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Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn and Tom saw each other only occasionally during their 35-year friendship, but each time "felt like an old friendship renewed." Dunn is the author of seventeen books of poems, including the latest Lines of Defense (Norton), Here and Now and What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009. His Different Hours won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. He is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College and lives in Frostburg, Maryland.

First Encounters

My first encounter with Tom occurred over thirty five years ago at The Theodore Roethke Festival held at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. I had gone because Roethke was one of my favorite poets. Tom was the featured reader. I had never heard of him, though it became clear pretty quickly why he was chosen to celebrate Roethke, which is to say my first experience with Tom was filled with envy. Here was this young, exceedingly masculine and confident man with a superb ear, and with poems that managed to surprise with a curious, empathetic humanity—as his best poems continued to do throughout his life.

Like a Wide Anvil from the Moon the Light

I have many favorite Lux poems, but I'll cite one from Half Promised Land called "Like a Wide Anvil from the Moon the Light," an example of his ability to blend tones and a testament to his aforementioned superb ear, and a poem so different from anything I could write I could keep learning from it.

Like a wide anvil from the moon the light
on the cold radiator and all the windows in a row
along the spine close—zeros winding tight.
And to make the rattlesnakes feel at home?
A private cactus farm. There's not an eek's chance
of getting out of here. Some apples, bruised,
mute, are nailed back to their branches,
and the south wind—low, hot ash—cruises
through a crook in the apple tree's trunk.
The dirt, not known for its tenderness, on its knees
somewhat, and one munificent ant carries a crumb
to the crumbless. Every pond on earth agrees:
they are tired of being dragged—all those hooks—
for drowned children. All this beneath
the ceaseless lineage of comets! Books
help a little: groan-soaked, one broken etc. thief,
tree surgeons lost above tree lines,
chasmed sidewalks, a hatful of blanks,
sore got ore. . .Yes!—it does. it does feel exactly fine
crawling ashore, emptying the boots of water, and frankly
here's to the clouds the color of bone,
here's to the indecipherable path home,
here's to the worm's sweat in the loam. . .

from Half Promised Land, Black Market Books, 1980


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