The Best Words
Poetry by alumni and members of the UNH faculty

Poetry's as resistant to definition as a cloud might be to wearing a cape of concrete. So it might be useful to think of the poem as a kind of passport, taking you to places you would not be able to visit otherwise. Poet as guide, poem as means of transport, the best words in the best order, which could account for why these odd little cracked diamonds, paper scraps, are the very things that, when nothing else will do, are, in fact the only things that will do.

The challenge is to be articulate about what can't be said and to pick the very best words, the fewest words, the right words. Who do we write to? Ourselves, the silence, you. That's the main reason I'm so grateful for my job as a writing teacher at UNH. For the past 26 years, my students and I have remained united in building invisible bridges over imaginary rivers, working together in the joy of finding the best words, the alchemy of order and music, exploring the world with deep curiosity and full feeling.

Do you worry that you will not understand what is written here? I have never stopped worrying. It's a fear instilled as early as grammar school, maybe even in the classroom Chris Forhan '87G conjures in "Third Grade." With hands folded and "hearts bleached clean by contrition" how do we shift from literal knowing, from fact-based, logical thinking into a kind of river-drift dreaming? It's a matter of accepting that you might not understand, trusting imagination, reading until the river's soaked so far into you there's no need to say what it means and you're left feeling rinsed, enriched, reoriented to a world that's a good deal more interesting than it was before you started.

These wonderfully varied poems will take you "away from/the self-denying self," into a stone's interior to witness its secret marvels. They'll allow you to keep company with a child learning the wild joy of playing drums with his father until his father quits for "a real job." Other poems will carry you into an elegant adagio for what's missing, give you an elegiac testament to the true cost of war. You'll receive a love poem in Paris, a trip to Colombia where a night watchman's life is rich with music, moon, and good coffee while the wealthy people he guards live sterile lives behind protective walls, and finally, an exuberant praise song for the mistakes we all make. Who were these poems meant to reach? Tossed from the side of the river where the writer lives, traveling the water, safely, a very great distance... they were meant to reach you.

Vistas of Vision

A little nothing notices how easily
we slip away from what mothers us:
morning glories, the soft-spun cocoons
we dream in and the eerie cry of the hawk.

To be wise is to be borne away from
the self-denying-self, it is to listen
to children whose voices swirl like spin art
inside us: all color without the hue
and nuance of sorrow.

The sky breathes its message—
do not weep for what is lost in you,
but gather up the ashes to place
inside the hidden sanctuary of the soul.

Now is the time to move into the calligraphy
and choreography of blossom which brings
vistas of vision and visitations with mystery.

Elizabeth Kirschner '79G, who teaches at Boston College, has published Twenty Colors, Postal Routes and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees. She has collaborated on several occasions with composers who have set her lyrics to music, and has she has set her own poetry to Robert Schumann's "Dichterliebe," which will premiere nationally and internationally this season. "Vistas of Vision" is part of a manuscript entitled, Surrender to Light.


Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;

Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Charles Simic, UNH professor of English, was born in Yugoslavia and moved to the United States in 1953. His first full-length collection, What the Grass Says, was published in 1967. Since then he has published more than 60 books of poetry and essays, including The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000 and a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. His awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. "Stone" is from his book Dismantling the Silence (1971).

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