It comes in, the peat smell
of smoke, though all windows
are shuttered in the house.
What’s burning? I wonder
aloud. As it turns out,
a building under renovation
across town, near the harbor.
And how does the scallion
I chop into slivers on my small
bamboo cutting board relate to
the latest news from the world?
Any distance between two
points can be collapsed,
a teacher showed students:
tracking with arrows drawn
in whiteboard marker
how metaphor rows—
from blueberry to pie to milk
to winter to warm to kitchen
to eating to lonely to fire.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Death grip.

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon home to my poor wife and dined, and then by coach abroad to Mrs. Turner’s where I have not been for many a day, and there I found her and her sister Dike very sad for the death of their brother. After a little common expression of sorrow, Mrs. Turner told me that the trouble she would put me to was, to consult about getting an achievement prepared, scutcheons were done already, to set over the door. So I did go out to Mr. Smith’s, where my brother tells me the scutcheons are made, but he not being within, I went to the Temple, and there spent my time in a Bookseller’s shop, reading in a book of some Embassages into Moscovia, &c., where was very good reading, and then to Mrs. Turner’s, and thither came Smith to me, with whom I did agree for 4l. to make a handsome one, ell square within the frame. After he was gone I sat an houre talking of the suddennesse of his death within 7 days, and how by little and little death came upon him, neither he nor they thinking it would come to that. He died after a day’s raveing, through lightness in his head for want of sleep. His lady did not know of his sickness, nor do they hear yet how she takes it.
Hence home, taking some books by the way in Paul’s Churchyard by coach to my office, where late doing business, and so home to supper and to bed.

sad for the rot of time
in an urn or a hand the sudden
little death

that lightness
for want of a now


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 17 December 1663.

Don’t you kind of hate those year-end “best of” lists that magazines love to compile? They always seem more about positioning the authors as Serious Culture Critics who are hip to what’s fashionable rather than showcasing potentially over-looked works that they sincerely enjoy. And sure, Luisa Igloria and I could’ve set ourselves up as judges to pick a Top 10 list from among our personal favorites, but I thought it would be more fun to throw it open to poetry lovers at large and ask (here and on Facebook) for mini reviews of your single favorite poetry book from the past year: a new book, an old book, a book in whatever language.

The responses have been wonderfully varied and interesting, and Lord help me I want to read (or in a few cases, re-read) every one of these books right now! I’m presenting them in the order they came in. I haven’t numbered them, lest that imply some sort of ranking, but there are 28 books in all.

*

Paradise Lost original coverParadise Lost by John Milton (Samuel Simmons, 1667). I nominate it (short answer) because of the rhythm and concision of the text, but also (long answer) because I read it in a book club with people much smarter than myself, including my daughter. (None of us “believers” — but that maybe made it better.) It reads aloud like Creation itself. We only had two meetings for the book, but they were the best of conversations.
Steven Arnerich

*

cover of "Of This World"The single book that’s been among the rotating 10 bedside books of mine — probably for two or three years now — has been Joseph Stroud’s Of This World: New and Selected Poems, from Copper Canyon (2008). Just can’t get enough of it. I came late to Stroud, and this is the first & only book of his I know. It’s hard to generalize about Stroud’s virtues, not just because this book collects decades of work, but also because he’s a master of many forms, themes, and tones. He can do a tight lyric in the mode of the classical Chinese masters, and he can stretch out in longer sequences. I love that he doesn’t either hide or particularly flaunt his erudition. He keeps his eye on the things of this world at all times (I guess you could call him a nature poet), but the things of his world definitely include his wide reading in literature. Anyway, his poems are consistently smart, sharply observant, and gorgeous. One of the few books I’ve bought based on a blurb — in this case a rave from the late Jim Harrison (“I don’t recall when a poet unknown to me has struck me so deeply.”)
David Graham

*

cover of Luminous SpacesOlav H. Hauge’s Luminous Spaces: Selected Poems & Journals (White Pine Press, 2016). Why? Because he can see into things in a way that few can. The poems are terrific and journal entries are special.

