Robin York  © 2007 All Rights Reserved

Featured Poet

Lisa Jarnot


O Library O Lawn O Carousel

O vocages of the dead,
o dead this one and
dead that one,
let me count the ways
that you are dead
the cricked line of bagels
and the broken lines of signals
of the cell phones
in the park,
o people I used to know
who are married
o people I used to know
with their children
o broken line of trees and branches
picked at by the squirrels
o work and sleep
o work and sleep
o lighter fluid
the cool of grass in spring
o forty, o flag, o
fantastic statue staring back,
o famous historian man
with birds upon your head,
the sycamore buds abound,
the brilliance of the others
who are brillianter than I
o page turning pigeon
o felicitous husband
o tourists go away
the somber stares of couples
and the somber glow of cigars
and the somber glow of ties,
o ties of the living dead
and the businesses in
midtown, all gone, with grace,
all gone, with felicity,
all gone, with this resistance,
with the membering of
remembering, all gone
with this, all gone
in oblong pace.

* * *


The Real

Red cardinal in a white pine
who doesn’t believe in roots and
branches or that fragrance
lost on the page as it’s lost to
the eye in the thick of the woods
in a song of the night—

O great bear, o little well house,
O cheeping beaked thing
Inhabiting my dreams.

* * *

All Poems Copyright © 2006

Lisa Jarnot's fourth book of poetry is forthcoming from Flood Editions at the end of 2007. She lives in upstate New York and is the owner and operator of Catskill Organics farm.


from Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets On Books That Shaped Their Art

poet Lisa Jarnot

Allen Ginsberg, Collected Poems
Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations
Jack Spicer, The Holy Grail
Robert Duncan, Ground Work I: Before the War
Bernadette Mayer, The Bernadette Mayer Reader
Frank O’Hara, Selected Poems
James Joyce, Ulysses

Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were my first influences as a poet. (Bob Dylan had come earlier and it was through Dylan that I became aware of the Beat writers.) I love tradition. I’ve never been very exotic in my reading habits. I guess I’m a Beatnik at heart. Allen’s writing literally saved my life. I read his poetry when I was a freshman in college. I was lonely and suicidal. He had been lonely and suicidal thirty years earlier. “A Supermarket in California” and “America” were the keys for me. I was a big misfit. I wanted to tell someone how I felt. Allen’s poetry granted me that permission. The image of him “self-conscious with a headache” walking down a side street in Berkeley longing for Walt Whitman—that inspired me to be a poet.

The work of Rimbaud, and then Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan followed. A line from Rimbaud stays with me “I embrace the summer dawn.” The immediacy of the energy of Rimbaud’s poetry was a delight. Everything felt fresh and new and to the point. His teenaged angst must have also been appealing. And of course his idea that “I is another.” It resonated with my intrigue regarding Bob Dylan’s persona. I wanted to invent myself as a poet. Jack Spicer furthered that cause with his dry sense of humor and his incredible dedication to poetry. Spicer’s The Holy Grail led me to Malory’s work and Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance. In retrospect, Spicer seems to speak from the position of someone struggling with a Borderline Personality Disorder. His desire to relate to objects and his inability to do so is heartbreaking, but he managed to harness that pathology into his poetry in a clear fascinating way.

Robert Duncan’s work didn’t make sense to me when I started reading it. I thought maybe it was classic “nature poetry.” While I was a student at the University of Buffalo at New York, I studied with Robert Creeley. In the classroom one day he read to us from Duncan’s “The Venice Poem.” He didn’t have much to say about it except for that it was beautiful. I thought it was beautiful and complex and I wanted to know more about it. I was working at the Poetry/Rare Books Collection at the university and we had recently acquired Duncan’s papers. I spent two and a half years reading all of Duncan’s notebooks and becoming an amateur Duncan scholar of sorts. Duncan’s dedication to being a craftsman of language has meant the world to me. His work held secrets that I was eager to unravel. His later work, particularly in Ground Work I: Before the War is still a source of unlimited pleasure and new rewards for me. The opening two poems stand as a tribute to H. D. and Pound, and the final poem “Circulations of the Song” is, I think, one of the great love poems of the English language. Duncan is an underappreciated master—I hope that he comes to hold a place near Shakespeare and Dante.

When I moved to New York City in 1994, it was partly because I was in love with the work of Bernadette Mayer and Frank O’Hara. Bernadette had visited Brown University while I was there as a graduate student in the MFA program. Her sense of play and of the possibilities of language was exhilarating. She loved the dictionary and she loved to learn about a variety of fields of knowledge. Her poetry became a cataloging place of everything that she had learned from the world. I was hooked. I can’t name a single book of Bernadette’s as an influence because I love them all. Her range is incredible, from sonnets to letters to book length projects to journals to dream writing and so on. Whenever I have a doubt about what to do next, I look to Bernadette for guidance. Frank O’Hara offered another kind of guidance—convincing me that poets take poetry too seriously. Through reading O’Hara I became interested in his European influences, especially Vladimir Mayakovsky. O’Hara is the one poet I can’t figure out how to mimic. His poems seem simple, but they have a subterranean complexity to them. The ode form has always been appealing to me, and O’Hara’s work is packed with odes. He sets the stage for all kinds of excitement with those killer lines—“You are gorgeous and I am coming” or “Don’t be afraid of hatred, it lets love breathe.”

James Joyce’s Ulysses is a text I’ve relied on to have a better sense of the possibility of the parameters of a creative work. I love complex hidden orders and I’m obsessive about details. When I was a kid I loved to imagine whole worlds of my own making, away from the reality I lived in, but informed by it. Joyce’s Ulysses is a space like that for me—complex and inviting and always seeming to change and expand. I like the arrogance of Joyce. I like it that he decided to make his own worlds in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and I especially like it that he decided to make worlds based on his knowledge of history and literature. There are lines in Joyce that never leave my head. “The ineluctable modality of the visible.” It doesn’t matter what it means—it’s a poem to me.


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