Poet’s Sampler

Introduced by Peter Gizzi

Aaron Kunin’s poems are literally outrageous. They are 1) a: exceeding the limits of what is normal or tolerable, b: not conventional; 2) violent or unrestrained in action or emotion; and (sometimes) 3) offensive. At the same time they are filled with the proper concerns of poetry. They are interested in divinity and accident, physical beauty and romantic love. They are inventive but not narrowly so. They are cutting without being ironic; they have pathos without sentimentality. In short, Kunin’s poems belong to the great tradition of the tragicomic. Jack Spicer once wrote that “A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary,” and Aaron Kunin has outrageously written an entire book using no more than two hundred words. In other words, he has created a drama for two hundred players, a world teetering brilliantly between containment and chaos. Anything can happen here—and does.

For Pleasure

“Sigh no more,” moron, sigh no more!
Let laughter have voice, for a change;
Let there be pleasure, let there be goodness;
Be kind, be kind and be knowing!

Let like keep with like, and no more
Weeping; let rats dance with rats and
Not be sorry; let laughter last
Longer than weeping.

And Jesus will appear to sort out
The good rats from the rats
That are left, and the god
Will say with loud voice: “Be rats!

And I will be hard with you, for all
That you complain: may the earth
Be sore with you upon it;
May the earth always be in your way.”

The Sore Throat

     Last to know, and out of the mind, always.
     Just as you yourself must know, n’est-ce pas?
     Out of the mind, and wrong from the start.

Here is the earth, and you are on it. The earth is great: it’s wide and narrow and easy and hard. Here is a throat for you to keep: it contains a voice. I am here: I am a good boy, I am a good moron. What you demanded from the earth, you now have, and there is a god. I wonder why you are weeping.

     I no longer wish to remember
     Seeing you gasp with laughter.

Here is the earth: what’s on it nowadays, I wonder? It’s a pleasure to be on the earth in the age of talking rats. What’s wrong with you is that you always complain about the loud moron.

     A change in the habits of rats—
     Rats of the mind, that is.
Is there a moron? But how would you desire to say it? You have a choice. It’s for your throat. Your talking habits are no good. I will always sigh for myself, for I know that I am the moron. I am sure of it.

     It is hard to hear the voice of god;
     It seems so narrow now.
     But the last of the rats
     Will remember it with pleasure.
Now the talking will begin. Jesus will do the talking, and the rats will do the weeping. But hear the voice of the moron: “The eyes of god are upon you.” How much longer will the moron be talking, can you guess?

And you know—you are dear to all rats. The god of the rats would say—“Don’t be sorry. For pleasure is in the mind, and it is a god.” How great is the goodness of the god of the rats—how good, how wise and kind! But remember the narrow way of Jesus: “Dance and be easy with yourself, but god will damn you for it.”

     Oh boy, oh brother, oh dear, my dear,
     It won’t be easy and can’t be a pleasure.

Always begin weeping: the rats are weeping. Begin in wonder: the rats are weeping and sobbing. But there will be good habits and so on: the rats will be longer. The rats demanded a change. But the rats will always say: “We have no choice.” Jesus cannot remember why; Jesus is wrong.

     I have to know about the dance
     Of the good rats.

You are good for seeing and pleasure; your good habits are talking and laughter. I wonder why you are weeping with your brother, the moron.

The Sore Throat

The throat is
sore for a
word. It is
sore with word-

desire, desire
for the word “she.”
The word "she": will
it appear? Will

she appear?
(Is the word
“she” a she?)
She is a

word I always,
without knowing,
had in my mind.
Once, to my shame,

I had no
what to do
with the word

“she”; now it seems
like I don’t know
any other
word. It seems like

is a she,
money is
a she (you’re

so complete you
don’t have to think
about money!
You have so much

money you
don’t know what
knowing is!),
knowing is

a she, and in
heaven, god is
a she. No more
Herr Gott, from now

on, no more
seigneur, no
more boy-god:
the end! But

won’t she start to
wonder: “If there’s
no word for ‘he,’
if everything

is a she,
why would we
have to have
a word for

it? If this word
appears every-
where, it won’t mean
anything." And

at last she
may say to
you: “You are
my own good

boy. For me
there’s no choice:
no other
boy will do.”

The Sore Throat

I’m inventing a machine
for concealing my desire.
And I’m inventing another
machine for concealing the
machine. It’s a two-machine
system, and it sounded like
laughter. And I’m inventing
a machine for concealing
the sound. You, to me: “Why are
you concealing the beauty
of your machine?” Every machine
has more beauty than the last,
for everything whose purpose
is to conceal seems to change,
in the end, into a sign
of what it’s concealing. And
now the sound that once sounded
like laughter is so loud that
it seems more like sobbing or
laughter concealing sobbing.
All my inventing is a
complete disaster. It’s not
concealing my desire, it’s
talking about my desire
to conceal my desire, like
a voice on a message machine
that would say: “Hello. About
desire, I’d like to say a
word or two. It’s not your eyes,
it’s not the word you say, it’s
not your complaining voice that
I desire. All I desire
is your applause.” It’s hard not
to hear what the message is
saying, also it’s hard to
keep myself from inventing
another machine to keep
from hearing it. So invent
a machine for disinventing.
This will be the last machine
I ever invent, and its
purpose will just be to change
every machine into shit.
No more inventing (for me).
—What a shame. It once was a
wonder of a machine; now
it’s more like a disaster.
—I think he left a message . . .
—You’re wrong: he just left a mess.

Asshole, Dickhead, Shit-For-Brains

Dear, if you change, I’m left without a choice;
Change, if you doubt, for me there is no doubt;
Doubt, if you’re wrong, I’ll think all thinking mindless;
Wrong, if you wish, I’ll wish myself in two.
     Dear asshole, wise moron, don’t toy with me:
     Wish, wish

Earth up to heaven, heaven down to hell;
Hell a body of shameless pleasure,
And hell is everywhere. Narrow eyes change
To wide: idea change to fact; fact change
     To word; word “change” change word to thing. So sure,

Aaron Kunin is currently teaching Renaissance poetry at Brown University. A selection of poems from The Sore Throat is forthcoming.

Peter Gizzi’s new book of poems, Some Values of Landscape and Weather, is forthcoming this fall from Wesleyan.