Untoward Occurence at Embassy Poetry Reading

March 25, 2007 at 11:23 am 3 comments

Marilyn Hacker


Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m pleased
to be here tonight. I seldom read
to such a varied audience. My poetry
is what it is. Graves, yes, said love, death
and the changing of the seasons
were the unique, the primordial subjects.

I’d like to talk about that. One subjects
oneself to art, not necessarily pleased
to be a colander for myths. It seasons
one to certain subjects. Not all. You can read
or formulate philosophies; your death
is still the kernel of your dawn sweats. Poetry

is interesting to people who write poetry.
Others are involved with other subjects.
Does the Ambassador consider death
on the same scale as you, Corporal? Please
stay seated. I’ve outreached myself. I read
your discomfort. But tonight the seasons

change. I’ve watched you, in town for the season,
nod to each other, nod to poetry
represented by me, and my colleagues, who read
to good assemblies; good citizens, good subjects
for gossip. You’re the audience. Am I pleased
to frighten you? Yes and no. It scares me to death

to stand up here and talk about real death
while our green guerrillas hurry up the seasons.
They have disarmed the gaurds by now, I’m pleased
to say. The doors are locked. Great poetry
is not so histrionic, but our subjects
choose us, not otherwise. I will not read

manifestos. Tomorrow, foreigners will read
rumors in newspapers…. Oh, sir, your death
would be a tiresome journalistic subject,
so stay still till we’re done. This is our season.
The building is surrounded. No more poetry
tonight. We are discussing, you’ll be pleased

to know, the terms of your release. Please read
these leaflets. Not poetry. You’re bored to death
with politics but that’s the season’s subject.

I love the way this poem, starting so innocently, slowly builds into something so menacing – reproducing, for the reader, the experience of the audience who, expecting nothing more than a polite recitation, suddenly find themselves ambushed by the “green guerrillas” of poetry.

The fact that the poem, in addition to being hilariously clever, is also a sestina only deepens my admiration for it.


Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Marilyn Hacker.

Thesaurus Ulysses

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Space Bar  |  March 27, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Falstaff, it is not just clever, it is so deceptively complex: the surrender a poet makes to her art, versus the surrender that those who are captive must make to negotiate the ‘terms of (their) release and the circularity of much more than the six words makes it a very rich and layered poem.

    (Strictly speaking, fo course, it is a flawed sestina because the tercet at the end does not strictly follow the form, but that is a minor thing).

    This reminded me of a poem by Ryan Ruby called Rapprochement: a Lunch Poem

  • 2. anthropologist  |  April 10, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Oh, this is great. I loved it.

    Must confess that I’ve never heard of Marilyn Hacker before, but will google her right now (I’m not a poet, can’t you tell — ?) Like finding good poetry, though . . .

  • 3. anthropologist  |  April 10, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Must confess that I’ve never heard of Marilyn Hacker before, but will google her right now (I’m not a poet, can’t you tell — ?) Like finding good poetry, though . . .

    This was great; loved it. Thanks for posting it.


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