American Poetry: States of the Art

American Poetry: States of the Art

by Bradford Morrow

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480479197
Publisher: Bard College Publications Office
Publication date: 12/15/2015
Series: Conjunctions , #35
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 472
Sales rank: 520,893
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Bradford Morrow is the editor of Conjunctions and the recipient of the PEN/Nora Magid Award for excellence in literary editing. The author of six novels, his most recent books include the novel The Diviner’s Tale (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and the fiction collection The Uninnocent (Pegasus Books). He is currently at work on a collaboration with virtuoso guitarist Alex Skolnick, A Bestiary. A Bard Center fellow and professor of literature at Bard College, he lives in New York City.

Bradford Morrow (b. 1951) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, editor, and author of children’s books. He grew up in Colorado and traveled extensively before settling in New York and launching the renowned literary journal Conjunctions. His novel The Almanac Branch was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and for Trinity Fields, Morrow was the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Academy Award in Literature. He has garnered numerous other accolades for his fiction, including O. Henry and Pushcart prizes, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship. Morrow is a professor of literature and Bard Center Fellow at Bard College.

Read an Excerpt


Bi-Annual Volumes of New Writing

By Bradford Morrow

Bard College

Copyright © 2015 CONJUNCTIONS
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7919-7


Four Poems

John Ashbery


I have a friendly disposition but am forgetful, though I tend to forget only important things. Several mornings ago I was lying in my bed listening to a sound of leisurely hammering coming from a nearby building. For some reason it made me think of spring which it is. Listening I heard also a man and woman talking together. I couldn't hear very well but it seemed they were discussing the work that was being done. This made me smile, they sounded like good and dear people and I was slipping back into dreams when the phone rang. No one was there.

Some of these are perhaps people having to do with anything in the world. I wish to go away, on a dark night, to leave people and the rain behind but am too caught up in my own selfish thoughts and desires for this. For it to happen I would have to be asleep and already started on my voyage of self-discovery around the world. One is certain then to meet many people and to hear many strange things being said. I like this in a way but wish it would stop as the unexpectedness of it conflicts with my desire to revolve in a constant, deliberate motion. To drink tea from a samovar. To use chopsticks in the land of the Asiatics. To be stung by the sun's bees and have it not matter.

Most things don't matter but an old woman of my acquaintance is always predicting doom and gloom and her prophecies matter though they may never be fulfilled. That's one reason I don't worry too much but I like to tell her she is right but also wrong because what she says won't happen. Yet how can I or anyone know this? For the seasons do come round in leisurely fashion and one takes a pinch of something from each, according to one's desires and what it leaves behind. Not long ago I was in a quandary about this but now it's too late. The evening comes on and the aspens leaven its stars. It's all about this observatory a shout fills.


    Too bad he never tried it —
    he might have liked it.

    She saw us make eye contact.
    And that was that for that day.

    Too bad he too, when I

    meaning if I came along it'd
    already be too late.

    Some of the swans are swarming.
    The spring has gone under — it wasn't
    supposed to be like this.

    Now they watch him and cringe.
    Who are they? Who is he?

    We decided to fly Chinese.
    The food wasn't that good.

    And oh Erwin did I tell you
    that man — the one — I didn't

    know if I was supposed to or not.
    He crawled back listlessly,

    holding a bunch of divas.
    It's hard work getting these out,

    but so's any thing you're entitled to do:
    Classes to attend.

    The morning of school.
    Evening almost over,

    they bend the security rules.
    It's time for another fog bomb.

    Lookit the way they all roost.
    Poor souls clashed together

    until almost the root's roof
    separates us from our beginning.

    We slew many giants in our day,
    burned many libraries.

    Roundabouts, swings,
    it was all one piece of luck to us.

    Now we're washed up it's almost cold
    not bad enough to put up a stand.

    Out of that longing we built a paean.
    Now everyone who crosses this bridge is wiser.

    It doesn't tilt much.
    Look, the shore is arriving laterally.

    Some people literally think they know a lot,
    gets 'em in trouble, we must rake out

    cafés looking for rats and exploded babies.
    There was one too many last week.

    I don't know if you're coding.
    The cop pulled us over

    in a shawl. Why do you want to go around me
    when there are other circulars

    to be had for the looking?
    I never thought about being grounded forever.

    This is Mademoiselle. Take your hat off.
    There's no need, I was here last Thursday.

    All the best creatures are thwarted
    for their pains. He removed my chains deftly,

    processed my passport with gunk.
    Now two times five geese fly across

    the crescent moon, it is time to get down to
    facts, in the tiny park.

    There were priests posing as nuns,
    quinces and stuff.

    Tilt me a little more to the sun,
    I want to see it one last time. There,

    that's just fine. I've seen it.
    You can roll me inside. On the wings of what perturbation?

    He came for the julep.
    He was gone in an instant.

    We cry too much over
    drowned dogs.

    He came in last week too.
    Said he knew you or somebody else.

    It's the pain just of replying
    that makes so many of them take up different lines.

    Too many goods — we are spoiled indeed.
    Had we learned to subsist on less

    the changing of the world might be different,
    earth come to greet us. I say, the chairs have grown back.

    The couple sat in the dish drainer
    pondering an uncertain future.

    The kitchen had never looked bleaker
    except for two chinchillas near the stove, a beaker

    of mulled claret, shaving soap smelling
    so fresh and new, like smoke, almost.

    He says leave it here,
    that he comes here.

    OK harness the DeSoto,
    we'll have other plans

    for newness, for a renewing, kind of —
    picnics in the individual cells

    so no one falls asleep for it, dreams
    she is a viola, instrument of care, of sorts.

    You should have seen him when we got back.
    He was absolutely wild. Hadn't wanted us to go

    to the picture show. But in a way it was all over,
    we were back, the harm had been done.

    Gradually he came to realize this
    over a period of many years, spanning

    two world wars and a major depression.
    After that it was time to get up and go,

    but who had the get up and go? A child's
    party, painted paper hats, bowlfuls of lemonade,

    no more at the lemonade stand, it sold out.
    That was cheerful. A man came right up behind you,

    he had two tickets to the door.
    We need starve no more

    but religion is elastic too —
    might want some at some future date —

    if so you'll find it here.
    We have to hurry in now,

    hurry away, it's the same thing
    she said as rain came and stole the king.


It was an hour ago. I walked upstairs to dreamland. Took a cab and got out and somebody else backed in. Now we weren't actually on the Dreamland floor. That would be for later. Look, these are the proper plans, plants. They used to have a Chautauqua here, far out into the lake. Now it's peeled. No one actually comes here. Yet there are people. You just hardly ever see them. No I wasn't being modest. Some get out on the floor, several a year, whose purple glass sheds an eldritch glow on the trottoirs, as Whitman called them. Or spittoons. Look, we are almost a half a mile later, it must link up. The Tennessee drifter smiled sharkly. Then it was on to native board games.

Je bois trop.

In one of these, called "Skunk," you are a weasel chasing a leveret back to its hole when Bop! the mother weasel, about ten stories tall, traps you with her apron string, patterned with poppies and rotted docks. You see, you thought every noun had to have an adjective, even "sperm," and that's where you made your first big mistake. Later it's raining and we have to take a car. But the game isn't over — there are sixteen thousand marble steps coming up, down which you glide as effortlessly as you please, as though on a bicycle, weasel in tow. It's an exercise bike. What a time to tell me, the solar wind has sandpapered everything as smooth as quartz. Now it's back to the finish line with you.

You're not quite out of the woods yet. Dreamland has other pastures, other melodies to chew on. Hummingbirds mate with dragonflies beneath the broken dome of the air, and it's three o'clock, the sun is raining mineral-colored candy. I'd like one of these. It's yours. Now I'm glad we came. I hate drafts though and the sun is slowly moving away. I'm standing on the poopdeck wiggling colored pennants at the coal-colored iceberg that seems to be curious about us, is sliding this way and that, then turns abruptly back into the moors with their correct hills in the distance. If it was me I'd take a trip like this every day of my life.


