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Lawrence L. White

Poet’s Sampler

Introduced by Reginald Shepherd

Lawrence L. White is a writer of idea-governed poetry who never forgets that the particular is paradise (and paradox as well). Influenced by the perhaps unlikely combination of Wallace Stevens, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and especially Allen Grossman (both his vatic poetry and his visionary poetics), White has a remarkable capacity to spin out and sustain imagistic and thematic architectonics over the arc of a longer poem, and to combine a fine-grained lyricism with an expansive meditative pulse. The mythy motions of his large-minded poems always make their way through the real words of a real world; the gesture toward grand statement is tempered by a grounding and grounded irony (thematic and tonal) that is never merely evasive, and also by a hearty appetite for the quotidian: “the body keeps whatever it eats. / Almost all of it.” White’s poems search for the place where personal experience and the transcendental meet and mingle: they don’t seek to rise above the world, but rather to go deeper into it, digging into the ground of meaning to discover (as he puts it) what difference poetry can make against the obscene erasures of death and forgetting. But this implies a ponderous solemnity that the poems, sprightly and lively in their utter seriousness, belie. As the poems remind us again and again, the continual realization that failure is to be taken for granted as the price (the proof?) of the striving toward the sublime still leaves us with the rewards of real life, a substantive sustenance: the “slug of what matter words / Would be forged of.”

Station He.She.You.Me

The sycamore stretches straight,
Its new skin the color of snow,

In a file of sycamores the color of snow,
Lined against the road.

Up in the sycamore two scrannel crows
Talk, cracking the same word, seed
Of a word, slug of what matter words

Would be forged of.


This road goes around the world.


The headlights thrown across the street,

Pollarded sycamores draw stunted fists
Against the careless inquiry. The woman
At the payphone sees the quick headlamps

Tracing tangents, like capes, like
Oars. Free between stations,
She holds off on the cross-country
Numbers. Her fingers stir the rough
Aggregate air, which slips beneath the shrub,
Waits for thicker shadows in the spring,


The stairs, flight squared against flight,
Rose. I turned. She said,
                                             “What you have
Taken, take it for what I give.”


The park of the full moon
Of snow the color of the moon
Of light that smells like menthol, clings

Except to the trees,
Branches etched against the anodyne.

Contour lives on lines.
Inside it’s empty, what daylight fills.


Somewhere these same stairs turn
Endlessly upward. Her words

Rise & fall, what was given
Never lost.


A cardinal on a fence. A black squirrel on snow.
After the thaw two crows on matted grass
Made dialogue of one repeated word.


        an essay on Svankmajer’s Alice

Outside the theater I felt
It inside me, wanting to get out,
Like Alice in the playhouse,

And I thought this was the one time
I would see the film. The colorless screen
Flowered like smoke over the city.

Where she was sitting by the brook,
             Throwing stones into the water,
Where she was sitting in her bedroom,
             Throwing stones into the teacup,

That was putting something inside
The rabbit, investing the soul in boredom,

Of years, hours & days in the room
Of Alice staring at him inside his case, and him
Resisting her with his glass eye,
His label, Lepus cuniculus.

The drawer is a space inside the desk.

In the playhouse made of wooden blocks
Inside the room with the cucumber frame
With rabbit hutches inside that,

She sat at the blue pot and ladled sawdust,
Careful to pick out the screws.
                                                   She can’t eat
Everything. Even the rabbit picked out the screws
When he ate the shavings, to fill in
Him leaking from the ventral slit.

In the drawer full of pins slithering
Each pin rings when the clasp shuts.
The ring holds
                           a spark inside it.

In the drawer of pins the rabbit finds
The pain to seal his leaking cavity.

From which he pulls a watch, 5 to 12,
And hangs it on one hook
Of several screwed into the door
Hanging watches. 20 to 10.
6 past 9. 17 past 3.
                                One place over!
The hare butters the rabbit’s watch.

Wait. Please sir, said Alice
         The one time is all the time.
Sir. Please, said Alice.
         She closed each door behind her. Space

Contains more space, in the drawer of pins
Or scissors or sharpened nibs,
Blood on the scissors, ink in the nib,

The way the body keeps whatever it eats.
Almost all of it.
                             What I remember
I get to keep, until it digests.

Next time it’s my turn. Eat me, Alice.


Nighthawk rose a short ways
In the dusk above Hoover Library,
Beside the reconstructed meadow.
He fell, shallowed out, shivered
Past his mate with a rough whistle,
Body speaking against the air
Coneflowers highlighted.

Nighthawk stooping harrowed
The weathervane of Hoover Library,
Translated to beige, over the
Grave. Coneflower, with no luminescence
To lose, did not dissolve.
The sooty wet tall grasses
Sighed in their sleep.

Fireflies seeded the bottom of the sky.
Two feet over the lush lawn,
They lifted with a brooding severity
On the bevel, blinked out.

Nighthawk dissolved in vista
Against the beige curtain
Of dusk, day’s lapse,
Consoled for the splendors.

Beyond the dreary figure,
A lush phantom rises
Against the bluff, featureless face
Of the thunderhead—the risen Hoover.


Weather at a distance entertains.
Weather at hand perplexes.
Between the houses on Jefferson
Sodden shadows grow
As would spores in timelapse.
Diesels on the interstate groan,
Where is Hoover?
                                Entering stage rear,
Big weather. As at a height
Two watch the street swing down
The river and the firmament swing up;
Thunderhead draws between, expresses
Blue dyes down the veins of the weather,
A nervous, unresponsive grammar.


Hoover River, goodbye! Home from the bars,
One makes an offering from the bridge,
Coins out of pocket, capsules of light
Tossed to darkness. Where it breaks,
Where the silver raises the river
An increment of interest, moonlight catches,
Raising the face of Hoover.
One is not so drunk to throw the keys in:
The key, small with fine hard details,
Makes a greeting. As does the poem,
It knows its match.

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