Ready For Their Close-Up: Two Poems

In the American Heritage dictionary close-up is defined as:  1.  A photograph or a film or television shot in which the subject is tightly framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2.  An intimate view or description.
The Poetix poetry section is edited by Suzanne Lummis. 

Letters to Suzanne


Suzanne, Thank you for your introduction to Poetix.  It is very refreshing to have someone like you bring in morsels of fine poetry to a person who does not take enough time to really appreciate the art and its creators.  I would like to visit this site every time you have a new issue.  Your critique provides the craddling arms around the work while avoiding didactic interpretation--A true curator's craft. I believe that without people like you, poets like R. Seiferle and Barnes may dissipate into quirky obscurity.  Prof. Barnes was my mentor at Pomona College.  How reassuring to see that his spirit lives beyond his own personal sphere of people like myself.  Now, I am going to go sniff some creosote and run off with the desert coati and kestrals. — Won Kim

"Elementary Principles at Seventy-Two" by Richard Howard

"A Hard and Noble Patience" by David St. John



"Sometimes we must resist rather than merely reflect our times." 


Who wrote this?  If anyone out there remembers please e-mail me the name of its author because I've plum forgotten.


For December 2002 I've chosen visitor Richard Howard and resident David St. John, both poets whose language seems at once to reflect and resist contemporary fashions in writing.  The following  contain flourishes of the colloquial, and the off-hand, unstudied remark,  yet in each case the  tone recalls – pleasantly for me – that era when men of property did not sit down to dinner without a dinner jacket. 

A few elements of Richard Howard's poem intrigue me, and one involves the title.  What if this little piece approaching the subject of death in its wending (and, oh all right,  winding) way, sly at times with its parenthetical asides, were called "Elementary Principles at 24" instead of "… Principles at Seventy-Two."  I think I'd like it less, not because a 24 year old can't write compellingly about death – God knows how many 24-year-olds around the world have witnessed and endured multiple deaths  – but because I might mistrust  that rather mannered voice.  'Oh,' I'd think, 'some grad student's aiming for The New Criterion.  But in knowing the poet is 72 this particular manner and style play out quite differently in my understanding.  It's as if the poet devises means to steer around and past self-dramatization or obvious pathos, and as a result the quiet closing down of the poem at the end, that final descent upon the one last possible consolation, seems all the more stirring and poignant. 

A student brought the following David St. John poem to my attention once again when he  recited it in class last week. This inspired a discussion on how the narrative poem does not necessarily always serve as a vessel for more-or-less literal  news of one's present life and store of memories.  Poetry – maybe even above the other literary arts – can enable the writer to create for himself (herself) some other identity, some other life, perhaps a parallel life far more revealing of the poet's interior world than any detailed account of day-to-day routines. 


I doubt the fragment of a tale revealed in "A Hard and Noble Patience" obeys the literal truth.  However, the poem convinces me that a woman should have come into being who would, at the appropriate time,  resolve to disappear into that Swiss lake frequented by neighboring gods.  And the poet ought to have been present when her body was drawn from the water.  And her iced lashes should have quivered under his breath exactly as he describes.  If all this didn't happen accordingly then this constitutes a blunder on the part of Providence – which makes, oh, so many mistakes!  And here the poet goes as far as a poet can to set things right. 


                                                            — Suzanne Lummis

Note:  Richard Howard reads at The Hammer Museum series, 8 p.m., Wednesday, December 4, and in the gallery at Otis Art School, 7 p.m., Friday, December 6. 

Richard Howard

Elementary Principles at Seventy-Two


     When we consider the stars

(what else can we do with them?) and even

recognize among them sidereal


     father-figures (it was our

consideration that arranged them so),

they will always outshine us, for we change.


     When we behold the water

(which cannot be held, for it keeps turning

into itself), that is how we would move –


     but water overruns us.

And when we aspire to be clad in fire

(for who would not put on such apparel?)


     the flames only pass us by –

it is a way they have of passing through.

But earth is another matter. Ask earth


     to take us, the last mother –

one womb we may reassume. Yes indeed,

we can have the earth. Earth will have us.



Richard HowardRichard Howard's "Talking Cures" was published  by Turtle Point Press this year.  He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for "Untitled Subjects.  He is poetry editor of The Paris Review and a noted translator.





David St. John

A Hard and Noble Patience


There is a hard & noble patience

I admire in my friends who are dead

Though I admit there are none of them

I would change places with


For one thing look how poorly they dress


Only one is still beautiful

& that is because

She chose to drown herself in a Swiss lake

Fed by a glacier said in local myth

To be a pool of the gods


& when her body was found she was so

Preserved by the icy currents

That even her eyelashes seemed to quiver

Beneath my breath


Though that was only for an instant


Before she was strapped to a canvas stretcher

& loaded into a blue van

Soon I was the only person still standing

At the lake's edge    A man made lonely

By such beauty


A man with less than perfect faith in any god



David St. JohnThe poem above appears in the Houghton Mifflin book "No Heaven," 1985.  David St. John's new book of poetry, "Prism," springs from a collaboration with the visual artist Lance Patigian. Robert Haas, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, praised  St. John's sentences as "…full, almost past ripeness, of a floating, sometimes painful, sometimes wistful, intense, dark and silvery eroticism…"  He teaches at USC.

Ready for Their Close-Up Archive

Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach