Selections for April 4, 2012 Boulder Great Books Discussion Group meeting:


The Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in Great Conversations 3 is an excerpt. The full essay (not that many more pages) can be found at and also  through Prospector (search for shelley defence poetry).


For Linda Hogan we will discuss the following six poems –

Journey (

Inside (

Rapture (

To Light (




There are few moments of silence

but it comes

through little pores in the skin.

Between traffic and voices

it comes

and I begin to understand those city poems,

small prayers

where we place our palms together

and feel the heart  

beating in a handful of nothing.


City poems

about yellow hard hats

and brotherly beggars.

Wasn't Lazarus one of these?

And now Saint Pigeon of the Railroad Tracks

paces across a child's small handprint,

human acids etching themselves into metal.


We are all the least of these,

beggars, almsmen,

listening hard to the underground language

of the wrist.

Through the old leather of our feet

city earth with fossils and roots 

breathes the heart of soil upward,

the voice of our gods beneath concrete.



Advice from the Shoulder

Put down the dust rag,

unplug that coffee,

forget those black beans for supper!

Woman, you are nearly threadbare

and your sister, the wolf,

has been packed in your skin too long.

She's beginning to show through.


Leave well enough alone; serve her

notice of  eviction and get back

to the miracle of putting your feet in brown boots

and stretching everything,

dollars, time, black beans,

even the moth-eaten skin you wore as a child.


Don't cock your ear that way.

There are no north country songs here,

so pretend you don't hear them.

Sharpen your fingernails, you

are nearly worn out

and animals have lasting souls,

even those goats

out on the rusting Fords.

And their hearts are stronger than men's

so don't let that animal pacing your skin

begin her song.

Don't let her sing

of long nights

or fear

of the human surrounding her.














For Eavan Boland

Lava Cameo

(A brooch carved on volcanic rock)


I like this story -


My grandfather was a sea captain.

My grandmother always met him when his ship docked.

She feared the women at the ports -


except that it is not a true story,

more a rumour or a folk memory,

something thrown out once in a random conversation,

a hint merely.


If I say wool and lace for her skirt and

crepe for her blouse

in the neck of which is pinned a cameo,

carved out of black, volcanic rock;


if I make her pace the Cork docks, stopping

to take down her parasol as a gust catches

the silk tassels of it -


then consider this:


there is a way of making free with the past,

a pastiche of what is

real and what is

not, which can only be

justified if you think of it


not as sculpture or syntax:


a structure extrinsic to meaning which uncovers

the inner secret of it.


She will die at thirty-one in a fever ward.

He will drown nine years later in the Bay of Biscay.

They will never even be

sepia, and so I put down

the gangplank now between the ship and the ground.

In the story, late afternoon has become evening.

They kiss once, their hands touching briefly.



Look at me, I want to say to her: show me

the obduracy of an art which can

arrest a profile in the flux of hell.


Inscribe catastrophe

The Pomegranate


The only legend I have ever loved is

the story of a daughter lost in hell.

And found and rescued there.

Love and blackmail are the gist of it.

Ceres and Persephone the names.

And the best thing about the legend is

I can enter it anywhere. And have.

As a child in exile in

a city of fogs and strange consonants,

I read it first and at first I was

an exiled child in the crackling dusk of

the underworld, the stars blighted. Later

I walked out in a summer twilight

searching for my daughter at bed-time.

When she came running I was ready

to make any bargain to keep her.

I carried her back past whitebeams

and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.

But I was Ceres then and I knew

winter was in store for every leaf

on every tree on that road.

Was inescapable for each one we passed.

And for me.

It is winter

and the stars are hidden.

I climb the stairs and stand where I can see

my child asleep beside her teen magazines,

her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.

The pomegranate! How did I forget it?

She could have come home and been safe

and ended the story and all

our heart-broken searching but she reached

out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.

She put out her hand and pulled down

the French sound for apple and

the noise of stone and the proof

that even in the place of death,

at the heart of legend, in the midst

of rocks full of unshed tears

ready to be diamonds by the time

the story was told, a child can be

hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.

The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.

The suburb has cars and cable television.

The veiled stars are above ground.

It is another world. But what else

can a mother give her daughter but such

beautiful rifts in time?

If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.

The legend will be hers as well as mine.

She will enter it. As I have.

She will wake up. She will hold

the papery flushed skin in her hand.

And to her lips. I will say nothing.