Tom Montag

*

cover of Teaching My Mother How to Give BirthTeaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark, 2011) by Warsan Shire. I think this is really only chapbook-length. This is just a superb little book by a London–based Somali poet. These words of hers have already been often quoted:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Though her experience is particularly hers, her truth is all women, and this is what will make her work last. Beautiful, dangerous, and syntactically diverse, her poems enthrall me, something that I am finding rare these days. “At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
Susan Elbe

*

cover of The RiverI’d like to recommend The River by Irish poet Jane Clarke (Bloodaxe Books, 2016). It’s a wonderful collection of accessible, musical poems that illuminate daily life. I was lucky enough to meet Jane at the Los Gatos-Listowel Writers Week, held in Los Gatos, California (where I live) in October of this year. Jane’s poems are full of rain, fishermen, farmers and flowers; they seem innocent at first, but pull you into a deeply affecting, emotional undertow. I love lines like “Piebald and skewbald” from “Broken” and “I have known storms that buffer and batter the heart. / I chose a hard bed, bare boards, a bulwark” from “Enclosed.”

This is a book of poems you could give to almost anyone, including people who insist that they don’t like poetry. I return to my copy again and again.
Erica Goss

*

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón (Milkweed Editions, 2015) is full of set-down-the-book-because-you-are-weeping poems. Reading it is to be intimate with the extent to which life — joy, loss, etc. — transforms us every minute. Reading this book is to be stung. There is pain. Specifically, the electrical, intense sort of pain. A physical sensation. It’ll give you goosebumps long after the initial zap, and you’ll be glad for the experience. There’s so much beauty in it.
Carolee Bennett

*

Rabbit Rabbit coverThe best poetry book I read this year would have to be Rabbit Rabbit by Kerrin P. Sharpe (Victoria University Press, 2016). I was blown away by the poet’s superb control of language, how she used the surreal to illuminate the world. It is saved from perfection by virtue of hitting the same note every time — but what a note. Though I am a comically slow reader of poetry, I swallowed this whole.

She’s new to me, and I’m now a fan.
Ivy Alvarez

*

Seam coverSeam by Tarfia Faizullah (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). It’s a beautifully wrought collection that weaves together history and personal narrative with tender attention to craft and form.
Christine Swint

*

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).

Beautiful. Raw. Gutting. Luminous.
LouAnn Shepard Muhm

*

cover of Saint Aldhelm's RiddlesI’m picking the most unusual (for us, in our day) book of poems I reviewed this year. Here’s the opening of my review, “Riddled with Light,” from a recent issue of First Things: “The riddle of Samson’s strength, the riddle of the eagle’s way with the sky and the ship’s way with the sea, the riddles in royal dreams of Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar, the riddle of things hidden since the world began, the riddle of a temple that can be destroyed and yet rebuilt in three days: riddling runs like a seam of gold through the rock of the Old and New Testaments. The mystery and praise of Creation and sub-creation that we find in the books of the Bible emerge again as bright knowledge in Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (University of Toronto Press, 2015), poems of the seventh-century Aldhelm, noble and bishop and poet and saint. Translated by poet A. M. Juster from Aldhelm’s Aenigmata, these poems suggest that all things possess a mystery. Salamander and raven, candle and cauldron find their secret wonders revealed in riddle.”
Marly Youmans

*

Death Tractates coverOf the many excellent poetry books I read this year the standout was Brenda Hillman’s Death Tractates (Wesleyan, 1992). The title makes it sound like some kind of plodding, ancient tome — and it is suffused with grief — but Hillman puts suffering off to the side to ask questions about existence. It’s gorgeous.

The poems convey death’s mystery, and treat the deceased as if she were still present, only separated a little, and unreachable. The dead woman is often referred to as a bride and she is nowhere and everywhere. The poems aren’t filled with tears or wailing, but with questions and careful wondering. Here’s the start of “Seated Bride”:

She had died without warning in early spring.
Which seemed right.
Now that which was far off could become intimate.

I said to the guides, let’s stand
very close to the mystery
and see how far she’s gone…

One of the best poems is “Much Hurrying,” which begins:

—So much hurrying right after a death:
as if a bride were waiting!

