I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.
"Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are "shirking" your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it."
"What the man left behind was the last shot left on an old roll of film that I had in my camera, taken on our way over on the ferry, when we were smiling and the sun was beaming on our heads. I’m the one who’s braless, wearing the indecent peasant smock: a yard of see-through cotton with elephants embroidered on the yoke. He’s got his arm around me, he’s wearing his shades, his head tilted over mine. And even though I’m the one in the filmy shirt, if you look close enough you can see that in fact he’s the one who’s insubstantial, as if at any moment he might turn into smoke. And when he does, I’ll make a ninety-degree turn and walk right through him. And my solidness will churn whatever’s left of him to wisps."
I love desire, the state of want and thought of how to get; building a kingdom in a soul requires desire. I love the things I’ve sought- you in your beltless bathrobe, tongues of cash that loll from my billfold- and love what I want: clothes, houses, redemption. Can a new mauve suit equal God? Oh no, desire is ranked. To lose a loved pen is not like losing faith. Acute desire for nut gateau is driven out by death, but the cake on its plate has meaning, even when love is endangered and nothing matters. For my mother, health; for my sister, bereft, wholeness. But why is desire suffering? Because want leaves a world in tatters? How else but in tatters should a world be? A columned porch set high above a lake. Here, take my money. A loved face in agony, the spirit gone. Here, use my rags of love.
“I can’t think of anything more apt to set the imagination stirring, drifting, creating, than the idea—the fact—that anyone you walk past on the pavement anywhere may be a sadist, a compulsive thief, or even a murderer.”—Patricia Highsmith, Observer Magazine (1990)
“No, I’m more of an existentialist than [T.S. Eliot] is. I think everyone should have the freedom to ruin his own life, that it’s not my job to close off the possibilities. Let anyone who wishes keep at it until the work and the world instruct him one way or another. Besides, I tend to like people who like poetry. At the very least, those who try their hand at it tend to become better readers.”—Stephen Dunn
"The bad-taste bastard breaks the junky’s golden rule by pitten oan ‘Heroin’, the version oan Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, which if anything, is even mair painful tae listen tae whin yir sick than the original version oan The Velvet Underground and Nico. Mind you, at least this version doesnae huv John Cale’s screeching viola passage oan it. Ah couldnae huv handled that.” —Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting
Distance was the house from which I welcomed you. Time, time was the house, and to welcome you I strung garlands of eggshells and rubies.
Thirsty I welcomed you, you the salt sucked from the tips of braids after running from the ocean of someone else’s childhood.
I turned the skeleton key. I welcomed you from the narthex of invisible churches.
There at the marble bar at the Folks-Bergère I welcomed you in the mirror, waving my chartreuse tumbler, wearing my velvet choker, wafting my nocturnal perfume.
On the subway of extranjeros I patted the empty seat beside me.
I foraged for you in welcome. Like a bottlenose dolphin, I tore sponge from the sea floor covered my beautiful nose with it and dug between barnacled rocks. Yes I welcomed you with my efficient body.
I welcomed you from the house of memory, where I am lonely
Again I vow not to think about whether you arrived, or in what state.
Just that I was there, welcoming
with a singed collar, with a bee balmed in amber, with an oyster cracker, a seashell full of champagne.
I welcomed you from a house of needles. I welcomed you from the fists of babies. Standing on the doormat of’ my black shadow, with a beginner’s brow, with a hoop of angels, with the ache of unlit candles, I welcomed you.
APRIL Our Lady of the Ruins, Traci Brimhall - Winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize. The powerful, hypnotic poems in Our Lady of the Ruins make up a myth in verse that tracks a group of women through their pilgrimage in a mid-apocalyptic world.
MAY Engine Empire, Cathy Park Hong - An inventive trilogy of poems from the author of Dance Dance Revolution. “A brainy, glinting triptych…Novelistic, meditative, offbeat, and soulful.” —David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas
JUNE Orphan Hours, Stanley Plumly - From the National Book Award finalist and recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a book of reconciliation, of coming to terms with time in its most personal and memorable manifestations, and of learning the wisdom of what cannot be changed.
JULY An Individual History, Michael Collier - A cycle of pathbreaking poems about the history of a family set against the backdrop of the last century.
A few years after her younger brother John died from AIDS-related complications in 1989, poet Marie Howe wrote him a poem in the form of a letter. Called “What the Living Do,” the poem is an elegiac description of loss, and of living beyond loss.
“When he died, it was a terrible loss to all of us,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “As you know, as everybody knows, you think, ‘My life is changed so utterly I don’t know how to live it anymore.’ And then you find a way.”
"A good first step toward the liberation of humanity from the oppressive forms of tribalism would be to repudiate, respectfully, the claims of those in power who say they speak for God, are a special representative of God, or have exclusive knowledge of God’s divine will. Included among those purveyors of theological narcissism are would-be prophets, the founders of religious cults, impassioned evangelical ministers, ayatollahs, imams of the grand mosques, chief rabbis, Rosh yeshivas, the Dalai Lama, and the pope. The same is true for dogmatic political ideologies based on unchallengeable precepts, left or right, and especially where justified with the dogmas of organized religions. They may contain intuitive wisdom worth hearing. Their leaders may mean well. But humanity has suffered enough from grossly inaccurate history told by mistaken prophets."
“Love is anticipation and memory, uncertainty and longing. It’s unreasonable, of course. Nothing begins with so much excitement and hope and pleasure as love, except maybe writing a story. And nothing fails as often, except writing stories. And like a story, love must be troubled to be interesting.”—John Dufresne, Love Warps the Mind a Little
“The first business of Style is to make work interesting: the second business of Style is to make work interesting: the third business of Style is to make work interesting: the fourth business of Style is to make work interesting: the fifth business of Style…
Style, then, has no other business.”—Ford Madox Ford, Developing the Theory of Impressionism with [Joseph] Conrad
“It occurs to me,” he said, looking at his friend, who, according to his long-established habit, had plunged straight into the dark comfortable pit of sleep from which nothing would rouse him but the cry of a sail or a change in the wind, “it occurs to me that our race must have a natural propensity to ugliness.You are not an ill-looking fellow, and were almost handsome before you were so pierced, blown up and banged by the enemy and so exposed to the elements; and yet you are to marry a truly beautiful young woman; yet I make no doubt that you will between you produce little common babies, that mewl, pewl and roar all in that same tedious, deeply vulgar, self-centered monotone, drool, cut their teeth, and grow up into plain blockheads.”—
I am going to carry my bed into New York City tonight complete with dangling sheets and ripped blankets; I am going to push it across three dark highways or coast along under 600,000 faint stars. I want to have it with me so I don’t have to beg for too much shelter from my weak and exhausted friends. I want to be as close as possible to my pillow in case a dream or a fantasy should pass by. I want to fall asleep on my own fire escape and wake up dazed and hungry to the sound of garbage grinding in the street below and the smell of coffee cooking in the window above.