Week of poets — ghosts, candles and skin

Hide-and-seek, children invisible in the dusk, memories made intangible, even unreal  … at 7 p.m. tonight, professor Lawrence Raab will read from “Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts” at Water Street Books. He has just earned a National Book Award longlist nomination for his new collection. (Amanda Korman, an old friend, fellow Williams alum and former colleague at the Eagle, pointed me to the announcement from Tupelo Press.)

The poem excerpt here seems to echo the title — insubstantial people, sounds in the dark, too far away to touch. Raab reminds me here of Mark Strand, and now I remember that he admired Strand. He introduced me to Strand’s poetry years ago in poetry workshops and spoke of Strand’s precision, his language and his encouragement with wondering respect.

Congratulations, Professor Raab. I remember conversations in those afternoons, talking about narrative and logic in a poem, storytelling, and the power of endings that feel both unexpected and inevitable, like James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”


This is a good week for poetry. Moving south, in Lenox, Gjertrud Schnackenberg will give the annual Amy Clampitt poetry reading at the Mount on Friday, Sept. 18. An NEA and Guggenheim fellow, she has written six collections of poetry, and an anthlogy of Pushcart Prize poetry holds her poem “Night Fishing” from “Laughing with One Eye,” written for her father. Her memories are tangible.

“Sligtly abstracted — what were you thinking of?
Turks in Vienna? Luther on Christian Love?
Or were you with Van Gogh beneath the moom
with candles in his hatband, painting stars
like singed hairs spinning in a candle flame?”

She recalls a man swept away in curiosity and vivdly immersed in the world — someone with deep and varied knowledge of all kinds of things, and a sense of humor and gentleness.

And she turns to rhythm, meter and rhyme, as Amy Clampitt did, and seems to relax into patterns of sound. In her hands language moves fluidly and naturally from warmth to cold, between love and sadness. The professor imagining Van Gogh is now dead. But in these lines full of music and mess and fertile earth he is solid, heart-beatingly alive and aware of the life around him:

“… I never knew
a man who loved the world as much as you, 
and that love was the last thing to let go.”


And farther down Route 7 Thomas Sayers Ellis will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington. His work pulses, invokes the rhythms of Go-Go music in taut, active and concise lines —

“God climbs inside,
Asking for souls —
Something we weren’t taught to share.”

Connection is a deep and sometimes difficult need, but it is possible. Poetry, music, dance, bare honesty are possible.

Assistant Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, a faculty member of the Lesley University low-residency M.F.A Program and a Caven Canem faculty member, he has recently published a new collection, “Skin, Inc.,” with Greywolf Press.

To hear him read, try this video in Taylor Mali’s Page Meet Stage series, as he invokes his father not to draw close to the memory, or to make it incorporeal, but to was away from it, to recognize his own body and hands and skill and seeing eyes.


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