Crocuses sliced themselves out
with their penknives. Everything well made
seemed dead to them: Camelias. Their butcher-
paper pink. The well-made poems

seemed dead to you …

Sarah Sloat

*

To The House of the Sun coverThe best poetry book I read this year was To the House of the Sun (S4N Books, 2015), Tim Miller’s epic poem about the travels of an Irish-born Georgian seeking revenge against his own father during the Civil War. Miller contacted me back in the spring because he found me online and thought I might like his work. He was right: To the House of the Sun is a sprawling, strange, deeply moving poem inspired by the the world’s great religious texts and definitely in conversation with them. It’s a difficult, harrowing, inspiring, incantatory book, and I’ve never read anything like it.
Jeff Sypeck

*

De Willekeur coverThe book that got to me the most over the last few ye​ars was De Willekeur by Jan Lauwereyns (De Bezige Bij, 2012). It’s a bundle of death and happiness, adversity and cruelty, the paradoxical aspects of human life, which sometimes produce ironic discoveries. But more than the subject it’s the poetic adventure in which Jan Lauwereyns takes us in this particular book full of alternation: pieces of prose (on a seventeenth-century pornographer, for example), epic pieces of text, simple poems, a senile sonnet. The randomness is itself a poetic tsunami that drags you in. It’s poetry about the miserable, great humanity.

In my view Jan Lauereyns is the most exciting writer/poet that we have in Belgium. And he’s an inspiration to me. I created several videos for his poems and his latest novel led me to make an entire EP based on certain lines from the book.
—Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon

*

A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon - New (Soma)ticsA Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics by CA Conrad (Wave Books, 2012). I liked the structure, somatic exercises (none of which I have tried at home) followed by the poems they generate. I liked the urgency of the voice moving between rage and laughter. I just like CA Conrad’s wildness, the feeling that he will say anything that needs saying.
Martha McCollough

*

The Country Gambler coverThe Country Gambler by Erica McAlpine (Shearsman, 2016). First collection from a UK-based American poet who writes a lot in strict form, both rhymed and unrhymed, and with such skill that it melds entirely with content: sublime, brief evocations of nature, relationships, mood and emotions. A scholar and translator of Horace, her favourite form is Sapphics (see first poem in sample at link).
Jean Morris

*

cover of Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse StoryEvery Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story by Donna Vorreyer (Sundress Publications, 2016). This tightly themed full-length collection chronicles a relationship that starts out rocky and seems to have more passion than promise. By itself, that topic might have kept this book in the “seen it before” category, but then a sharp twist pushes the stakes much higher and the collection morphs into something else, a meditation on the indelible but fallible nature of memory and how it bleeds into everything that comes after. Vorreyer’s lean, elegant verse takes occasional leaps into prose poems and hybrid forms, a welcome change of pace, but the book is anchored by her tight, pared-down poems that pay close attention to line length and visuals while wielding powerful language stripped of all but the essentials. This is a book to read in one gulp and then savor again in small pieces.
Amy Miller

*

cover of Jane Kenyon's Collected PoemsThe Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon (Graywolf Press, 2007) I’d known “Let Evening Come” and “Otherwise” for a long time but after reading “Let Evening Come” to a women’s group struggling with the election aftermath I decided to dive into the corpus of her work. Two features fascinate me — the similarities in our life paths. Born in 1947. Dealing with severe sadness on and off. The simple work of a gardener to clear the garden and compost. And then, the relationship between titles and subject matter in her poems. I’ve been covering up the titles before I read a poem to guess what she titled it. Every poem takes some sort of twist down to the final lines that surprises me.
Tricia Knoll

*

cover of The Book of QuestionsThe best book of poetry I read this year was The Book of Questions, Volume I, by Edmond Jabès, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop (Wesleyan, 1991). In a 1989 LRB review of several books by or about Samuel Beckett, Patrick Parrinder wrote:

…[I.A.] Richards suggested that a good test of a poem’s sincerity would be to meditate for a while on the following topics: 1. Man’s loneliness (the isolation of the human situation). 2. The facts of birth, and of death, in their inexplicable oddity. 3. The inconceivable immensity of the universe. 4. Man’s place in the perspective of time. 5. The enormity of his ignorance. The poem should then be recited, slowly and silently, and, Richards thought, ‘whether what it can stir in us is important or not to us will, perhaps, show itself then.’

