbidden City’ appears in her collection Forbidden City published by The University of Chicago Press.

4. ‘The Bits and Pieces’ by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

But the lacy components / of this cappuccino-coloured / map of a uniformly / expanding universe / are crooked stars, / explosions with their eyes poked out / or everlasting laid / in ranks of flat little boxes / promising a mathematics / none of us can read / or a seductive net / containing nothing

Chris Wallace-Crabbe is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry. In 2011, he was awarded the Order of Australia. Over the course of his career, he has received the St. Michael’s Medal, the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal, the Human Rights Award for Poetry, and the Christopher Brennan Award for Literature. ‘The Bits and Pieces’ appears in Chris Wallace-Crabbe: Selected Poems 1956–1994.

5. ‘A Misremembered Lyric’ by Denise Riley

There is no beauty out of loss; can’t do it— / and once the falling rain starts on the upturned / leaves, and I listen to the rhythm of unhappy pleasure / what I hear is bossy death telling me which way to / go, what I see is a pool with an eye in it.

Denise Riley is active across the full range of poetic life—poet, essayist, teacher, editor, researcher—and beyond, with her interests extending to politics, history, philosophy, feminist theory and visual art. She lectures at the University of East Anglia in several of these areas, and is attached to the London Consortium; she has also been Writer in Residence at the Tate Gallery.

6. ‘A Theory of Disaster’ by Nancy Reddy

We’d thought our pain / would be simple and locatable. We pushpinned all the parts that hurt / and gave each one a name. I thought of after as a wolf / and I waited for its jaws.

Nancy Reddy’s poetry has been published in 32 Poems, Tupelo Quarterly and Best New Poets of 2011 (selected by D.A. Powell), with poems forthcoming in Post Road and New Poetry from the Midwest. She holds an M.F.A. and PhD in composition and rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin. She is Assistant Professor of Writing and First Year Studies at Stockton University in southern New Jersey. ‘A Theory of Disaster’ is from her collection Double Jinx, a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series Open Competition, selected by Alex Lemon.

7. ‘The Unexpected’ by Thomas McCarthy

I can hear anxieties rolling in. But are these not the same as last / Time? Is she not the same? And he, is he not like a gardener / Gone berserk, flat cap askew, trying to make regular / What swarms; life itself, that is, now swarming on the grass?

Thomas McCarthy has published several collections, including The Sorrow Garden, Merchant Prince and The Last Geraldine Officer. His new collection, Pandemonium, was published by Carcanet Press in November 2016. He worked for many years at Cork City Libraries. He now writes full-time and is a member of Aosdana. ‘The Unexpected’ was published in The Manchester Review in June 2016.

8. ‘Now That Your Eyes Are Shut’ by Elinor Wylie (1885–1928)

My casual ghost may slip, / Issuing tiptoe, from the pure inhuman; / The tissues of my lip / Will bruise your eyelids, while I am a woman.

Elinor Wylie was an American poet and novelist popular in the 1920s and 1930s and who experienced a revival of interest among feminist critics since the 1980s. In 1921, Wylie’s volume Nets to Catch the Wind—which many critics still consider to contain her best poems, including her most widely anthologised poem, ‘Velvet Shoes’—was issued. More collections followed. Her poems were miniature in scope, displaying what Wylie in an essay called her ‘small clean technique’. Stanzas and lines were quite short, and the effect of her images was of a highly detailed, polished surface.

9. Water Lilies by Sara Teasdale (1884 –1933)

To the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart, / There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies, / And the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.

Sara Teasdale won the first Columbia Poetry Prize in 1918, a prize that would later be renamed the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Although many later critics would not consider Teasdale a major poet, she was popular in her lifetime with both the public and critics. Reviewing the 1984 collection Mirror of the Heart: Poems of Sara Teasdale, Choice contributor J. Overmyer said in Teasdale’s poetry ‘simply stated thoughts are complex . . . and reverberate in the mind’. Teasdale’s poems are also said to chart developments in her own life, from her experiences as a sheltered young woman in St. Louis, to those as a successful yet increasingly uneasy writer in New York City, to a depressed and disillusioned person who would commit suicide in 1933.

10. ‘Tourists’ by Ruth Bidgood

They were uncomplaining / on Snowdon in a thick mist (they drank milk / gratefully, but longed for brandy), and did not grumble / when, at Aberglaslyn, salmon failed to leap / (only two would even try). Who can say / that at the end of August, leaving Chepstow / for flood-tide at the ferry, they were taking / nothing real away, or that their naive and scholarly wonder / had given nothing in return?

