POETRY IS THE ABSENCE OF INSURANCE...
Dennis Barone is a professor of English and director of the American Studies Program at Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Conn.
Barone is the author of three books of short fiction: Abusing the Telephone (1994), The Returns (1996), and Echoes (1997), winner of the America Award. He is also the author of two novellas, Temple of the Rat (2000) and God's Whisper (2005). Precise Machine, a hybrid-work of memoir, prose poetry, and short fiction was recently published by Quale Press; a second mixed-genre work, North Arrow, is forthcoming in 2008.
He is editor of Beyond the Red Notebook: Essays on Paul Auster (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), a collection of short prose pieces, The Walls of Circumstance (2004), and a selected poetry, Separate Objects (1998). His essays on American literature and culture have appeared in American Studies, Critique, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Voices in Italian Americana. Barone also gathered the manuscript for and provided a foreword for the Poet's Press edition of John Burnett Payne's posthumous poetry volume, Walt and Emily/Emily and Walt.
A graduate of Bard College, he received his Ph.D. in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, and in 1992 he held the Thomas Jefferson Chair, a distinguished Fulbright lecturing award, in the Netherlands.
POEMS FROM FIELD REPORT
A PASSION FOR BOOKS
There’s a book I wrote on the re-shelving
cart. Someone took it out. Someone
returned it. There’s no crease along the
spine, no visible marks. Perhaps this
patron did not read it? The other
book of poetry I see is a slim one
from 1943: tattered, worn, well read
and admired – those Four Quartets
of Eliot’s. Dispirited, I turn to the lobby
Coke machine. I have no quarters, but
I have a dollar. In goes the bill and out
comes my soda. I drink-up, recycle
the can, and return to my book somewhat
revived, my spirits lifted by caffeine
and syrup. I pick up my book and look
at it more closely. One page has been
folded, dog-earned in its upper corner.
It is my least favorite page, the one
about several ordinary spices; the one
that compares cumin, pepper, and sage
to the extraordinary life of Elisha Kent
Kane, the arctic explorer. I return to the
reading room and take my usual position,
that cavernous chair surrounded by
interminable shelves tottering with poetry
and art and science. Doom will come
from neither iceberg nor flood, but
a tremor that’ll jolt all these books down
on me and press me between their
bindings like a long-forgotten rose.
In his poem “Forest Hymn,” William Cullen Bryant proclaimed the woods God’s first and best and truest temple. The poet asked, “Ah, why / Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect / God’s ancient sanctuaries?” As I strode the sylvan trails of Nepaug State Forest last week, I paused briefly to feel the spray of Burlington Falls cool my heated flesh, and there high above in humid air swaying gently in a canopy like that Bryant compared to a Gothic vault, I counted thirty-two pairs of sneakers swinging ever so rhythmically. What sort of supplicants were these, I wondered, who proffered such an offering and to what odd God? Downward I glanced, perplexed by what I saw heavenward, and there near my feet I saw not a mosaic of dry leaf and pine nettle, but the green glass of broken six-packs and strewn clothing that seemed to have been hastily abandoned at the onslaught of a horrific storm or some still mightier passion. Perhaps, I conjectured, this forest temple has been overtaken by a sect splintered off from the more orthodox – those of us who wear our shoes and shirts and savor our beer at tavern or stadium. Down in the swirling eddy of the cataract I thought I espied some strange divan used by a reclining high priest or priestess of the cult that called this beauty spot to its narrow and selfish purpose. But, no, I realized the divan was a lawn-recliner of green and white crisscross netting, a period piece from nearby suburbia. I sought the swirling eddy with the hope of excising the blemish from out the current. As I reached forth my hand, the sky darkened and a storm cloud spewed forth rain then hail. The sneakers above could not be shaken from the canopy, only swayed some more in it and more violently so, and I became frightened when the thunder spoke and warned me to retreat to my car parked safely between trailhead and Satan’s Kingdom Road.
Our rooms are
alpine. He had the child
and the truth. You too
approached the window
as if a small room
he could not bolt
cars to the highway.
The baby climbed from the road,
closed the piers – deaths
From this distance
an apprenticeship cannot
square the bus into
a place difficult now
to speak of –
a flat sea
ruined the trees –
the hills sing
(near your eyes
to reduce the casual
of beautiful water
in that light).
parked in the fields
lies hip high.
A bird, someone
cobbled in a poor
This is accepted:
the constant darkness
of drunken men,
The eye is old and
there is no other guarantee.