The Book of Questions in its entirety passes Richards’s “sincerity” test more definitively than any book of poetry I’ve read in the past decade or so.
—Kuahine Makalapua

*

Four Reincarnations coverMax Ritvo, Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016). I don’t read as widely in new poetry as I ought, probably, but this book seems head and shoulders above anything else I’ve read this year. Ritvo’s poetry is a bit like Ocean Vuong’s in that it’s incredibly emotional, vivid, difficult to read simply because of its horrible intensity. But his language is amazingly restrained, precise, almost ordinary. And yet he manages to convey very surreal and strange images through this plain language. It’s the work of a very accomplished writer with an unusually vivid imagination and a surprising sense of humor. Someone I am happy to have inhabiting my mind for an hour at a time.

I do however have to ask myself the uncomfortable question of whether I’d be taking this book as seriously if he hadn’t just died at the age of 25. And the awkward answer is no. I didn’t even hear about Ritvo until the day he died, and everyone who mentions him talks about his early death, so there is no question that his terribly shortened life has amplified the reach of his poetry, as awful as that sounds. I think he knew this, and his writing addresses his terminal illness head on, without pity or melodrama. It doesn’t make it any less awkward for us, his readers, though.

I will be reading and rereading this book for some time, I think.
Dylan Tweney

*

Reasons (not) to Dance coverMy favorite poetry read this year was yet another re-read of the poetry chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance by José Angel Araguz (FutureCycle Press, 2015). Other layers of meaning seem to keep unfolding from each poem every time I read through them, each a three-way hybrid of parable, koan, and poem.
Laura L. Kaminski

*

cover of bindweed & crow poisonbindweed & crow poison: small poems of stray girls, fierce women by Robin Turner (Porkbelly Press, 2016) reminded me how much I love chapbooks. I’ve been reading mostly full-length collections (some quite wonderful), but I single this one out because it’s the only chap I read this year and it reminded me how much I love these one-sitting collections, so easily reread. I had the pleasure of publishing two of these poems at Gnarled Oak (and nominating one — “bindweed” — for a Pushcart) in 2015, and it was nice to reread them in the context of this beautiful little book. The poems in this collection come mostly from the family of erasure, remix, collage and found poems. They are short and wonderfully open, letting the reader catch glimpses of the stray girls and fierce women of the title. They remind me how much can be said with just the right few words. I will probably reread it a time or two in the coming weeks.
James Brush

*

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude coverAmong the best poetry books I read throughout 2016 (and which I will continue to use in the poetry workshops that I teach, either in part or whole) is Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry Series, January 2015). I will return to this book again and again because it reminds me that we should not have to apologize for poetry: for making poetry, for wanting to write poetry, share poetry, read poetry, make poetry out of everyday experience, eat poetry, pluck poems like fruit from a fig tree growing in the middle of the city. And we should not be ashamed to say thank you, to be grateful as we sit in the mud of all of it: for “what do you think/ this singing and shuddering is,/ what this screaming and reaching and dancing/ and crying is, other than loving/ what every second goes away?” The book won several major poetry awards, including the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize.
Luisa A. Igloria

*

The Halo coverI read C. Dale Young’s The Halo (Four Way Books, 2016) earlier this year, and I thought it was stunning. It’s the narrative of a young man who has been in a horrible car accident, a young man discovering his sexuality, a young man who finds wings growing out of his body. All of these are true, and the metaphor keeps slipping so that we’re never such what is metaphorical of what. The physicality and music of this book are extraordinary.
Ed Madden

*

cover of The Whole Field Still Moving Inside ItThe best book of poetry I read this past year (other than the ones I published!) was Molly Bashaw’s The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It (The Word Works, 2014). The poems, ostensibly about farming and farm life, are of course — as Heaney showed us so convincingly — about life itself, in all its beauty, bewilderment, and violence. I was impressed by Bashaw’s use of language, and deeply moved by her ability to describe but not over-explain, because so much of what she talks about defies explanation or even analysis. She leaves things as they are, but also leaves a great deal of room for the reader. Barshaw grew up on small farms in New England and upstate New York, but graduated from the Eastman School of Music and worked for 12 years in Germany as a professional bass-trombonist — so it’s probably no surprise that her poems resonated with me. She’s young and her work has won a bunch of prizes but that doesn’t matter to me; I certainly wish I had published this first book of hers myself and hope to meet the poet someday so I can tell her.
Beth Adams

