from Lessons From Television

By Susan Stewart b. 1952 Susan Stewart
You must laugh at yourself, laugh and laugh.   
Music swells the emotions;
music exists to punctuate seeing.
Emotion, therefore, is punctuation.

Formless, freedom resembles abasement.   
Abasement is as infinite as desire.
You must laugh at yourself, laugh and laugh.

Those who are not demons are saints.   
You are not a demon or a saint.

Women are small and want something,
so laugh at yourself, laugh and laugh.

Bed are sites of abasement.   
The news is about the news.

Faces in close-up are always in anguish.   
Hair and teeth are clues to class.

Clothes are changing,   
hanging up or down
And change itself is a laugh.

Cause can’t be figured
and consequence is yet to come.

You’re either awake or asleep   
and that, too, is a clue to class.

Children are never with groups of children   
unless they are singing in chorus.

Their mothers cannot do enough,
though there’s always room for improvement.

And improvement lies in progress,   
though collapsing is good for a laugh.

Saints will turn to the worse.   
Demons die if they can be found.

Nature is combat, weather is sublime.   
Even weather can make you laugh.

People you don’t know are louder than you are,   
but what is far away cannot harm you—

Books are objects, families are inspiring.   
Animals protect their young;   
the young come with the territory.

English is the only language.
Reading is an occasion for interruption,   
and interruption is a kind of laugh.

Something is bound to get better.
And there is a pill with your name on it.

When indoors, stick with your own race—   
that way you’ll feel free to laugh.

Strangers are paying attention to your smell.   
A camera will light like a moth on disaster.   
Pity will turn to irony.

The street is a dark and frightful place.   
Fires are daily.

Your car is your face.

You must laugh at yourself, laugh and laugh.

Susan Stewart, “Lessons from Television” from Columbarium (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by the University of Chicago. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Columbarium (The University of Chicago Press, 2003)

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Poet Susan Stewart b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Susan  Stewart


In an interview at the University of Pennsylvania, Susan Stewart said that her primary goal as a poet is “to get people to read more slowly, and to reread, and to read a whole book and go back to the beginning of the book and see connections.” Her writing can be startlingly clear, while at the same time—in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, on the occasion of presenting her with a “Genius Award”—it makes “strange and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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