Look sharp

“A mysterious quickening inhabits the depths of any good poem…” writes Jane Hirshfield, and I get a shiver thinking about it. I think of that “rough beast slouching” and “the expensive delicate ship that must have seen/Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky” and “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” and “That love was there from the start/is all I’ve been trying to say.” As “quickening” can be so many kinds of movement — a shiver, a surge, a stretch of limb, a hiccup, the sudden tump tump of a new heart. I wish this for my poems, and miss it in so much of what I read. I have been thinking of it as a kind of ambition that I seek in a poem, but I like this idea of life inside, stirring. “What a writer or painter undertakes in each work of art is an experiment whose hoped-for outcome is an expanded knowledge,” Hirshfield writes. “Know” comes from words meaning identify, recognize; the eyes of the poem opening and taking it all in, giving it all back to us in sound and silence.


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