*

The Black Flower coverI keep re-reading The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems by Natalia Toledo, translated by Claire Sullivan (Phoneme Media, 2015), puzzling over a seamless blend of the wild and the domestic, the real and the surreal; wondering at the understated, even casual assimilation of astonishment; and greatly admiring the fractal-like completeness of the smallest fragments. In a year when indigenous people throughout the hemisphere have mobilized and joined forces like never before in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, poetry such as Toledo’s stands as a reminder of just how diverse and vital literary traditions are in the Americas. (Not to mention ancient: Zapotec culture and writing go back at least 2500 years.) Here’s a bit of an untitled poem:

Fire is reborn on the soil of the earth
a tender leaf sleeps upon my eyelids.
My shadow walks the four paths
content, my skin shivers with ants.
A garden is my house
and the firefly on my back makes me translucent.

—Dave Bonta

*

Bodymap coverReading poetry is one of my guilty pleasures. I tend to wander by the poetry section in the local bookstore (Literati) around each payday, and if I miss the bus and have to walk to the bus, well, life has FORCED me to walk past the poetry books, right? Recently (meaning months to years), I’ve been asking the bookstore over and over to stock more diverse poets. I was finding classics, and new books by academically acclaimed poets, and poetry books I’d already read, but was longing for the poems and voices of people of color, women, from other countries, people who are poor, or ill, or disabled, or immigrants, or… well, you get the idea. Diversity. I’d had a tough year, had lost several dear friends, friends who were diverse, so very diverse. I wanted poems that reverberated with experiences that stretched views and minds and hearts.

Then one day I stumbled upon Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Mawenzi House, 2015). I felt the electricity shiver through it even before I bought the book. I couldn’t buy it fast enough, and that was just based on the back cover blurb: “Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha sings a queer disabled femme-of-colour love song filled with hard femme poetics.” Oh, yeah, baby, that’s what I need. The book itself did not disappoint. I read it luxuriously, in strict order, as if it was a story and each poem depended on the poems before. I read about terrible, terrible fatigue, and people who get it and don’t judge you for it. I read about growing up poor and colored and with so many cultures around you it becomes confusing to others when you are just being you. I read about hard life, hard sex, “alternative” sex, and vibrators for pain relief. I read about going to the hospital with friends who are afraid. I read about rape, best friends, moving from one country to another. I read about people who look at you, and you know they are afraid of you because you are ‘different,’ whatever that means.

I carried the book with me everywhere for months. I showed poems to people on the bus, in choir rehearsal, at orchestra concerts. I shoved it in their faces, scrambling through the pages, and saying, “Here! Read this! And this one! Isn’t it AMAZING?” I am not quoting from the poems because they are too powerful and too real to section, and squeeze the juice from them. These are poems to read greedily, and carefully. Stuff your mouth and mind full of them, and let the juice run down your chin. Then read another one, peeling it carefully, removing every shred of bitter white, and marveling at the glorious architecture of how each word glistens inside.

I cried, and laughed, and gasped reading this book. I went back and read who commented on the book, who wrote the “Praise for…” sections, and I bought books by all of them. This was a book that opened to me a mature world of poetry like the one I fell in love with as a teenager, when I discovered “Mountain Moving Day” and “Beginning with O” and “Queen of Swords.” This is woman’s poetry that opens a window on lives rarely witnessed in our culture, powerful poetry, poetry for the excluded and marginalized, poetry for those who want or need to bear witness, to understand, to peep inside a life that is unfamiliar in print but oh so very familiar in the lives of my friends and neighbors. I love this book of poetry in a way I haven’t loved a poetry book in many years. I cannot praise it enough.
PF Anderson

*

If I Go Missing coverMy pick for the book of my year is Octavio Quintanilla’s debut collection, If I Go Missing (Slough Press, 2014).

The poetry sings true and the matter matters.
Katherine Durham Oldmixon

*

Highway Sky by James Brush (Coyote Mercury Press, 2016). It reads like a road movie, and there are film references in it. Diverse poetic forms give a range of rhythmic experiences, like musical variation. The poems evoke nostalgia for a wilder freer time, a time of wrestling demons and coming to a new understanding of life. The tone is serious, at times confessional, and also at times humorous, at others uplifting: many shades as the narrative progresses. Themes of history in the American landscapes traversed are a strong thread in the collection. I love the pared back writing style, which is also somehow rich with detail.

