Friday, April 3, 2009

The transmission of poetry, and Jason Shinder's STUPID HOPE

After the Rutgers reading the night before last, I was thinking about the way the love of poetry, and the sense of what a poem can be, is handed down. Tina, Brenda and Tracy were grad students when I met them, so of course they were already dedicated to making poems, but together we were (and are) part of an ongoing, open-ended community of people who work to take care of the art. It was a pleasure to hear them talking about handing poems they love along to their students. I think of that not as a process of transmitting something new but rather one of restoration; as if these teachers were saying, look, this is what already belongs to you.

So it was particularly appropriate to come across this poem in the manuscript of Jason Shinder's superb posthumous book, STUPID HOPE, which is coming soon from Graywolf. Jason knew that he was mortally ill during the writing of these poems, and they seem to speak from a kind of edge of experience, from a position of extreme pressure. I remember talking to William Maxwell late in his life, when he hadn't been well, and he said, "I'm just living with all the doors and windows open." That seems an exact description of the situation of Jason's final poems.

But this one speaks especially to poetry itself, and to the life of reading.


A poem written three thousand years ago

about a man who walks among horses
grazing on a hill under the small stars

comes to life on a page in a book

and the woman reading the poem,,
in the silence between the words,

in her kitchen, filled, with a gold, metallic light,

finds the experience of living in that moment
so clearly described as to make her feel finally known

by someone -- And every time the poem is read,

no matter her situation or her age,
this is more or less what happens.


David@Montreal said...

and thank-you Mark


Peter Kent said...

Thanks for posting this poem. I've pondered the transformation in Shinder's poetry and been amazed by the sheer, visceral energy that he let flow in his last work. Here's a link (I hope) to one of his late poems that I find particularly chilling, powerful, and unrestrained in its empathetic view of our shared human condition:

I look forward to the publication of his collection! I take it the title is taken from another poem about Jason's relationship with his mother:

James Allen Hall said...

I can't wait for this book.

carajo said...

gorgeous work, appreciate the posting.
last line or less instead of of less,
which, of course, suggests something else entirely.

Mark Doty said...

Thanks, typo fixed.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully articulated. Here's to "living with all the doors and windows open." Isn't that what a life steeped in poetry is all about?

Mekeel McBride said...

Profoundly beautiful poem. Thanks so much for posting it.

Holly said...

Dorianne Laux posted one of his poems on facebook last week. I was so moved that I immediately ordered 'Among Women' and 'Stupid Hope'. They arrived two days ago and I've read them both cover to cover. What humanity. What listening to a heart on fire. Thanks for sharing ETERNTY. I've just passed Shinder's name to another poet friend, by way of your blog.