The Nation, 5 January 2009


A few things stand out in this issue.  Two pieces by A. C. Thompson, the cover story with a general focus and another about one particular case, detail acts of violence committed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by groups of white homeowners who banded together to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods. 

On a happier note, Katha Pollitt offers her annual list of do-gooders who deserve our financial support.  Each of the ten she cites sounds terrific, I’d single out Iraq Veterans Against the War as the group with the most urgent agenda. 

A collection of poems by the late Jack Spicer includes some love letters Spicer wrote, an editorial decision which moves the reviewer to comment on Spicer’s views about the relationship between poetry and correspondence.  While Spicer often compared poems to personal correspondence, and “the idea or form of the letter underlies much of his published work,” in practice he always maintained a sharp distinction between the two genres.  “What Spicer recognized as poetry was always fierce and contentious and, despite the devices that feign otherwise, written to no one and for no one. ”  Indeed, Spicer’s discussion of Emily Dickinson centered on the difficulty of distinguishing between letters and poems, taking it for granted that this distinction was a needful one.

Spicer’s last book (published in 1966, the year after his death) was called A Book of Magazine Verse.  The reviewer quotes a description of these as  “poems for magazines that would never print them.”  Last January The  Nation spoiled Spicer’s conceit by actually publishing his “Two Poems for The Nation.”  So here’s the first of that pair. 

Pieces of the past arising out of the rubble. Which evokes Eliot and then evokes Suspicion. Ghosts all of them. Doers of no good.

The past around us is deeper than.
Present events defy us, the past

Has no such scruples. No funeral processions for him. He died in agony. The cock under the thumb.

Rest us as corpses
We poets
Vain words.
For a funeral (as I live and breathe and speak)
Of good
And impossible

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