    This is going to take some time.
    Nope, it's almost over. For today anyway.
    We'll have a beautiful story, old story
    to fish for as his gasps come undone.

    I never dreamed the pond of chagrin
    would affect me this much. Look, I'm shaking.
    No, it's you who are doing the shaking.
    Well, it all comes round to us
    sooner or later. Shrinking with the devil
    in the stagey sunrise he devised.
    And then there will be no letters for what is truth,
    to make up the words of it. It will be standing still
    for all it's worth. Then a hireling shepherd came along,
    whistling, his eyes on the trees. He was a servant of two
    which is some excuse, though not really all that much of a
    Anyway, he overstayed his welcome. But the last train had
    already left.

    How does one conduct one's life amid such circumstances,
    dear snake, who want the best for us
    as long as you are not hurt by it.
    My goodness, I thought I'd seen a whole lot of generations,
    but they are endless, one keeps following another,
    treading on its train, hissing.

    What a beautiful old story it could be after all
    if those in the back rows would stop giggling for a minute.
    By day, we have paddled and arbitraged
    to get to this spot. By night, it hardly matters.

    Funny we didn't anticipate this,
    but the dumbest clues get overlooked by the smartest
    and we are back in some fetishist's vinyl paradise
    with no clue as to how we got here
    except the tiny diamond on your pillow — it must have been
    a tear
    hatched from a dream, when you actually knew what you
    were doing.
    Now, it's all fear. Fear and wrongdoing.
    The outboard motor sputters and quits, and a tremendous
    beats down from every point in the sky. To have digested
    when we were younger, and felt a set of balls coming on ...

    It may be that thunder and lightning are two-dimensional,
    that there was never really any place for fear,
    that others get trapped, same as us, and make up
    amusing stories to cover their tracks. Wait,
    there's one in the donjon wants to speak his piece. Rats,
    now he's gone too.

    Yes, he near slipped and died in front of you,
    and you intend to twist this into an ethos?
    Go make up other stories.
    Window reflected in the bubble,
    how often I've tried to pray to you,
    but your sphere would have nothing of it.
    I felt almost jinxed. Then a spider led the way
    back into the room.

    And we knew why we'd never left. Outside was brushfires.
    Here was the peace of Philemon and Baucis,
    offering chunks of bread and salami to the tattered
    and a beaker of wine darker than the deepest twilight,
    a table spread with singularities
    for the desperate and tragic among us.

    Angel, come back please. Let us smell your heavenly smell


Two Poems

Lyn Hejinian


    Banned from ships as if I were fate herself, I nonetheless long hankered    after adventures
    At sea
    But buckets, lifeboats, gulls, and fishguts on wharves were as near as I got
    Or the beach. The ban was inoperative on the sands, I boarded
    Wrecks. The terns, godwits and gulls were ashore as at sea, and I learned the fine points
    By which one can distinguish between the sandpipers
    Just as I learned that there are many fine points to fate
    Which divulges what comes to pass indefinitely
    So that we can hardly say of things that happen that
    they were meant to be
    Or that they were not. Like a pupil
    I was ruled by obedience
    To rules I broke. I floundered around
    And enjoyed my choices — I was eager
    To receive —
    But not without perplexity, I was endowed with doubt
    And that is one of the few things I can say of myself then that I can say of myself
    Now, for the most part there has been little confluence. I've been swept
    Against objects, lost habits,
    Knowledge grows
    But it has to be connected to things.
    And that connection is usually best achieved
    So they say
    Through perceiving similarities. No way!
    Winds blow in a giant circle and set up resistance to anyone going the other way.
    Still it came about that the ban was lifted
    Suddenly one fall
    And I went to sea after all
    And shaped a course away from the trees that framed the seascape
    Beyond my mother's house, incandescent birches and fiery maples as well as forbidding clouds of hemlock and pine,
    A forest that was like a terrestrial sky
    But is much less so now in memory. I don't remember why
    It was said that a woman's presence on a ship at sea would bring disaster down on everyone aboard, the gods of mythology seem to have liked us well enough
    Or maybe they liked us too well, chasing us in animal form
    With violent winds.
    But mythology gave
    Way to history
    And now history is going
    The way of bedtime stories. A path, bricks, innocents — they are additions, but odd
    Additions to oddity.
    Gullibility is an expression of enthusiasm
    So great it makes decisions. But I am throwing off
    faith, bound to regard the sea
    As a prison holding people whom their childhood
    friends cannot believe capable of crime.
    It is midsummer and the sun is lost in the sun,
    visibility is accomplished. Can credibility
    Be far behind?
    But I won't pretend
    To be an historian, how could I, when I have no idea
    of today's date
    And though I know we embarked one morning early in May
    I have no idea how long ago that was
    And I don't care. I breathe, I twist my hair.

    I watch the sea. At times it resembles an eye but it
    isn't watching me.
    Some days ago a "native kayak" appeared and then disappeared, winding through a lead in the ice.
    The first mate kept close watch for several hours after the kayak, following a shimmering band of water west, disappeared
    Or, as the first mate put it, "withdrew" — the mate insisting that the occupant might be a pirate
    Or some other type with hostile intent
    Emboldened by the ice
    In broad daylight. A strange expression. Soon there
    will be no more than a band of pink against the darkness,
    Narrow daylight
    As at the beginning or end
    Of a day in the habitable latitudes,
    Where breadth is what is assumed of days
    As it is of the sea even when mist closes in around the ship. She is called the Distance.
    We go where she goes
    And arrive willy-nilly at times and places of whose existence we'd known nothing before
    And which therefore, though we come upon them inevitably (there being always somewhere and always in or at it something — whether material or musical — that establishes its "somewhereness"), we reach involuntarily,
    It's to these that we hope to go and from these that we hope to return.
    But beset by such hopefulness (cold,
    Ominous, and calm) we're getting nowhere
    And tempers are short.
    I've grown hard of hearing, the first mate said this morning in a tone dripping with sarcasm.
    Did you ask for a hard-boiled egg?
    Jean-Pierre is no longer included in the games the other children are playing, soon he'll be an adolescent, already he's hovering over the figurehead,
    A woman holding a telescope to her left eye.
    For the most part it is trained on the horizon.
    She is establishing herself.

    According to the Greeks metamorphoses have to be complete
    And are impossible. Things may change
    But nothing can become the opposite
    Of what it is. The sea cannot
    Be not the sea. Yet
    I can see it
    Both ways.
    Then yet again I hardly remember who it was I was instead of this back when I longed to go to sea and couldn't.
    I gazed up through branches tossing in the wind at the blue planes of the sky and felt rooted, even at an early age,
    Perhaps to gods but if so my deities were streaming
    Or grinding like a boat being hauled out of the waves
    over stony
    ground. The sound
    Gives me pleasure still though it is fugitive. Pleasures are synonymous with power (and with powers
    Though these are very different things),
    And lest they become dangerous they must be fugitive.
    How strangely our course approaches forks, how variously we decide which tack to take. We ourselves are fugitives,
    The world is strange. It appears to last and appears so as to last,
    In the dark of night or of storms, into which it disappears to last as well. We have come in the dark
    Upon landforms, shores, islands without knowing what to expect. On some
    One may enter into friendship, on others into endless complaint.
    But there must be more to friendship than a placid acceptance of misunderstandings.
    And interruptions, though these have the effect of inevitabilities
    We encounter constantly.
    Someone remarks "there's something over there" or, more urgently, "there's something ahead!"
    The boat tacks — I say that though the engines are running.
    We have no destination. One can't foretell
    What may or may not be pointless.
    The boat arches, bends, turns — it is shaping itself. Sometimes I climb into a lifeboat to think
    And there I dream confusedly that we've "varied" and come to an island
    Which can be approached only through one of forty doors,
    At each one of which sits a perched bird that can disclose the mysteries of logic to me in an ancient language which I will understand.
    The gist of what occurs according to the birds is unlikeliness.
    We are all so busy it seems sometimes that the only time we can appreciate being
    Is when we are at sea
    Subject to capriciousness
    Though we sleep slung in binding hammocks
    Like spiders or netted fish
    Or like trapeze artists bouncing to ground level at the end of their act. Tonight the sea
    Has twisted in turbulence. Observing the effects I've grown vertiginously
    Calm. How odd it is to be out.


