From Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain.” I return to Dickinson again and again for her startling mixture of mystery and clarity. In this poem, even (or especially) the commas and dashes are mysterious, yet I feel sure that I understand exactly the sensation she describes.
From Robert Frost’s “To Earthward.” I love the way this clunky word interrupts the poem’s stretched out, sensual lines. It seems so out of place at first (“knuckle” is a decidedly unsexy word for a love poem), but it ends up anticipating the poem’s turns and revelations.
From “The Writer,” by Richard Wilbur ’42, a wonderful poem about the trouble of putting words on paper. Over the course of the poem, the “commotion” shifts, first describing the sounds of a typewriter, then encompassing the motions of a trapped starling and eventually the movement of the mind.
From “Another April,” by James Merrill ’47. So many phrases from this eight-line wonder have stayed with me over the years. Whenever I watch lightning through a window, I think of the line “Young storm, this house is yours.”
From Vievee Francis’s poem “Say it, Say it Anyway You Can.” This prose poem begins, “He hit her in the back of the head. Truth—finds its own coarse measure,” and it never lets up. It’s a child’s memory, a grown-up daughter’s lament, a portrait of a family and, somehow, it’s a dance. Francis was part of a recent symposium at Amherst’s Center for Humanistic Inquiry.
From “Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain’s Muse,” by Elizabeth Knapp ’96. I’m drawn to the exuberant mix of tones in Knapp’s excellent Self-Portrait series. The language is cerebral and sexy, romantic and punk.
Write a poem that incorporates all six words. Each of the six words comes from a poet associated with Amherst as a neighbor, professor, visitor, graduate or friend. Each quarter in this space, we’ll present a different contest in the spirit of the liberal arts.
Send it, with your name, to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Contest” in the subject line, or to Amherst Magazine, Box 5000, Amherst MA 01002. Kapur will pick her favorite, and that winning poem will be published in our next issue.