Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 Readings in Advent: Kim Bridgford

Twelve days, and then Christmas: as a lead-up to the day and as a kind of aerial gift, I'm going to post poems and excerpts from books that I read this year or am reading now or plan to read soon. (I have such a mighty stack of these that I may have to roll right on through the Twelve Days of Christmas.) I have many friends with new books, and some of these snips will be from their recent books.

The first (or counting down, twelfth) selection is from Kim Bridgford's 2003 book, Undone (David Robert Books). Kim is the bright star behind one of my favorite online magazines, Mezzo Cammin, and she is the new director of the West Chester University Poetry Center. She founded The Mezzo Cammin Timeline Project, a database of women poets around the world. Until recently, she was professor at Fairfield University, where she also edited Dogwood and was a faculty member in the MFA program on Enders Island. She is the author of four books: Undone; Instead of Maps; Sonnets about World Records (winner of the Donald Justice Prize); and the forthcoming Take-Out: Sonnets about Fortune Cookies.

I like what she does here with half-embodying abstractions with leaves and drifts (dead silvery leaves that lead toward her use of snow) and snow (blinding and blotting-out like a calendar with no numbers, endless, white), and I like how she turns upside down that old image of angels dancing on the head of a pin (attributed to the medieval Scholastics, probably falsely) to the pin point and pain. The tears on lashes link up beautifully, as natural as drops of moisture on a sprig of fir. After using rhymes that are almost entirely slant (and sometimes set so far apart as to be merely visual: snow/now, eternity/why), she closes down the poem with the knock of a firm rhyme that unseats us from earth and leaves us in a griefstruck realm of despair and air. Not a jolly poem, but Advent is a good time to think about eternal things . . .


After all your relatives have died,
There is nothing but the ache of dread,

Or worse: a savage emptiness around
The mutterings that you mistake for sound.

But they're just you--and what your mind believes
Is sorrow wrapped in sequences of leaves,

Like silver drifts of form. You find the past--
What never happened and what doesn't last--

Is like that. You don't know what happens now,
The calendar unthinkable as snow.

But at dawn, startled, you awake to pain
As if your family were dancing on a pin,

Your lashes full of tears. Who would know why
You're the one this side of eternity?

Every evening you are like the air:
Whispers of invisible despair.


  1. Wonderful. It constantly amazes me when I read well-rhymed formed verse how one can shape words as if they grew that way themselves.
    Thanks for posting this.
    Hope you are having a happily hectic Advent season.

  2. Yes, this one feels so natural, doesn't it?

    The two-story waterfall inside the house has certainly increased the wildness around here...

  3. I found you via your comment at Dave's Via Negativa post.

    What I especially enjoy about this poem you've shared is the mix of perfect rhyme and near really works and injects some tension into the poem.

  4. MT, thanks for reading.

    Hi Hannah--

    Yes, I remember you and have it on my list to go and look at some of your poems... I trust Dave's judgment!

    Mmm, I like that too.

  5. I read this poem completely unprepared to step on the shadow of sadness (that we all have within us, I think). I tripped over it and fell flat on my face.
    A wonderful poem by an author whose name I shall try and remember, for sure...

  6. Funny and lovely comment all at once! Very Digbean. Or Trean.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.