Monday, July 20, 2009

Stephen Dunn

I was moving around the Internet today, checking my favorite sites and ran across this poem which blew my socks off. I will often, as many of you know, work a riff on the vision I find on some site. Then if I can I leave the poem behind. Johnny Applepoem. In this case there just was no way I could do justice to the poem I found. I can’t dance with this one yet. I am not grown up enough.

I am making an exception to my usual practice. I am going to let Stephen Dunn sing. He is, after all a Pulitzer Prize winner. The poem came as displayed on the Whiskey River website. The bio info came from

Choosing to Think of It

Today, ten thousand people will die
and their small replacements will bring joy
and this will make sense to someone
removed from any sense of loss.
I, too, will die a little and carry on,
doing some paperwork, driving myself
home. The sky is simply overcast,
nothing is any less than it was
yesterday or the day before. In short,
there's no reason or every reason
why I'm choosing to think of this now.
The short-lived holiness
true lovers know, making them unaccountable
except to spirit and themselves - suddenly
I want to be that insufferable and selfish,
that sharpened and tuned.
I'm going to think of what it means
to be an animal crossing a highway,
to be a human without a useful prayer
setting off on one of those journeys
we humans take. I don't expect anything
to change. I just want to be filled up
a little more with what exists,
tipped toward the laughter which understands
I'm nothing and all there is.
By evening, the promised storm
will arrive. A few in small boats
will be taken by surprise.
There will be survivors, and even they will die.

- Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn was born in New York City in 1939. He earned a B.A. in history and English from Hofstra University, attended the New School Writing Workshops, and finished his M.A. in creative writing at Syracuse University. Dunn has worked as a professional basketball player, an advertising copywriter, and an editor, as well as a professor of creative writing.

Dunn's books of poetry include Everything Else in the World (W. W. Norton, 2006); Local Visitations (2003); Different Hours (2000), winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry; Loosestrife (1996); New and Selected Poems: 1974-1994 (1994); Landscape at the End of the Century (1991); Between Angels (1989); Local Time (1986), winner of the National Poetry Series; Not Dancing (1984); Work & Love (1981); A Circus of Needs (1978); Full of Lust and Good Usage (1976); and Looking For Holes In the Ceiling 1974. He is also the author of Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry(BOA Editions, 2001), and Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs (1998).


  1. Wow.

    'to be a human without a useful prayer'

    Yeah, just blew me away too...


  2. "I am nothing and all there is." So true, I feel it too.

    A thought pattern felt by those who have given their hearts to life and have had it broken. Those who realise that the turning of the universe brings joy and sorrow, life and death.

    Thanks for sharing this


  3. Dang, you can really be nice when you want to, Johnny Applepoem.

    It shows a healthy mind to know your limits as a grown-up. That is something I am working on diligently this year (with a therapist no less).

    You are right, this is a wondrous song. This will take days for me to digest. Thank you for finding it and sharing it here.

  4. Thanks for the excellent recommendation! The wonderful thing about poetry is that there's always one more you haven't heard of who writes some really powerful stuff. :)

  5. Michelle, thought you might relate.

    You are quite welcome, Annie.

    Techno, I have spent time in therapy on both sides of the aisle. It matters who you find to work with.

    Joseph, I learned that from a movie. It was called The Fastest Gun In The West. It taught no matter who you are, there is always someone faster. What I have noticed is how many really good poets there are on the planet, published or not.

  6. I love the rawness of this poem and its heartfelt honesty. Good choice Chris. *hugs*

  7. {{{Cherie}}} I think I understand what you mean by rawness. I don't know Steve's work well enough to say much but I wouldn't be surprised if his poetry generally takes a flavor that this one fits and then you would say maybe something different from raw. I would say "uncompromising" or "stark".

  8. Oh my. Balanced. And we fall right and left with it. Revel in it, I suppose, be thankful for it. It'll all be over soon enough. Enjoy the sun, the moon, even the radio just off station. There's nothing more.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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