Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas

Cat shelter quiet on Christmas Day,
no one browsing to adopt.
A box of toys mailed from Carmel.

In Timmy’s Room the big guys
nose about. Bob the tough one,
cabbage-headed veteran. Midnight,

long-haired gloss. Mr. Peepers
with gray saddleback and crown.
But it’s Dewey who thrusts himself

headlong into the box to root
through the catnip confections,
his rump soaring, his tail aflame.

No need to rescue him. The box
topples off the sofa and spills.
The guys each grab a toy. Other cats

tumble into the rumpus and bat
cloth mice, plastic balls with bells,
and catnip-filled vegetable shapes.

Bare trees shrug at the window.
A bright day, the snow cover stretched
over brassy weeds beyond

the rutted parking lot. The cats
prattle around the room, grinning.
A canned food treat slopped on large

plastic trays confirms the day
as special enough to remember
if cats remember as people do—

a slur of overlapping snapshots
sparking in the grain of neurons,
fading into black and white.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Charles W. Pratt: poetry

Here's a review of an interesting collection you may not know about:

Charles W. Pratt, From the Box Marked Some Are Missing: New and Selected Poems. Brookline NH: Hobblebush Books, 2010. (

The opening poems, and many subsequent ones, in Charles Pratt’s new and selected poems reprise the voice, topics, and arguably the point of view of Robert Frost. “In the Woods” echoes parts of “The Wood-Pile,” “Learning to Prune” and “Spray and Pray” obliquely echo “After Apple-Picking” and “Good-Bye and Keep Cold,” and “Stones” reverberates with many of the poems in A Boy’s Will. Perhaps most startlingly, “May 15,” a much more recent poem, touches upon several of Frost’s early lyric poems and revisits one of his central themes, the question of whether the universe is an act of deliberation:

The time has come to revise
Line by line by line
The rough draft of my field
Till down the green grass lies
Obedient to design
And the lovely scruffy tufts
Of flowers, they too, must yield.

            But it would be a mistake to think of Pratt as merely a minor ephebe of a great poet. His poems come out of experience as well as imagination, out of actual farm work (in his case, an orchard) as well as out of reading Frost, George Herbert, and other poets important to him. He seized upon Frost not just as a congenial voice but as a body of experience comparable to his own efforts to support himself as an apple-grower in New Hampshire. He has grown through Frost, and has not let himself be stunted by influence. Many of his best poems—such as “O Say Can You See”—resemble the work of no one else:

Tonight the whole neighborhood gathered for the first night game
In the history of Thomas Tree stadium, brothers and sisters,
Parents, grandparents; hands over hearts we sang
“The Star-Spangled banner,” faltering only in places
Then played nine innings of laughter and arguments
With an umpire whose allegiance was transparently not to truth
But to beautiful symmetry, a tie game to the end.

These loose-limbed but graceful long lines are not his only resource. He produces an almost perfect sonnet (although it’s really only twelve lines) in “Band Concert in Regent’s Park” with its wonderful evocation of the Titanic concluding with “Why should we try to keep the ship afloat / Except for the pleasure of hearing the final note?” And in “Whatever it Was” he displays an enviable ear for the terser sort of free verse:

How she moved, moved, moved behind the counter,
Wiping it over and over
“To keep myself awake,” she said.

Pratt’s resources are not only prosodic, however. Poems like “Refuting Berkeley” display an ability to bring to bear the history of ideas on the present moment. Here the voice of the intellect crosscuts the voice of personal sentiment as the speaker observes his freshly born child, then muses on Johnson’s clumsy but dramatic refutation of Berkeley’s idealism. Although the poem ends with a self-effacement that precludes it from seeming showy, it illustrates Pratt’s cultural resources, which he handles effectively and in a different way from Frost, Yeats, Herbert, and other predecessors. Thoughtful beyond the abilities of many of his contemporaries, frankly indebted to some giants of the past, Pratt continues the great conversation of poetry in ways we as readers should honor and trust.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Rejection from Robert Bly

In browsing through my books I found this rejection slip from Robert Bly. Even after some forty years it seems to me the most thoughtful and intelligent one I have ever received.

It reads: Dear Wm. Doreski, These don’t have the interior space that the short poem needs. They are written more with the prose intelligence—not enough senses in the language—than with the intuitive or animal intelligence. Don’t know if this makes sense to you or not. Yours Robert Bly.

This still seems to me a highly perceptive statement about poetry in general, and illuminates not only Bly's better poems but the work of the poets he has admired: Transtromer, Neruda, Vallejo, etc.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Stephen Sondheim's MacDowell Medal


Stephen Sondheim gets his MacDowell Medal from Michael Chabon and Frank Rich. August 11, 2013. At least two thousand people in attendance on a perfect blue day.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sea Lavender

Gathering Sea-Lavender
Gathering sea-lavender
in salt marshes south of Brunswick
we ease ourselves into contours
so gentle they don't show on maps.
Only the washboard effect
of successive waves of lavender
reveals a dainty presence.
Sea-lavender sells for five
dollars a spray in Boston,
but we're harvesting just enough
to warm us one dreary winter,
a candelabra as nostalgic
as my mother's genealogy.
Last night when the wind banged the doors
in our rented cottage and the tide
swept our neighbor's dory from the beach,
we felt each other quicken in sleep
as we both dreamt of gathering
sea-lavender in brilliant light.
I also dreamt, quite separately,
that a former lover came home
to sort through my possessions
and take away what pleased her,
especially sentimental
items like the shard of slate
from the Deerfield Massacre stone,
the purple ribbon from Robert
Lowell's grave, the small glass cat
that was my first gift from my wife.
No wonder when morning came
I proposed we scout the marshes
for sea-lavender, despite the rain,
our bodies still uneasy
upon us, the briny damp
revealing as X-rays or radar,
the losses of our previous lives
reflected by the stony fog
and empowered by the radiance
ignited by our love of the sea.