…other than the fact that I’ve discovered that I like these entries to have pictures, and I wanted to figure out how to post a picture. But there’s also the real-world analogue to this cyber entry, namely the space outside my window, where for years I have pointlessly hung a black thistle feeder, though no finches ever came to eat thistle seed: I have finally achieved goldfinches. [A pause from typing this while I roll over to look out. Yep. there is a goldfinch! I think they are nesting in the nearby hazelnut tree.]
To get to the question of what they have to do with poetry, I don’t think a poem would interest me unless the actual world intruded somehow (having said this, I am barraged with exceptions. Like most of Wallace Stevens.)
Inward, non-real-world sources would be useful as my own habitat grows rather limited by my growing agoraphobia (no, not really phobia, not fear, more just an aversion, and not of the marketplace either, not of impersonal social settings. In fact I’m attracted to poems written from the point of view of an observer in the public commons. But usually a detached observer. And hence I force myself out. It’s social interaction I’ve become averse to.)
As Dickinson would say, isn’t my father’s yard enough? In that restricted environment, she looked to birds, who put mortality very plainly in view, as the seasons pass and their singing comes and goes, as the species appear and vanish in their migratory habits. “We are the birds that stay” is how Dickinson describes those who witness, as she did, the deaths of their loved ones. Birds became stand-ins for humans.
It is good to stay vigilant about what is going on outside, but then, once one tunes into outside, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the passing of everything. My thistle feeder is planted in a clump of rhododendrons, which were so spectacular and heartening when they popped open (it seems like) the other day. But then it rained, and now they’re all smashed and decrepit. One pricks oneself up to the world, and realizes it’s all sad.
Sadness isn’t a perspicacious-enough response, though. Dickinson sure kept her wits about her when it came to grief. And the writing of a poem is also the act of taking a stand against the sadness.

Originally Published: June 8th, 2008

Lucia Perillo grew up in the suburbs of New York City. She earned a BSc in wildlife management from McGill University in Montreal and worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before earning an MA in English from Syracuse University. Perillo was the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Dangerous...

  1. June 8, 2008
     Emily Warn

    I've now read your post three or four times and each time feel as if I've been dropped into the space after one of Emily Dickinson's dashes. Were you and she sent on the same errand? When I read, "the writing of a poem is also the act of taking a stand against the sadness," I thought of these lines from Susan Howe's new book Souls of the Labadie Tract : "Words give clothing to hide our nakedness."
    Thank you for the view from your perch.
    Here's a slightly longer excerpt from which Susan Howe's line comes:
    “During his ministry in Northampton, Jonathan Edwards traveled alone on horseback from parish to parish. Boston was a three-day ride east. It was easier to get to Hartford and New Haven. At Greenfield, the Mohawk Trail began its climb westward toward eastern New York (then frontier territory). As an idea occurred to him, he pinned a small piece of paper on his clothing, fixing in his mind an association between the location of the paper and the particular insight. On his return home, he unpinned each slip and wrote down its associated thought according to location. 'Extricate all questions from the least confusion by words or ambiguity of words so that the Ideas shall be left naked’ he once wrote. Poetry is love for the felt fact stated in sharpest, most agile and detailed lyric terms. Words give clothing to hide our nakedness. I love to imagine this gaunt and solitary traveler covered in scraps riding through the woods and field of Massachusetts and Connecticut.” – Susan Howe from Souls of the Labadie Tract

  2. June 9, 2008
     Mary Meriam

    Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
    Points on me graciously with fair aspect
    And puts apparel on my tatter'd loving,
    To show me worthy of thy sweet respect
    (sonnet 26)
    I've also read your post three times, in-between searching for the name of the pair of birds with deep brilliant yellow color all over (or was it orange?). I can't find them. I can't remember exactly what color they were, but I do remember it was a brilliant flash of very deep bright color.
    I've been watching birds out my window for 14 years now, housebound. The birds I've seen! Here in a national forest, next to a lake. I think about Emily D. all the time. "The brow is that of Deity - the eyes, those of the lost, but the power lies in the throat - pleading, sovereign, savage - the panther and the dove!" (Emily Dickinson)
    "If history is a record of survivors, Poetry shelters other voices." (Susan Howe, Incloser)

  3. June 9, 2008

    I haven't looked at Howe in a while, but these excerpts make me eager to get back.
    Poets clamor to claim that distinct scrap of history--but often we latch onto fads (I think of Henry Darger). Yet Howe finds the scrap, the prize, that no one else finds.