A Draft of Light: Poems
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A glorious new collection from one of our most distinguished poets.
Here are poems that explore the ways in which ordinary objects open doors to the more hidden, subconscious truths of our inner selves: a bird of “countless colors” calls to mind “the echo . . . / of an inner event / From my forgotten past”; a subway bee sting conjures up quick unlikely visits by the muses—a momentary awareness that is “as much of a / Gift from those nine sisters as / Is ever given.”
Other poems lay bare the imperfect nature of our memories: reality altered by our inevitably less accurate but perhaps “truer” recall of past events (“memory— / As full of random holes as any / Uncleaned window is of spots / Of blur and dimming—begins at once / To interfere”). Still others examine the dramatic changes in perspective we undergo over the course of a lifetime as, in the poem “When We Went Up,” John Hollander describes the varied responses he has to climbing the same mountain at different points in his life.
In all of the poems Hollander illuminates the fluid nature of physical and emotional experience, the connections between the simple things we encounter every day and the ways in which the meaning we attribute to them shapes our lives. Like the harmonious coming together of bandstand instruments on a summer afternoon, he writes, most of what we come to know in the world is “A dying moment / Of lastingness thenceforth / Ever not to be.”
Throughout this thought-provoking collection, Hollander reveals the ways in which we are constantly creating unique worlds of our own, “a draft of light” of our own making, and how these worlds, in turn, continually shape our most basic identities and truest selves.
tell some sort of story, marked By significant, or perhaps merely structural, Pauses. These little narratives, Sometimes very brief, sometimes going On for several minutes, each concluded in A prominently framed and significantly Delivered final utterance. At which almost immediately—with the quickness Of response which the explorers were, in their Own societies, accustomed to on the part Of those being told a joke— The listeners would silently weep. And then stop, And often, then
then down again, Looked under, and behind, for Some acknowledgment Of what it is we Act as if we’d been promised. The jack-o’-lantern Grin of sunrise, noon’s Reasonable demeanor, Night’s apparently Loving hand drawing Her dark curtain between us And what will come next— These are what we get, Having by nature both to Take it and leave it. The cold sky, having Come in time to imitate Our moods, will giggle Or frown, as it will, But without the convictions We believe we have;
GETTING IT RIGHT Allegories on the banks of the Nile: invoked by Mrs. Malaprop (in Sheridan’s The Rivals); her palindromic descendent shows up here eight lines further on FOR “FIDDLE-DE-DEE” Brekekekex: Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax refrain sung by the chorus of frogs in Aristophanes’ play SECOND FIDDLE Stéphane Grappelli: Parisian jazz violinist; Joseph Szigeti: a great classical one; Fiddler of Dooney: personage in a lyric by Yeats FIRST MUSIC LESSON Every Good Boy Deserves Fun: mnemonic for the
old way—bottled light To quench any thirst for knowledge that walking through the dry Valley of grayish terebinths and still Lizards on chunks of fallen Hellenistic masonry Might intensify through the lengthening Afternoon. Bottled? Well, all the available light, there In that valley uninflected by much Shade, was barely fit to drink and having to bring our own Along was always part of the bargain. When the light is too fierce for shadows to blossom in it, Too dry for any specificity,
stop then; I’d awake and down a dram Of Glenwhatever, while an inner drum Slowly ceased to rumble, and, it would seem, Quickly cease to matter (Dan’s boyfriend, Sam, Suddenly comes to mind just now, for some Strong, but silly, reason). So, bit by bit We come to see that our lives are about Paying for what we had not known we’d bought In our digressions: brandishing its writ Of habeas corpus, till Death puts to rout The hopes we’d pampered, and the woes we’d wrought. We’ve come down to