Excerpted from Conjunctions by Bradford Morrow. Copyright © 2015 CONJUNCTIONS. Excerpted by permission of Bard College.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


John Ashbery, Four Poems,
Lyn Hejinian, Two Poems,
Myung Mi Kim, Siege Document,
Brenda Coultas, Three Poems,
Arthur Sze, Quipu,
Jorie Graham, Six Poems,
Michael Palmer, Three Poems,
Mark McMorris, Reef: Shadow of Green,
Susan Wheeler, Each's Cot An Altar Then,
Ann Lauterbach, Three Poems,
Clark Coolidge, Arc of His Slow Demeanors,
Gustaf Sobin, Two Poems,
Alice Notley, Four Poems,
Tessa Rumsey, The Expansion of the Self,
Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling, Two Landscapes,
Forrest Gander, Voiced Stops,
Tan Lin, Ambient Stylistics,
Marjorie Welish, Delight Instruct,
Laynie Browne, Roseate, Points of Gold,
James Tate, Two Poems,
Honor Moore, Four Poems,
Leslie Scalapino, From The Tango,
Bin Ramke, Gravity & Levity,
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Two Poems,
Charles Bernstein, Reading Red,
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Charles Bernstein, A Dialogue,
Rosmarie Waldrop, Five Poems,
Martine Bellen, Two Poems,
Peter Sacks, Five Poems,
Reginald Shepherd, Two Poems,
Barbara Guest, Two Poems,
Donald Revell, Two Poems for the Seventeenth Century,
Paul Hoover, Resemblance,
Elaine Equi, Five Poems,
Norma Cole, Conjunctions,
Jena Osman, Boxing Captions,
Ron Silliman, Fubar Clus,
John Yau, Three Movie Poems,
Melanie Neilson, Two Poems,
Robert Kelly, Orion: Opening the Seals,
Nathaniel Mackey, Two Poems,
C. D. Wright, From One Big Self,
Peter Gizzi, Fin Amor,
Carol Moldaw, Festina Lente,
Charles North, Five Poems,
Robert Creeley, Supper,
Brenda Shaughnessy, Three Poems,
Malinda Markham, Four Poems,
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Draft 38: Georgics and Shadow,
Nathaniel Tarn, Two Poems,
Peter Cole, Proverbial Drawing,
Fanny Howe, Splinter,
Anne Tardos, Four Plus One K,
Roberto Tejada, Four Poems,
Andrew Mossin, The Forest,
Elizabeth Willis, Two Poems,
David Shapiro, Two Poems,
Camille Guthrie, At the Fountain,
Susan Howe, From Preterient,
Cole Swensen, Seven Hands,
Susan Howe and Cole Swensen, A Dialogue,
Keith Waldrop, A Vanity,
Will Alexander, Fishing as Impenetrable Stray,
Juliana Spahr, Blood Sonnets,
Jerome Sala, Two Poems,
Leonard Schwartz, Ecstatic Persistence,
Catherine Imbriglio, Three Poems,
Vincent Katz, Two Poems,
Thalia Field, Land at Church City,
John Taggart, Not Egypt,
Renee Gladman, The Interrogation,
Laura Moriarty, Seven Poems,
Kevin Young, Film Noir,
Jackson Mac Low, Five Stein Poems,
Rae Armantrout, Four Poems,
Anselm Hollo, Guests of Space,
A Note from Open Road Media,

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