Girl with Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

By W. S. Di Piero b. 1945
He put the spirit essence
the light pip not only
in each eye’s albumen
concentrate of starlight
but must have been taught
how to do that by first
finding it in the pearl
he posed then corrected
in dusty studio light
that pounced on the window
behind which sits the cheeky girl
pear- and apple-blossom cheeks
a fake description naturally
of their plain fleshiness
drably golden and her lips
from Haight Street’s darlings
nose studs jacket studs
girls with that kind of eye
one by the atm machine
casual juicy and so fair
a Netherlandish type
panhandling strangers
pomegranate seed ball
bearings agleam in her nose
pearls not sea-harvested
but imagined seen put there
by a certain need and fancy
because love says it’s so
picture that picture this.


The editors of Poetry magazine have paired the following prose quotations from City Dog: Essays by W.S. Di Piero with this poem:

The imaginative dimension a poem creates in language is like space in a painting, a one-time event, a unique locale in which poetry (or image-making activity) can happen. Poetry’s space is composed and energized by formal dynamics. I’m not talking about rhyme and meter. Form is a poem’s internal economy, the pattern composed of musicality, rhythm, and sense, created by whatever means. If, as the maxim goes, poetry teaches me how to live, it does so in its mysterious effects of completed form. If it teaches, it does so by shooting its formal force straight into the bloodstream of my consciousness, and it lives its life in me more as instinct than as moral awareness. So it’s not what’s said in poems that has been exemplary to me, it’s poetry’s charged, whole, instantaneous pattern of form that is simultaneously a pattern of feeling.

I think it’s not so crucial to have a signature manner as it is to have a signature form feeling. Then just about any line or stanza or phrase will enact in miniature the weave of the entire poem, and it frees a poet into changing ways of writing. Such freedom can lead, as the mannerisms of plain-style discursiveness cannot, to the borderland where the unconscious squawks through the finer tones of consciousness.

“Girl with Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer” from Skirts And Slacks: Poems © 2001, used by permis- sion of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Prose excerpts selected from City Dog: Essays, © 2009, reprinted by permission of Northwestern University Press.

Source: Poetry (June 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2012
 W. S. Di Piero


W.S. Di Piero was born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned degrees from St. Joseph’s College and San Francisco State College. A poet, essayist, art critic, and translator, Di Piero has taught at institutions such as Northwestern University, Louisiana State University, and Stanford, where he is professor emeritus of English and on faculty in the prestigious Stegner Poetry Workshop. Elected to the American Academy of . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Desire, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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