“The flash across the gap of being”

Howard Nemerov is a poet whose work I’d like to know better. He’s the favorite poet of one of my poetry-inclined uncles, and when I took the time to flip through The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov, I was amazed by the versatility, the breadth, the sheer variety of his work. It’s meaty poetry, the kind that requires many days of reading and re-reading to achieve an understanding.

It was difficult to choose a poem to memorize, since so many in even this small collection are appealing, but I landed on “Moment” for its length (just fifteen lines) and the way the simplicity of the title underscores the complexity of the thought within the poem, which juxtaposes some dozen images with the repeated word “now.” What begins with “Now” and a “starflake” crescendoes to “the mind of God” and the inevitable “now.”  The poem is one sentence, and I found the moments when I needed to take a breath underscored the “nowness” as well. And I’m a sucker for good linebreaks, if you couldn’t tell, and here’s one for the ages: “And now is quiet in the tomb as now / Explodes inside the sun, and it is now” (10-11).

What a mind at work. I’ll be back for more.

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“a thread of her devising”

Charlotte’s Web may be the book I’m most looking forward to reading with my small son. I remember my mother reading it to me, and in particular the calm, gracious way she delivered Charlotte’s classic “Salutations.”

[Actually, in many ways, my mother reminds me of Charlotte: inventive and resourceful, especially when protecting the people she loves; ready to sacrifice for her children; and possessed of a remarkable facility with language.]

E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, is also the White in Strunk & White, whose Elements of Style is a perennial classic, the pronouncements of which I fear my writing never lives up to.

It should come as no surprise, then, that White is gifted writer in many genres. “Once More to the Lake” is a particular favorite of mine, an essay that neatly encapsulates the tension between childhood and adulthood, memory and the present. His letters are kind and witty (read a wonderful example at Letters of Note), and I’d like to find a volume of them the next time I’m haunting a used bookstore.

A used bookstore is where I found a paperback edition (1983, I believe) of Poems and Sketches of E.B. White. Someone wrote a lovely inscription on the title page that refers to White’s death in 1985:

To dear B–,

In memory of the era that ended during our ’85 visit. How sad- but he will live in our memories & his words will continue to entertain and bind us!

With much love,  K, [unclear name here] & S*

It’s a delightful book; open to any page and there’s something to amuse or interest. This week I’l be memorizing the poem “Natural History,” addressed to White’s wife, Katharine. It’s a short, delicate poem in which the speaker compares himself to a spider, attached to the point of his leaving (his wife) by a silken strand, to aid in his returning. If I were to teach the poem, it would make a lovely pairing with Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.”

*I’ve redacted the names of the recipient and the gift-givers to protect their privacy, whomever they may be.