The hard world is troubled,
pressed – hiding words.
A window repairman came to repair a window
where a bird had flown into it and broke it.
The next day another bird met its match on the window’s mate.
Poetry is the absence of insurance.
In another room another man spoke about a woman
in a language that could not be understood and he
kept close count of his pulse as he struck the ivory
keys on an out of tune piano and remembered.
Poetry is the absence of insurance.
“Here’s the mess
you made of me,”
but I read,
“Here’s the mass
you made of me.”
And he asked,
“And the fishes
who keep being silent;
do they mean it?”
He could hum
even when crippled
“Ain’t We Got Fun.”
One night high in a dark
jewel of a place
he slashed at slow –
For a time, details
transfixed that awkward
sky. He got the call –
“look, I love you”
— but refused to answer.
There are other hungers
than those for warm weather,
there isn’t much we
Because the lands are so
large the stories must be
short -- to unify and predict.
Several members of our
committee demanded more
comfortable hotel rooms
to facilitate their aesthetic
This camera is not alert.
a clause in a sentence
a clause in a memorable sentence
a sentence in a short story
a sentence in a story by a
a clause in a sentence a story
memorable but unread
unread because the writer has been
remember how he worked
for his own obscurity
and that of others
he devoted his life to his own
obscurity and that of others
some of the others on occasion
may be recalled thanks
to his efforts while he
In the dawn he wakes
His camera is not alert
A man stands by
an open window
Does he yawn or does he sing?
“John, come here. Look at my feet.”
“What is it, dear?”
“See that toe?”
“The third one. See it?”
“The right one.”
“What is it?”
“You see it?”
“What is it? What am I supposed to see?”
“What about it?”
“That toe. It is not mine.”
“That toe is not my toe.”
“Well whose is it?”
“I don’t know. I just noticed it – that it’s not mine, I mean.”
“It looks like yours.”
“No. No, mine was different.”
“In what way, dear?”
“In everyway, John.”
“How do you know?”
“Just look at it, John. Just look at it. It isn’t me. It isn’t mine.”
“Are you sure? I don’t … “
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Well, then. There’s only one thing to do.”
“I know. I thought so, I mean.”
“We’ll have to remove it. You’ll have to lose the toe before we lose all of you.”
“I’m ready now. Go and get your saw. I will still be here when you return.”
At my present age
he was already seven
“If I had a dog, John, I’d
name her Spout. ‘Down,
Spout. Down, Spout’.
Perhaps we should think in terms
The sports star’s fall from grace
or the politician’s rise to power?
What seems to be the problem, Officer?
Bones are / the die is
Something small holds on to a leg,
cheek pressed tight to that leg.
And then is dragged …
But then wondered if it was all too
much by rote, free of all emotion
and connection, a repetition
emptied of all meaning.
— can you use the first part as a frame?
the bulldozers are always at work
stone, an object, a fragment of rock
mornings worked themselves onto the street
the window, the interlocking branches
the necessary steps and stairs
any particular pine
a representational figure
a street where a photographer may flash an image
no romance when bony hands
and keep open the communal wound
the supermarket across the street
variations in color
absence of demand
the most marginal
the true black of
the end of glint,
a fading odyssey
today a memo
tomorrow a monument
left over from previous
What does this word say?
I cannot read it.
It says: “communicate.”
when it comes to a storm
we have good reason to howl
-- a euphemism for survival.
a false distinction
one merely dramatizes results
he says sings prays sings shouts
he asks he crosses doubt
he rhymes and finds warmth there
the nature of the stone
dictates the cut
said to be highly skilled and
well qualified for the task
The dozers will groan
as they strike every side,
reducing all to rubble.
the tragedy of unrecorded
a thin and porous line
between humor and horror
He is a moralist.
perplexed by a benevolent overflow
It is a topic,
not necessarily a position,
“I am not at war,”
“I am not at war –
a fact, not a bumper sticker.”
It was for the victors
that Pindar wrote his odes.
Embrace on the bus
whoever is next to you,
(There is little evidence to clarify
We’ve written what we want to read.
Such phrases as these –
“have pity”; “have mercy,” were
frequently intermingled with groans,
and accompanied with weeping.
His brain appeared to suffer
some severe constriction.
He desired to be excused,
for a few minutes, from proceeding
There is little evidence to clarify
My hands hold onto the notebook
I reach out for the hands of the other
and the notebook closes.