This year, National Poetry Month comes in the midst of a global pandemic, providing an opportunity to consider how poetry might deepen our connections to one another as we grapple with a range of challenging emotions–uncertainty, grief, guilt, isolation, vulnerability, and mortality.
In The Music of Time (Princeton University Press, 2020), John Burnside asserts that poetry “contributes to our grieving and our healing processes, it gives focus to our loves and to our fears, allowing us to sing them, at the back of our minds, in a deliberate and disciplined transformation of noise into music, of grief into acceptance, of anger at pointless destruction into a determination to save at least something of what remains.”
“The brevity of a poem and its precision help us tune out the world and its excesses, so we might return, if only momentarily, to ourselves.”Poet Mary Jean Chan writes for The Guardian’s book blog
While the Rakow Research Library contains a range of poetry related to glass, below I share brief excerpts and interpretations from a few poems that may speak to glass artists, glass lovers, and friends of The Corning Museum of Glass.
First, in any discussion of poetry and glass is Mark Doty’s Murano (2000), which incorporates images of Venetian glass from the J. Paul Getty Museum. This book-length poem explores deterioration, death, art. Addressed to a dead lover, the poem’s speaker describes the city of Venice, “republic of instability,” as “capital of the made, dear, / where the given’s smoked / and polished, plucked / from the ovens’ / chemical heats, beaten / and gilded to glory.”
The lover is now “salts and essences, / the flung and gathered / elements from which any art / is fused and blown.” The speaker observes, “Always / the fate of the maker, / to become what’s made / — the gilt, permanent thing…” The poem’s final declaration, “And now you’re glass,” suggests life and art made and remade, impermanent yet transcendent.
Paisley Rekdal explores Murano from a different perspective. Her “Murano” exposes the performative aspects of glassmaking from maker and audience perspectives: “but we’re bored, he’s / bored, blowing and blowing the same shape over.” (Nothing like our Hot Glass Demos!) The poem lulls us into its scripted numbness until someone breaks the “no flash” photography rule, filling the room with light: “Our senses return stretched thinner, fine. / We can almost feel the shattering of the glass.”
Amy Clampitt’s poem “Beach Glass,” reminds us of glass’s everyday uses, while affirming the transcendent beauty of everyday things: “I keep a lookout for beach glass– / amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase / of Almadén and Gallo, lapis / by way of (no getting around it, / I’m afraid) Phillips’ /Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare / translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst / of no known origin.”
Any poem that begins with a reference to Peter Falk’s glass eye is bound to catch my attention. Thylias Moss plays with sight, transparency, and matter in “The Culture of Glass”: “the world of coffee, / the culture of glass / bottom boats, success: / liquid assets: if solidity is the basic state / that matters, it’s obvious what happens.”
In a literary reference to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Megan Fernandes’s “Quentin Compson at the Natural History Museum, Harvard University” takes place among the Blaschkas’ glass flower models: “Caddy, surrounded by glass, smells like trees. / Couldn’t you die here, Caddy? / In all this glass?”
Queer trans poet Noah Baldino also writes of Blaschkas’ glass flowers in “Passing”: “Someone made these / with their body. They let their breath / unspool to form each impossible / bud, crafted every flower’s fold, / then waited on the heat to break to / hold just one, wearing special gloves.”
Finally, in what seems an apt poem for the moment, I recommend Amy Sara Carroll’s “As in We Will Not Pass,” a short poem that reminds us that our perspectives shape the way we see things and also that nothing is static: “A window. Light. Diachronic. Glass: mourning, This, / too, shall pass.”
In addition to the poems and poets explored here, below are other poetry collections that might interest you:
- Dominic Fondé, curator. Haiku and Glass. Barnard Castle, County Durham: Bowes Museum, 2003.
- George Oppen. Discrete Series. Ron Caplan, 1966.
- Michael Palmer. The Promises of Glass. New York: New Directions, 2001.
- Paisley Rekdal. The Invention of the Kaleidoscope. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007; and Imaginary Vessels. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2016.
- Giampaolo Seguso. The Home of Heartbeats. Brezza, 2012.
- Steuben Glass. Poetry in Crystal: Interpretations in Crystal of Thirty-One New Poems by Contemporary American Poets. New York: Spiral Press, 1963.
- Catherine Strisik. The Mistress: Poems. Three: A Taos Press, 2016.
- Jan Struther. The Glass-Blower and Other Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1941.
Hopefully, you are encouraged by this post to revisit favorite poems, discover new poets and poems, create new poetry yourself, and share poetry with others as we find new ways to connect while social distancing. For a daily dose of poetry, I recommend signing up for Poem-a-Day, hosted by the American Academy of Poets. For other ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, see 30 Ways to Celebrate … at Home or Online.