Having just finished reading Lord Weary’s Castle, Robert Lowell’s second book of poetry, a collection consisting mainly of revisions of his first book (apparently Lowell, like Walt Whitman, constantly whittled away at all of his work all of the time), I came across these lines from “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket”:
The bones cry for the blood of the white whale,
the fat flukes arch and whack about its ears,
the death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears
the gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail,
and hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags
and rips the sperm-whale’s midriff into rags,
gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather.
and so, I think I may have found another poet I can love.
I decided to seek out Lowell’s poetry after reading an interview with Christine Schutt, wherein she shares that when she is feeling “language impoverished” she turns to poetry by the likes of Robert Lowell and Emily Dickinson, and also other contemporary poets, which reminded me of something William Gass wrote in his essay “In Defense of the Book”: “I have only to reach out, as I frequently do, to cant a copy of Urne Buriall from its shelf, often after a day of lousy local prose, and to open it at random, as though it were the Bible, and I was seeking guidance, just to hear again the real rich thing speak forth as fresh as if it were a fountain…”
So I ask each of you: What books do you reach out for after a day of lousy local prose? Which writers do you read when you feel language impoverished?
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.