My disclosure of interest in this collection is firstly that I had the pleasure of reading and commenting on the manuscript prior to its publication. I was later also involved in a musical piece and video incorporating one of the poems, ‘God Bless Johnny Cash’. This was possible because James has licensed the whole of ‘Highway Sky’ on a Creative Commons remix license, though he also gave his permission when I contacted him by email. He and I are friends over the net.
Marie Craven
[Click through to the book’s webpage to watch all the videos and listen to the music based on its poems. —Dave]

Up, and with my head and heart full of my business, I to my office, and there all the morning, where among other things to my great content Captain Taylor brought me 40l., the greater part of which I shall gain to myself after much care and pains out of his bill of freight, as I have at large set down in my book of Memorandums.
At noon to the ‘Change and there met with Mr. Wood by design, and got out of him to my advantage a condition which I shall make good use of against Sir W. Batten (vide my book of Memorandums touching the contract of masts of Sir W. Warren about which I have had so much trouble).
So home to dinner and then to the Star Tavern hard by to our arbitration of Mr. Bland’s business, and at it a great while, but I found no order like to be kept in our inquiry, and Mr. Clerke, the other arbitrator, one so far from being fit (though able as to his trade of a merchant) to inquire and to take pains in searching out the truth on both sides, that we parted without doing anything, nor do I believe we shall at all ever attain to anything in it.
Then home and till 12 at night making up my accounts with great account of this day’s receipt of Captain Taylor’s money and some money reimbursed me which I have laid out on Field’s business. So home with my mind in pretty good quiet, and to Supper and to bed.

with my heart of a captain
pain is freight I have set down

at noon to the wood
a tract of masts

and the hard land like a merchant
without any receipt


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 16 December 1663.

perhaps we should not spend them
rubbing our hands with squares
of disinfectant cloth. Perhaps
we should wave at every plane
passing overhead the way we did
when we were children kicking up
pebbles with each pass on the swing.
When was the last time we grew giddy
on a roundabout? Yesterday the doctor
listened through her stethoscope,
attached a sensor to a fingertip then
applauded the clear meter of your pulse.
Last week, I watched as the lab technician
drew the brilliant crimson of my blood
into a series of glass ampules. The sun
might have struck them if the room
had a window. Let us not spend
these remaining days being experimental
and eating nothing; or being rhetorical
and debating the value of poetry vs.
bread. The unswept room in the middle
is always overlooked. The animal’s
severed head is taken and hung
in a tree, and its fleshy hindquarters
roasted on the fire. But do you know
the book of the heart and the liver,
and the epistle of the cloudy spleen?
Slender white birds rummage through
the water at low tide. I want to say
sometimes, Enough nostalgia! Enough
fatalism for the tribe! But lists,
understand, are important. And names.
Names of the dead, names of the living,
every last creature that will not be
tamed and hides in the wood. Every weed
that sticks like a stubborn conviction
to the undersides of our feet.

