Beautiful, mysterious images are static. Too many such images clog a poem. A mysterious image is a holy, wonder-working icon. How many of those can you have in a single poem?
Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, p. 48
...now I understand about the comfort to be found in fear; also the power. Sometimes now I think it is the fear that keeps me safe; sometimes now I think the fear is all that keeps me safe. When I am scared of everything, the fear becomes a gauze bandage around me and I am convinced that if I stop being afraid, if I let my guard down for just one minute, all hell will break loose and fly apart in my face like a shattered windshield. On airplanes, I am so scared that I think If I relax and let myself enjoy the flight, the movie, the drinks, the conversation of the interesting woman beside me, we will crash for sure. It is my fear alone that keeps us airborne. All the other passengers can do whatever they damn well please: they have no responsibility and so no power. I realize there is a pumped-up vanity in this, a perverse delusion of grandeur in the belief that I could single-handedly avert disaster and save these smug, stupid strangers, not to mention myself.
The power of fear lies in its conceit or the conceit of fear lies in its presumption of power.
Diane Shoemperlen, from the short story "The Look of Lightning, The Sound of Birds" from the collection Red Plaid Shirt
Vocabulary of Dearness Naomi Shihab Nye
How a single word
may shimmer and rise
off the page, a wafer of
syllabic light, a bulb
of glowing meaning,
whatever the word,
try “tempestuous” or “suffer,”
any word you have held
or traded so it lives a new life
the size of two worlds.
Say you carried it
up a hill and it helped you
move. Without this
the days would be thing sticks
thrown down in a clutter of leaves,
and where is the rake?
Anyone involved with the institutions of poetry would do well to remember this. With all the clamor in this country about the audience for poetry, a veritable barnyard of noise into which I myself have been known to bray, we shouldn't lose sight of one of poetry's chief strengths: how little of it there is. I don't mean how little there is in the culture, but how little there is at any one time that is truly excellent. Poetry's invisibility is deplorable and worth fighting. Its rareness is admirable and the chief source of its strength. Indeed, I sometimes think that if we honored its rarity more, poetry's invisibility would be less of a problem, or at least we might define the notion of visibility differently. Seamus Heaney has noted that if a person has a single poem in his head, one that he returns to and through which, even in small ways, he understands his life better, this constitutes a devotion to the art. It is enough. And in fact I find that this is almost always how non-specialists read poetry – rarely, sparingly, but intensely, with a handful of high moments that they cling to. The emphasis is on the memorable individual poem, and poetry in bulk is rarely memorable.
Christian Wiman, Poetry, Dec. 2006
Tread-softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus) Sarah Hannah
Hell, this is a field without end,
Wider than a gate, athrum with
Insect wing and Squawk. I might as well
Go swim in flame, but I can't swim,
So I'll just walk: bramble, spike,
And blame, without a single quenching
Drop of dew. Not a field—a ravine—
I mean a raving: You. And I'm
On double shift: daughter, nurse,
In double oxymoron: home hospice.
Some have said it's not worth saving,
This tiny family of Spurge: we two.
The hooks go in, the rash is swift, and
There's no poultice, only spur and spurned.
Even the milk sap burns. I've the urge to turn
And quit, but there's simply no one else to do it;
No one could or would—tread softly, that is—
Open the hand, toss the shoes and step back in,
Knowing what I know.
She Considers the Dimensions of Her Soul Young Smith
(Mrs. Morninghouse, after a Sermon Entitled,
"What the Spirit Teaches Us through Grief")
"What the Spirit Teaches Us through Grief")
The shape of her soul is a square.
She knows this to be the case
because she sometimes feels its corners
pressing sharp against the bone
just under her shoulder blades
and across the wings of her hips.
At one time, when she was younger,
she had hoped that it might be a cube,
but the years have worked to dispel
this illusion of space. So that now
she understands: it is a simple plane:
a shape with surface, but no volume—
a window without a building, an eye
without a mind.
Of course, this square
does not appear on x-rays, and often,
weeks may pass when she forgets
that it exists. When she does think
to consider its purpose in her life,
she can say only that it aches with
a single mystery for whose answer
she has long ago given up the search—
since that question is a name which can
never quite be asked. This yearning,
she has concluded, is the only function
of the square, repeated again and again
in each of its four matching angles,
until, with time, she is persuaded anew
to accept that what it frames has no
interest in ever making her happy.