Ruth Bidgood is a Welsh poet who read English at Oxford University and was subeditor of Chambers’ Encyclopedia. ‘Tourists’ was first published in Not Without Homage and reprinted in New and Selected Poems. Her latest collections are Time Being, which won her the Roland Mathias prize, and Above the Forests.

11. ‘Ars Poetica’ by Jana Prikryl

I was thinking this walking / home in the dark, the too-early / dark of November, shivering, / towards my apartment / on a promontory, / fingers stiff / hauling staples, / wondering if it was the kind / of thing that, were I the second- / last person at a party / with Benedict Cumberbatch, / he’d find worth debating, / call a very good question, / before proposing we spare / each other the embarrassment / of being the last / to leave and leave in unison.

Jana Prikryl is a poet and editor whose first poetry collection is The After Party (2016). Her poetry and criticism appear widely in magazines and journals such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, the London Review of Books, The Nation, The Baffler and The New York Review of Books. She is a senior editor at The New York Review of Books. ‘Ars Poetica’ appeared in the London Review of Books in 2014.

12. ‘True Love’ by Judith Viorst

It’s true love because / If he said quit drinking martinis but I kept drinking them and the next morning I / couldn’t get out of bed, / He wouldn’t tell me he told me, / And because / He is willing to wear unironed undershorts / Out of respect for the fact that I am philosophically opposed to ironing,

Judith Viorst writes in many different areas: science books, children’s chapter and picture books—including the beloved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which has sold some four million copies—adult fiction and nonfiction—including the New York Times bestseller, Necessary Losses—poetry for children and adults. Her most recent book of poetry for adults, Wait For Me and Other Poems About the Irritations and Consolations of a Long Marriage, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2015. Her most recent book of poetry for children, What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? was published in 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

13. ‘Nox’ by Maria Takolander

A poem addressed to Anne Carson
When he finally leaves, satisfied I am pathological, / I remove a laptop from my black bag of tricks, / usurping the drawing of cardiac arrest. / Nox is not here. / Your book on grief is at home amongst my alphabetised books, / a perfect accordion sheaf folded in a rectangular box. / You might understand how I compose. / This elegiac poem, recounted just so.

Maria Takolander is the author of three books of poems, The End of the World, Ghostly Subjects and Narcissism; a book of short stories, The Double; and a work of literary criticism, Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground. She is currently working on a novel, Transit, for Text Publishing. She is an Associate Professor in Literary Studies and Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria. ‘Nox’ was published in Cordite 55: Future Machines in August 2016.

14. ‘The Swimmer’ by John Koethe

It was one of those midsummer Sundays … JOHN CHEEVER
As for poetry, / Poetry turned out fine, / though nobody actually cares about it / In the old sense anymore. That’s the trouble with stories— / They need to come to a conclusion and to have a point, / Whereas the point of growing old is that it doesn’t have one: / Someone sets out on an afternoon, following his predetermined / Course as all around him summer darkens and the leaves turn sere, / And finally arrives at home, and finds there’s nothing there.

John Koethe has published ten books of poetry and has received the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the Frank O’Hara Award. He has also published books on Ludwig Wittgenstein and philosophical skepticism, and is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. ‘The Swimmer’ is from his collection of the same title.

15. ‘Past Lives’ by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

I see better for not seeing clearly. /  That black dog on the road, it is a bear / I’ve seen it dance in chains / I’ve seen it speared, skinned, roasted / Its sabre skull laid out on an altar. / I have worshipped fear. // It is the future and I am nothing /  But biology degrading. Corals bleached.

Laura Elizabeth Woollett is the author of a novel, The Wood of Suicides (2014), and a short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man (2016). Her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing, Kill Your Darlings, The Suburban Review and others. She lives in Melbourne. ‘Past Lives’ was published in Cordite 55: Future Machines in August 2016.

16. ‘Stations and a Crossing’ by Zenobia Frost

His apartment. / He laughs at the dank surprise of you. / “That’s sweet. But I have company.” / Foyer so white, his teeth glow. Ha. The elevator’s /  big mouth. He leads you to a room you’ve never seen. /  An aquarium. / You’re so tired of water. /  In the tank, women float like weeds.

Zenobia Frost is the coordinating editor of Cordite Poetry Review. She is a Brisbane-based poet, critic and editor whose work has been published in Voiceworks, Overland, Southerly, The Lifted Brow and Rave Magazine. Her first full-length poetry collection, Salt and Bone, is published by Walleah Press. ‘Stations and a Crossing’ was published in Cordite 55: Future Machines.

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