Before I was up, my brother’s man came to tell me that my cozen, Edward Pepys, was dead, died at Mrs. Turner’s, for which my wife and I are very sorry, and the more for that his wife was the only handsome woman of our name.
So up and to the office, where the greatest business was Sir J. Minnes and Sir W. Batten against me for Sir W. Warren’s contract for masts, to which I may go to my memorandum book to see what past, but came off with conquest, and my Lord Barkely and Mr. Coventry well convinced that we are well used.
So home to dinner, and thither came to me Mr. Mount and Mr. Luellin, I think almost foxed, and there dined with me and very merry as I could be, my mind being troubled to see things so ordered at the Board, though with no disparagement to me at all.
At dinner comes a messenger from the Counter with an execution against me for the 30l. 10s., given the last verdict to Field. The man’s name is Thomas, of the Poultry Counter. I sent Griffin with him to the Dolphin, where Sir W. Batten was at dinner, and he being satisfied that I should pay the money, I did cause the money to be paid him, and Griffin to tell it out to him in the office. He offered to go along with me to Sir R. Ford, but I thought it not necessary, but let him go with it, he also telling me that there is never any receipt for it given, but I have good witness of the payment of it.
They being gone, Luellin having again told me by myself that Deering is content to give me 50l. if I can sell his deals for him to the King, not that I did ever offer to take it, or bid Luellin bargain for me with him, but did tacitly seem to be willing to do him what service I could in it, and expect his thanks, what he thought good.
Thence to White Hall by coach, by the way overtaking Mr. Moore, and took him into the coach to me, and there he could tell me nothing of my Lord, how he stands as to his thoughts or respect to me, but concludes that though at present he may be angry yet he will come to be pleased again with me no doubt, and says that he do mind his business well, and keeps at Court.
So to White Hall, and there by order found some of the Commissioners of Tangier met, and my Lord Sandwich among the rest, to whom I bowed, but he shewed me very little if any countenance at all, which troubles me mightily.
Having soon done there, I took up Mr. Moore again and set him down at Pauls, by the way he proposed to me of a way of profit which perhaps may shortly be made by money by fines upon houses at the Wardrobe, but how I did not understand but left it to another discourse.
So homeward, calling upon Mr. Fen, by Sir G. Carteret’s desire, and did there shew him the bill of Captain Taylor’s whereby I hope to get something justly.
Home and to my office, and there very late with Sir W. Warren upon very serious discourse, telling him how matters passed to-day, and in the close he and I did fall to talk very openly of the business of this office, and (if I was not a little too open to tell him my interest, which is my fault) he did give me most admirable advice, and such as do speak him a most able and worthy man, and understanding seven times more than ever I thought to be in him. He did particularly run over every one of the officers and commanders, and shewed me how I had reason to mistrust every one of them, either for their falsenesse or their over-great power, being too high to fasten a real friendship in, and did give me a common but a most excellent saying to observe in all my life. He did give it in rhyme, but the sense was this, that a man should treat every friend in his discourse and opening his mind to him as of one that may hereafter be his foe. He did also advise me how I should take occasion to make known to the world my case, and the pains that I take in my business, and above all to be sure to get a thorough knowledge in my employment, and to that add all the interest at Court that I can, which I hope I shall do.
He staid talking with me till almost 12 at night, and so good night, being sorry to part with him, and more sorry that he should have as far as Wapping to walk to-night. So I to my Journall and so home, to supper and to bed.

the dead hands of conquest
are a field given over to ice

how I fall is my fault
under every commander

how I trust the power
in a common rhyme

how I take occasion
to know the world


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 15 December 1663.

Forgive us if we find it hard to imagine
that final country for which you’ve departed

except in terms of the one you left many years ago.
We want to think of heaven as a small village

where the houses stand close to each other,
where neighbors know each other by name

and by the names of their kin before them;
where the church and town square and fields

are quiet from holding their place, and the doves
come to shelter in the shadows at noon. The first

time you left, young in your prime to make your fortune,
the way was lit like windows looking out on a procession.

We followed in your wake, as we do again now.
At the end we watched you go, briefer than a wisp

of smoke, wordless as snow against the city skyline.
And this was how you taught us to grow—

A young man plucks a fruit, holds it in his hands
and offers it simply, as he would his heart.
Nothing

in the world stands between your heart and this gift.
Nothing in the world tarnishes its sweetness or its gold.

