Amazing Poems (in progress)

This is a list of amazing poems. I love them all and would be sick with jealousy if they didn't make my body and brain do strange things. I am probably breaching copyright laws here so shout at me if you happen to want a poem taken down.

Poems appear in alphabetical order, author's surname.


John Ashbery - The Painter (Some Trees, 1956, from Collected Poems 1956-1987, pp. 27-8)

Sitting between the sea and the buildings
He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait.
But just as children imagine a prayer
Is merely silence, he expected his subject
To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush,
Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.

So there was never any paint on his canvas
Until the people who lived in the buildings
Put him to work: “Try using the brush
As a means to an end. Select, for a portrait,
Something less angry and large, and more subject
To a painter’s moods, or, perhaps, to a prayer.”

How could he explain to them his prayer
That nature, not art, might usurp the canvas?
He chose his wife for a new subject,
Making her vast, like ruined buildings,
As if, forgetting itself, the portrait
Had expressed itself without a brush.

Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush
In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer:
“My soul, when I paint this next portrait
Let it be you who wrecks the canvas.”
The news spread like wildfire through the buildings:
He had gone back to the sea for his subject.

Imagine a painter crucified by his subject!
Too exhausted even to lift his brush,
He provoked some artists leaning from the buildings
To malicious mirth: “We haven’t a prayer
Now, of putting ourselves on canvas,
Or getting the sea to sit for a portrait!”

Others declared it a self-portrait.
Finally all indications of a subject
Began to fade, leaving the canvas
Perfectly white. He put down the brush.
At once a howl, that was also a prayer,
Arose from the overcrowded buildings.

They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings;
And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush
As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.


Jorie Graham - Prayer (Never, 2002)

Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl   
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the   
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re- 
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a   
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by   
minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls, the   
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where   
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into   
itself (it has those layers), a real current though mostly   
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing 
                         motion that forces change— 
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets   
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing 
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by 
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,   
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something   
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through   
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is   
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen   
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only   
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.   
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.   
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.

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