Maxine Kumin, “Virgil”

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He came, a dog ausipiciously named Virgil,
homeless, of unknown breed but clearly hound
barking at scents, aroused by hot ones to bugle.
His first week here he brought three squirrels to ground
and lined their mangled corpses up on the grass
to be—why not?—admired before burial.
He gobbled the snottiest tissues from the trash.
Also, he swiped our lunches off the table.
He knew not sit or stay, has still to take in
that chasing sheep and horses is forbidden.
When reprimanded, he grovels, penitent.
He longs for love with all his poet’s soul.
     His eyebrows make him look intelligent.
     We save our choicest food scraps for his bowl.

Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 also includes “Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year” (from the Norton Poetry Out Loud website), “The Word” (orginally published in The Atlantic, republished online with other poems from her early career), ” and “The Nuns of Childhood: Two Views” (The Atlantic). It doesn’t have “How It Is” (Poetry Foundation website), but that’s still a good poem.

Two years ago, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Kumin (while advising her interlocutor to ignore Virgil’s antics) describes her arrival at “a point in life where it would be easy to let down my guard and write simple imagistic poems,” adding: “But I don’t want to write poems that aren’t necessary. I want to write poems that matter, that have an interesting point of view… Twenty years ago, I thought Denise Levertov was wrong to write political poems, that she would lose her lyrical impulse. But I’ve changed my mind; I didn’t write my poems because I wanted to, they were wrung from me. I had to write them.”

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25 June 2010 | poetry |

Cristina Garcia, “Reincarnated”

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I know what you’re thinking.
That I’d probably choose some badass king of the jungle.
But you underestimate me.

I hate when you underestimate me.

As a matter of fact, I’d choose a nightingale.
I’ve never heard one sing but I know they keep
insomniacs company.

What do you know about me, anyway?

If I tell you I’d be a nightingale, believe it.
I happen to know that only unpaired males sing at night
and that they’re iconic in Persian poetry.

You gonna steal that?

Don’t pretend like suddenly you’re this caring, concerned
person when all you’re doing is using my shit.
Let me guess what you’d be, huh? A pirahna?

The Lesser Tragedy of Death is the first collection of poems from Cristina García, who has written several novels for adult and young adult readers. (In fact, Scribner has a new one, The Lady Matador’s Hotel, coming out at the end of the summer.) The collection also includes “Twenty-Nine Palms” (from García’s official website). In a 2007 interview with Chris Abani, the curator of Akashic’s Black Goat poetry line, García describes her writing process:

“I’m constantly sending tap roots into all sorts of unsavory places. That’s an essential part of the mystery and discovery for me. I expect to be disturbed. I hope to be discomfited. I want to be derailed from my suppositions. A lot happens before I even attempt to write the first word of a new novel. For me, it always begins with obsession. I start circling particular subject matter or terrains, reading voraciously, giving myself over to these interests… After the pre-novel saturation I described earlier, I surround myself with poetry books, a shifting array of them. Before I begin a writing day, I will immerse myself in them for an hour or two. Somewhere in that process, if you can call it that, I’ll randomly stumble across an idea, a fragment of language, a single word that will lead me to that day’s work. It’s that unpredictable, at least in writing my early drafts. Poetry is my daily bread.”

23 June 2010 | poetry |

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