Sunday, January 09, 2011

An Astonishing Poet: Stephen Dunn

In a bookstore of forgotten books, I came across a book of poems, Everything Else in the World by Stephen Dunn, a poet that I didn't recognize but who has won a Pulitzer prize. I feel that in general we don't read enough poems. Poets have a way of noticing the world that enables us to calibrate our awareness of reality. Sometimes when I feel things spinning out of control I like to enter the world of some poet, preferably someone I have never read. I picked up Dunn's book with about five other volumes of poems.

I finally submersed myself in his poems this weekend and was astonished to discover that this poet was someone who seemed in tune with my own work. The very first poem was something I have thought and written about, but done with such elegance that I was energized and inspired. The first poem struck home:

The summer I discovered my heart
is at best an instrument of approximation
And the mind is asked to ratify
every blood rush sent its way

was the same summer I stared
at the slate gray sea well beyond dusk,
learning how exquisitely
I could feel sorry for myself.

It was personal---the receding tide,
the absent, arbitrary wind.
I had a small part in the great comedy,
and hardly knew it. No excuse,

but I was so young I believed
Ayn Rand had a handle on truth---
secular, heroically severe. Be a man
of unwavering principle, I told others,

and what happens to the poor
is entirely their fault. No wonder
that girl left me in August, a stillness
in the air. I was one of those lunatics

of a single idea, or maybe even worse---
I kissed wrong, or wasn't brave enough
to admit I was confused
Many summers later I learned to love

the shadows illumination creates.
But experience always occurs too late
to undo what's been done. The hint
of moon above an unperturbable sea,

and that young man, that poor me,
staring ahead---everything is as it was.
And of course has been changed.
I got over it. I've never been the same.
The only difference is that I never got over it.

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