Up by candlelight, which I do not use to do, though it be very late, that is to say almost 8 o’clock, and out by coach to White Hall, where we all met and to the Duke, where I heard a large discourse between one that goes over an agent from the King to Legorne and thereabouts, to remove the inconveniences his ships are put to by denial of pratique; which is a thing that is now-a-days made use of only as a cheat, for a man may buy a bill of health for a piece of eight, and my enemy may agree with the Intendent of the Sante for ten pieces of eight or so; that he shall not give me a bill of health, and so spoil me in my design, whatever it be. This the King will not endure, and so resolves either to have it removed, or to keep all ships from coming in, or going out there, so long as his ships are stayed for want hereof.
Then, my Lord Sandwich being there, we all went into the Duke’s closet and did our business. But among other things, Lord! what an account did Sir J. Minnes and Sir W. Batten make of the pulling down and burning of the head of the Charles, where Cromwell was placed with people under his horse, and Peter, as the Duke called him, is praying to him; and Sir J. Minnes would needs infer the temper of the people from their joy at the doing of this and their building a gibbet for the hanging of his head up, when God knows, it is even the flinging away of 100l. out of the King’s purse, to the building of another, which it seems must be a Neptune.
Thence I through White Hall only to see what was doing, but meeting none that I knew I went through the garden to my Lord Sandwich’s lodging, where I found my Lord got before me (which I did not intend or expect) and was there trying some musique, which he intends for an anthem of three parts, I know not whether for the King’s chapel or no, but he seems mighty intent upon it. But it did trouble me to hear him swear before God and other oathes, as he did now and then without any occasion, which methinks did so ill become him, and I hope will be a caution for me, it being so ill a thing in him.
The musique being done, without showing me any good or ill countenance, he did give me his hat and so adieu, and went down to his coach without saying anything to me. He being gone I and Mr. Howe talked a good while. He tells me that my Lord, it is true, for a while after my letter, was displeased, and did shew many slightings of me when he had occasion of mentioning me to his Lordship, but that now my Lord is in good temper and he do believe will shew me as much respect as ever, and would have me not to refrain to come to him. This news I confess did much trouble me, but when I did hear how he is come to himself, and hath wholly left Chelsy, and the slut, and that I see he do follow his business, and becomes in better repute than before, I am rejoiced to see it, though it do cost me some disfavour for a time, for if not his good nature and ingenuity, yet I believe his memory will not bear it always in his mind. But it is my comfort that this is the thing that after so many years good service that has made him my enemy.
Thence to the King’s Head ordinary, and there dined among a company of fine gentlemen; some of them discoursed of the King of France’s greatness, and how he is come to make the Princes of the Blood to take place of all foreign Embassadors, which it seems is granted by them of Venice and other States, and expected from my Lord. Hollis, our King’s Embassador there; and that either upon that score or something else he hath not had his entry yet in Paris, but hath received several affronts, and among others his harnesse cut, and his gentlemen of his horse killed, which will breed bad blood if true. They say also that the King of France hath hired threescore ships of Holland, and forty of the Swede, but nobody knows what to do; but some great designs he hath on foot against the next year.
Thence by coach home and to my office, where I spent all the evening till night with Captain Taylor discoursing about keeping of masts, and when he was gone, with Sir W. Warren, who did give me excellent discourse about the same thing, which I have committed to paper, and then fell to other talk of his being at Chatham lately and there discoursing of his masts. Commissioner Pett did let fall several scurvy words concerning my pretending to know masts as well as any body, which I know proceeds ever since I told him I could measure a piece of timber as well as anybody employed by the King. But, however, I shall remember him for a black sheep again a good while, with all his fair words to me, and perhaps may let him know that my ignorance does the King as much good as all his knowledge, which would do more it is true if it were well used.
Then we fell to talk of Sir J. Minnes’s and Sir W. Batten’s burning of Oliver’s head, while he was there; which was done with so much insulting and folly as I never heard of, and had the Trayned Band of Rochester to come to the solemnity, which when all comes to all, Commissioner Pett says it never was made for him; but it troubles me the King should suffer 100l. losse in his purse, to make a new one after it was forgot whose it was, or any words spoke of it.
He being gone I mightily pleased with his discourse, by which I always learn something, I to read a little in Rushworth, and so home to supper to my wife, it having been washing day, and so to bed, my mind I confess a little troubled for my Lord Sandwich’s displeasure. But God will give me patience to bear since it rises from so good an occasion.

to inconvenience an enemy
I will not remove my own head

people pray
for a head with good countenance

a light head
ordinary as a horse

but a foot
committed to ignorance

does as much good as
a burning head

but I make new words
of ash and trouble


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 14 December 1663.

In a room filled with straw
I eat nugget after nugget
of salt. I work all night
to fill the urns with corn.
I was promised deliverance
and if not, my undoing.
Wasn’t it the same
for my forbears?
O daybreak, and the constant
putrefaction made by cows
in the field. I am wide-
eyed. I get by on four
hours of sleep and swigs
of hard black coffee.
A door opens when they
remember to check if I
am still in here, still
alive; if there is anything
I’ve made that might be
worth trading. And I’m
a genius— But when did my
opinions ever matter? TBH
I prefer living by myself.
I think of the industry
of bees and what they know:
culling every last bit
of sweetness from unseemly
sources, carefully hoarding
their one barbed sting.

 

In response to Via Negativa: In absentia.