Thursday, May 31, 2012

A few of my favorite lines of poetry

"Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so." - "Dream Song 14" by John Berryman

"I'm the individual." - "The Individual's Soliloquy" by Nicanor Parra

"And here I am, the center of / all beauty!" - "Autobiographia Literaria" by Frank O'Hara

"I am backward light, which isn't as cool as it sounds." - "The Above Song" by Julia Story

"I won't breathe this unbreathable blue light / I don't trust it; it's not to be trusted" - "Vow with Salt" by John Cotter & Shafer Hall

"The day crawls by like a living document, / the prettier for having forgotten me." - "The Detonator Always Has a Red Button" by Justin Marks

"I think that black into pink is devastating." - "Skin" by Marjorie Welish

"I felt that tiny insane voluptuousness" - "At the Desk" by Theodore Storm

"it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only / all the time" - "Part of Eve's Discussion" by Marie Howe

"Dude I am not going to steal your acorn" - "Jackhammer Namaskar" by Chris Nealon

"Wide tree, / what are you like?" - "Nearing Summer" by Chris Tonelli

"No one / is as stubborn as me, and my Tartar horse / prefers a north wind." - "After the Chinese" by Tess Gallagher

"I was bad luck, de-flowered, / a version of the wind / blowing through a woman / that a widow is." - "The Return" by Frances McCue

"I eat men like air." - "Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath

"She exists, I swear, I see her everywhere!" - "City of Moths" by Sampson Starkweather 

"But no queen comes / in slipper green." - "Depression before Spring" by Wallace Stevens

"I have wasted my life." - "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" by James Wright

"You must change your life." - "Archaic Torso of Apollo" by Rainer Maria Rilke


  1. I'm not surprised at the preponderance of the "dramatic" in this list; many of these are new to me, thanks for posting them.

    A few favorite lines off the top of my head; this list is a little free-associative: 1. "his fulgent cloak a gathering of the dark" (Geoffrey Hill about a peacock). 2. "Nurses to their graves are gone / And the prams go rolling on." (Auden). 3. "Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth / And delves the parallels in beauty's brow." (Shakespeare, sonnets somewhere -- one could keep going w/ Shakespeare so I'll stop.) 4. "The measure of the intensity of love / Is measure also of the verve of earth." (Stevens, Monocle). 5. "Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn." (Tennyson, Tithonus). 6. "Land where Liris crumbles her bank in silence / though the water seems not to move." (Pound, translating Horace). 7. "Stepping in the moonlight, / on the moonlight peculiarly" (Moore, Pangolin). 8. "hairy, scratchy, splintery" (Bishop, on moonlight, in the Moose).

    1. Oh yes, I love a big dramatic proclamation, and where else can you get away with it? (Anywhere but work, really.)

      I could do a whole post just of favorite Stevens lines.

      As for Auden, I love the final line of "The Fall of Rome": "Silently and very fast."

    2. Yes, a list of good Stevens lines is almost too easy. (A lot of them from poems that I find pretty incomprehensible as wholes.)

    3. True. And there are all kinds of qualifications I could make to this list -- a favorite line doesn't necessarily come from a favorite poem or even a favorite poet, though often it does.

  2. for dramatic proclamations, I really don't think you can beat: "In a far recess of summer / Monks are playing soccer."

    1. Seems pretty matter of fact to me!

  3. I often try to think of favorite lines that weren't written by J.A., but I keep failing. I thought I had one with Ted Berrigan's "Dear, be the tree your sleep awaits"—until I realized he lifted it from a poem by...J.A.

    1. How about this one I forgot: "I don't know how the rest of you feel, / but I feel drunk all the time" - Kenneth Patchen

  4. "And the footsteps of early workers are building the streets to the river." (Thomas McGrath, "Dawn Song.")

    "If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't." (Berryman, in one of the Dream Songs.)

    "Bring to the cup of this new life/ your old buried sorrows." (Neruda, "Alturas de Machu Picchu." My own translation of the lines.)

    "A thousand Persian ponies went to sleep/ in the moonlit plaza of your forehead." (Lorca, "Gacela of the Unforeseen Love." W.S. Merwin's translation.)

    "The long wind left/ in the mouth of rare taste/ of gall, mint and sweet-basil." (Lorca, "Romance Sonambulo." My own translation of the line."

    "every built thing has its unmeant purpose" (Adrienne Rich, "Powers of Recuperation," in her last book of poems, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve.)

    "And in the hands/ dough pulls back from itself,/ beginning to glisten,/ taking shape in the act of resistance." (Jenne Andrews, "Songs from the Bread." * I quoted these lines as an epigraph at the front of one of my early books.)

    "In the bird-waking time/ from the knowing of coals/ I have sown fire shoes." (Franklin Brainard, "Fire Shoes.")

    "I can almost understand now/ what the gulls are saying." (Sharon Doubiago, "Ground Zero.")

    "like amnesiacs// in a ward on fire, we must/ find words/ or burn." (Olga Broumas, "Artemis.")

    "Strangers: go tell among the Companions:/ These dead weren't put down by Cheyennes or red Chinese:/ The poison of their own sweet country has brought them here." (Thomas McGrath, "Something Is Dying Here.")


    The James Wright line you've given here ("I have wasted my life.") could go on my list also, though truthfully it's hard for me to pick out just one line from that poem.

    As an aside, regarding Wright's poem --

    William Duffy (on whose farm the poem takes place) was the co-editor, with Robert Bly, of Bly's magazine The Fifties (which later became The Sixties, and briefly, the Seventies, and, more recently, The Thousands). Bly and Wright would get together on weekends at one or the other's home (in different parts of Minnesota maybe two or three hours apart) to read submissions to the magazine and answer them.

    James Wright was teaching at the time at the U. of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He would often come and join Bly and Duffy on the weekends, though typically when Bly and Duffy got going on the magazine Wright would go wandering outside. It was on one such occasion that the Hammock poem was born.

    William Duffy was a high school English teacher for much of his life. One of his students was poet Jim Dochniak, a longtime friend of mine who years back published one of my books.

    In this respect, I feel something like an almost personal connection or lineage with the poem. Though "lineage" is maybe a little grandiose. But anyway, likely one of the reasons I have a hard time picking out just one line from it...

    1. Oh, great story! Thanks for sharing.