Friday, December 31, 2010


It was fairly easy, at the dinner table on our Yuletide Day of Intellect, to answer Daisy's question,"Who is Garrison Keillor?" What was harder was to explain "Why is Garrison Keillor?", a much bigger question about cultural phenomena that I'll look forward to coming back to someday.

In the meantime, it's enough to say that I"m enjoying the gift of Keillor's Good Poems immensely for its range and for the familiar voices interspersed with the poets whose work is new-to-me. One of those is Howard Moss, who was poetry editor at New Yorker magazine for 40 years and is probably well known to everyone but me. There are three of his poems in Good Poems, including one that made me think, as I read it for the first time, "Wait, wait--don't tell me--something extra's going on here!"

It will be a long time before there is enough said about the genius of Marilyn Singer's reverso poetry form, so cleverly deployed to shift point of view in Mirror, Mirror. (If you don't know the reverso, go here and here for some descriptions and "the rules.") Today I want to suggest that Howard Moss at least, at least one time, used the reverso form in a slightly different way to equally brilliant effect. Here is the "precurso" in question, from Moss's New Selected Poems published in 1985.

The Persistence of Song

Although it is not yet evening
The secretaries have changed their frocks
As if it were time for dancing,
And locked up in the scholars' books
There is a kind of rejoicing,
There is a kind of singing
That even the dark stone canyon makes
As though all fountains were going
At once, and the color flowed from bricks
In one wild, lit upsurging.

What is the weather doing?
And who arrived on a scallop shell
With the smell of the sea this morning?
--Creating a small upheaval
High above the scaffolding
By saying, "All will be well.
There is a kind of rejoicing."

Is there a kind of rejoicing
In saying, "All will be well?"
High above the scaffolding,
Creating a small upheaval,
The smell of the sea this morning
Arrived on a scallop shell.
What was the weather doing
In one wild, lit upsurging?
At once, the color flowed from bricks
As though all fountains were going,
And even the dark stone canyon makes
Here a kind of singing,
And there a kind of rejoicing,
And locked up in the scholars' books
There is a time for dancing
When the secretaries have changed their frocks,
And though it is not yet evening,

There is the persistence of song.

~ Howard Moss
collected in Good Poems
selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor, 2002

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is at Carol's Corner today. May your year begin in song; may the singing persist the whole year long!


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!