Poem in the Personal Present

Poem in the Personal Present
It might seem easy at first, as painting in the abstract might: to write in the present moment about what one is feeling and thinking and doing, to describe the world about us and eavesdrop on what people say, but mostly to make leaps (as we do all day long) from one thing to another, many times without apparent connection, and then to come back again, perhaps to where one began. Write in the first person (I). Say what is going on. Don’t begin with preconceptions about what the poem will be about. Maybe write 20 lines or so this way.

Here are two examples (not alike), by Fanny Howe and Frank O’Hara

The Cenotaph
I want to leave this place
The gas stove is leaking
and the door of the refrigerator
stained with rust.
The mugs are ugly
and there are only two forks.
The walls are black
and soft, the bed a balloon
of night-clothing.
The stairwell sloped
to a dragger’s pace.

There are big windows
with blind-slats dusty
and gray. Street life
goes all night and at dawn
freedmen shout and
laugh outside the kitchen.

Where does life begin and end?
In the lamb or the cotton?
My pillow is my friend.

Personal Poem

Now when I walk around at lunchtime
I have only two charms in my pocket
an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me
and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case
when I was in Madrid the others never
brought me too much luck though they did
help keep me in New York against coercion
but now I'm happy for a time and interested

I walk through the luminous humidity
passing the House of Seagram with its wet
and its loungers and the construction to
the left that closed the sidewalk if
I ever get to be a construction worker
I'd like to have a silver hat please
and get to Moriarty's where I wait for
LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and
shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that's that, and LeRoi comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside birdland by a cop
a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible
disease but we don't give her one we
don't like terrible diseases, then

we go eat some fish and some ale it's
cool but crowded we don't like Lionel Trilling
we decide, we like Don Allen we don't like
Henry James so much we like Herman Melville
we don't want to be in the poets' walk in
San Francisco even we just want to be rich
and walk on girders in our silver hats
I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is
thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi
and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go
back to work happy at the thought possibly so


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The Send-off

    There is no curbside gathering
    where balmy dusk descends

    to marvel at newness
    on this first night.

    Your carbon copy,
    the once impossible smallness

    of bodies containing life, now full
    with teeth sets and hair shocks.

    There is no tentative backside of
    a 7-year old's forefinger against

    your four day old cheek, enrapt
    as hushed shapes 'so soft’ are made.

    She does not graze pad-side
    of same index against your knee

    in awe of its scab formation.
    and say 'How wonderful

    your capacity is for
    healing now little boy!’

    Clutching a red piece of Disney
    branded wheel-bound plastic

    you take leave in stoic oblivion
    of the space you first entered

    from womb into, quietly,
    and do not return tomorrow

    for too much maple syrup
    on half moon pancakes.

    The neighbors don’t notice
    your departure, for in their world

    now you are as commonplace
    as the furniture that will be

    left behind.