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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poems & Letters


Interesting article on the tradition of epistolary poetry in The Guardian's Books Blog. Even though it's an English publication, I appreciate that American poets Cid Corman, Anne Sexton and Jack Spicer -- but how can one think of poems sent in letters without thinking of Emily Dickinson? The poems she sent to Higginson and other friends and family are about the only version of publishing she allowed herself. The Atlantic has an article on Dickinson's poems in her letters. I came across them while reading Dickinson's letters, which is as rich as reading the poetry itself, and in some ways more so, because her letters so often include poems, providing a rich context for reading the poem.

Speaking of context for reading poetry -- where is it better these days than reading poems embedded in blogs? I like it so much I'm going to start including some in this one. For a start, here's a poem about a letter:

A Road Trip
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. – Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1802.

Divinity is on the road
because He needs elbow room
and a stretch of open where He can go, vroom-vroom!
He's doing wheelies for the Danbury fathers
and Pennsylvania Quakers who shun
paying their taxes to support Congregationalists.
He's careening into cirrus-streaks,
bolting lightning to ground, scattering
ideals like wildflowers.

The skies were too big and Monticello's dome
very small, but in Jefferson’s capacious geography
of state and religion, grace connects to liberty,
bisected by community. He threw up a wall
between soul and country's imperatives,
then paradox that he was, prayed in the Senate Church.
Hemmed by custom, he penned a secret tract:
Let them shake, let law be rock, and let God roll.

But Jefferson could not envision
the heavenly Highway-hound's momentum,
the lifts He would give to every Papist, Roller
and doler, myriad beliefs popping like prairie stars.
The Harley slips and weaves, easy as air
that flows over a snake tattoo that reads: Tread Lightly
on My Amen. The white hog passes everything,
so fast it's invisible – or mythical, a white horse
for a White House, steed that may only exist
as a people who won't let their faith be taxed,
who won’t be bound by too many laws
but spring up weed-wild – a people to build
their creeds on heart, wind and speed.

(first published in The Adirondack Review)