Where the Wild Things are — Serendipity in Searching

October 10, 2009


After reading Dave Eggers’ Max at Sea in the New Yorker — I had to tease myself a little with the trailer for the “Where the Wild Things Are” film. Eggers’ story, as you can read, gives Max a rather realistic backstory which some might argue is unnecessary. I would disagree — Max, in Eggers’ story, still seems very much like the boy I used to imagine I could be — if given a wolf costume, a codarie of monsters and some time out of the suburbia I grew up in.

However, in my google, not only did I find the clip of the film but I also found this lovely poem by one of my favourites – Wendell Berry –

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

found on The Sunday Poem Series.

And with that, we should all go outside and play for a little while.

“And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”

Meet me on Blackford Hill.


The Poem I Carry

October 8, 2009

The SPL wants to know what poem(s) you carry with you!

My favourite poems, the poems I carry with me literally and figuratively are something like scents. The way the smell of warm dust can remind me of the nook behind the hot water heater where my parents hid our Christmas presents, the way the smell of sunflowers can remind me of my first love’s sheets, the way the smoke of a bbq can conjure up Graduation Day, Syracuse 1999.

Well, poems are sometimes the same — at least the ones I really like. One of the poems I carry with me is Federico Garcia Lorca’s “New Heart” from his book Selected Verse. I bought the book on an inexplicable whim in Provincetown, Cape Cod – the last little town on a long Massachusetts peninsula.

Towards the end of my second summer home from University, some high-school friends and I drove down the traffic laden Route 6 from the town of Turo where we were staying in a peeling, sea-pale cottage filled with lifeguards – swimming in the heat and drinking in the dunes at night. Anyway, in Provincetown there was a little second-hand bookshop and Lorca grabbed my eye. Perhaps because his dark, intense face was on the spine and I was young and feeling dark and intense myself.

I bought the book. (The first book of poetry I can remember buying.) And late that night, after a lifeguard known only as The Major had given me the best sexual advice I’d yet had, when my friends had fallen asleep next to their beer cans and the embers of our fire glowed and popped, I opened to the first poem. It was the end of summer, there were loves and friends I would miss back up at University and, even then, I knew I might not see them again that year and maybe not the year after.

I read the first lines of “New Heartand I’ve carried them on the tip of my tongue ever since:

Like a snake, my heart
has shed its skin.

I hold it there in my hand,
full of honey and wounds.”

And the battered book itself has been carried with me many places – upstate New York, the green mountains of Vermont, Edinburgh and the coast of Spain where it felt very much at home with the with the smell of white sand, salt and seaweed.

A more recent poem I’ve discovered (and expect to carry with me for a long time to come) is Wendell Berry’s “How to be a Poet (to remind myself)” which I have taped to my bathroom mirror. To remind myself, of course.

The poem is in three parts – each one with a new invocation. The bit I quote most to myself is:

Breathe with unconditional breath

the unconditioned air.

Shun electric wire.

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.”

Stay away from screens. Stay away from anything that obscures the place it is in.”

Reminds me, always, to get away from the evil, glowing devil box the notion of which tells me I should wrap this up and go the three dimensional!

ryan carry a poem-3

If you have a poem you carry with you, and you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it. You can either respond to this post, or email

Here’s some guideline questions that might help:

  • Where and when did you first encounter the poem?

  • What did it mean to you then? How did it make you feel? Did it change you in any way?

  • What does it mean to you now?

  • Do you actually carry it? (e.g. in your head, on your ipod, in your wallet or diary, etc)

  • And would you be willing to take part in audio/video recording for our Carry a Poem site?

We’d be very glad to have your stories on board.”

So, what are you waiting for — let us know the poem you carry with you.

Ryan to Speak at Cambridge University – June 19.

June 17, 2009

America Week at Cambridge University: Will there be hotdogs?

America Week at Cambridge University: Will there be hotdogs?

I’ve been invited to speak at an event at Cambridge University. The event, I Hear America singing: an American Poetic Revue, is part of America Week at Clare Hall and features myself and the poet Tamar Yoseloff talking about and reading works from some of our favourite contemporary American poets. There will also be free American Wine!(But will there be hot dogs?)

The Event is Friday June 19th and starts at 8pm.

For those interested but unable to make it here is the list of poets & poems ‘ll be talking about. Most of these poems / poets can be found at the Scottish Poetry Library. Do come see me at my office hours on July 7th from 4 – 6pm if you want to find out more about the following poets / poems.

Here they are in no particular order:

* Marita Garin, Huskies

* Charles Bukowski, Trouble

* Etheridge Knight, Feeling Fucked Up (from his selected works)

* Robert Pinsky, The Want Bone

* CK Williams, Insight (from The Forward Book of Poetry 1998)

* Mark Doty, Where You Are (from Sweet Machine)

* Tom Sleigh, Newsreel (from Far Side of the Earth)

* Michael Burkard, Tooth (from Unsleeping)

* Wendell Berry, The Inlet (from Given)

*Joy Harjo, We Must Call A Meeting (from In Mad Love and War)

* Cornelius Eady, I Know (I’m Losing You)(from You Don’t Miss Your Water)

* Raymond Carver, Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In (from All of Us)

* Sharon Olds, The Glass, (from The Father)

* Hayden Carruth, The Quality of Wine (from Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey)

Poetry is for Reading Part Two: Poems for Spring

May 8, 2009

flowersPoetry is for Reading pt. 2: Poems for Spring. Clearing by Wendell Berry

Yes, it is Spring time. The sun is out and I have a splinter in my index finger from helping to weed a friend’s garden. With the sun on our necks and the promise of tomatoes, sweet peas, and yellow carrots (yes, yellow carrots!) sprouting in our brains we chatted about this and that, you know, the usual things: The G20, herbs that work with white fish and poetry, specifically about the garden poems of Emily Dickinson.

Now, try to forgive my ignorance, but I’d never realized that Dickinson was an avid gardener and I certainly never figured she might be more known during her life as a gardener than as a poet. However, the internet argues that this is the case and there is even a book about Dickinson and her relationship with her garden from the less argumentative Harvard University Press. If you need some kind of proof, I found this delightful poem called In the Garden.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about a book I recently read cover to cover – Clearing by Wendell Berry. “None of us,” says Berry, “can in a true sense own land. We can only hold it in trust.” While I wouldn’t want to quote this line to someone who has gone through a foreclosure, I admit as someone who owns nothing that there’s a simple beauty to this notion.

Indeed, there is a philosophy growing in these poems and they offer a gentle direction for a way we may strive to live our lives. This slim and readable volume even begins with a quote from the I Ching: “what has been spoiled through man’s fault can be made good again through man’s work”. From there Berry describes in a plain-voiced poetic prose the land he and his wife hold and saved from ecological disaster via hard work. Listen:


If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides…
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it…
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields…
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

Published by Harcourt, 1977

Find the book, tend the garden you hold dear, taste the dirt under your nails. I’m going to go find a pair of tweezers.