The Poet Awake

by Martin Vlach

by Martin Vlach

17 February 2014
12:00 am

T. —

I think I’m stuck in the past. I really do keep writing 2013, and it’s not just that my mind hasn’t made the leap into the new year yet. Part of me thinks it’s entirely plausible that it could be February 2013 at this moment.

I’m in bed, waiting for sleep to take over. Andrew is down in London for three days for work, and he left on the sleeper train tonight. I’ve been wondering what it will be like in Iona to be almost completely on my own. Of course, I’ll be surrounded by people, but none of them will know me. And in amongst all of those people will be silence. I’ve almost forgotten what it sounds like.

These three days are an interesting reminder.

When I was younger, I used to take trips to dark places with people I loved to look at the stars. Star-gazing at night with the right people opened up whole other worlds to me. It was so easy to disappear into the tiny place we occupy when faced with the multitudes of the cosmos. I haven’t been stargazing in years, but I have a visual image of watching the Perseid meteor shower out on Tybee beach in Savannah, when Andrew turned to face me, and a bright green comet flew over his head.

And – twice – the counted meteors in an August shower.
First, on an interstate in Indiana, lying on the backseat peering
out the window at a ceiling of stars when she was still alive
and laughing up a storm in the passenger seat.
Later, on the beach in Georgia, lines like struck-matches
in the night sky. We went down dirty and tired
and came back smelling like the sea.

– from Thirty Two by Emma Sedlak


I’ve been reading all day, and writing all day too, which — I won’t lie — kind of astounds me.

Lament often inaugurates elegies, but repetition organizes them. Take Elizabeth Bishop’s “North Haven,” written for Robert Lowell one year after his fatal heart attack. Although she is looking at one of Lowell’s most beloved seascapes in Maine, she resists the pathetic fallacy. Bishop does not believe that nature is shedding tears simply because she is. “The islands haven’t shifted since last summer,” she writes, and then acknowledges, “even if I like to pretend they have.”

She also recognizes that the constancy of nature is illusory: “the goldfinches are back, or others like them.” Not even nature resists change, although it does repeat itself year after year, bringing new finches and growing different flowers even though the seasons themselves seem unchanging. “Nature repeats herself,” Bishop concedes, “or almost does: / repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise.”

– Poets Mourning Poets, the Paris Review Daily


The thing I always loved best about staying up and writing late into the night was to think of the rest of the world sleeping. This one amazing, beautifully written piece instilled that penchant in me, to write into the night, to stay up late and anchor the world:

Loving my Poet as I do, though, I try hard to understand what a poet is. The first clue lies in the fact that my Poet—every poet—is an insomniac. My own reads or wanders about our apartment for the best part of most nights. She told me she often feels she would give up every poem she’s ever written for one good night’s sleep. A friend of mine, who’s a literature professor, is very enamored of my Poet, whom he describes, tremblingly, as “the real thing.” (I once asked if I was “the real thing,” but it unfortunately triggered a grand mal seizure in him.) Anyway, he tells me he finds it profoundly reassuring that while we ordinary mortals are asleep, there exist lit rooms containing anxious, vigilant souls. A terrible responsibility, he says, devolves upon the poet, that requires her never to be fully awake or asleep: at night, wakeful poets buoy humanity to the surface, to consciousness, preventing our slumbering bulk from sinking too far; during the day, these same poets anchor the madding masses to the depths. The world will end, he once told me, when the final poet awake closes her eyes. Last night I woke up sweating, having dreamed of sinking with the rest of humanity into cold oblivion. Sure enough my Poet was fast asleep beside me—the first deep sleep she’d entered in more than a week. So I knocked a pile of books to the floor, and returned to my blissful slumbers, much comforted by the thought that at least one poet would wander the midnight battlements, keep watch, and preserve us all for one more day.

– My Poet by Naeem Murr

When that prose piece was released in the Poetry Magazine, I photocopied it about five times and sent it to everyone I knew who might still be around in later years to watch me grow up into a poet. I wanted to be someone’s Poet so badly. This description has always been, hands down, my favorite.


I have a copy of Crannog magazine to send you with this poem in it. I’m sorry I haven’t sent off your package yet.

My Pilgrim Soul
Emma Sedlak

I am not local, am not foreign, am not a stranger
except to myself on the dark days with no sunlight
seeping around the edges. I travel far, when I can,
with what I have.

My words have dissimilated until not even I can understand
the syllables that form inside my tongue and teeth and lungs
and breath and if you ask me to repeat myself, I won’t know
if I’ll say what I’ve said before or that the days are shorter

now and no one will acknowledge the winter was long.
Heavy. Ripping at the seams with the weight of myself
being left to myself. Let me out to roam. Put me out to pasture
and leave me there under the deep bright strokes of night sky.

The rushed star struck the atmosphere, but I could only feel my chest
shake its timorous shiver from when the cold damp feeling of grief
had been allowed to sit and settle. Any other day, my pilgrim soul
would have run toward the flare of the meteor meeting our sky

for the first time, to offer myself up with hope
of thawing
in the fallen fire of its shattered heart.


I am going to read myself to sleep: the book-lover’s lullaby.



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