Visiting Poets

Susan Snively

Susan Snively

Local poet Susan Snively, who is the director of the Writing Center at Amherst College and teaches courses in writing and women’s autobiographies, has published three collections of poems: From This DistanceVoices in the House, and, more recently, The Undertow.

Former Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur described her work as “clean-cut, fluent, witty, direct, fully of personality and surprise. [She] can also be deeply meditative, grave and affecting, uproarious.”

Select Poems

I have let in just enough light
to show my eyes what my hands do.
It falls on coins, on pearls,
a ray that reaches into the deep
where a laden wreck rocks.
On these things that have come to night
I let my sigh abide
and pick up the scales,
weighing the little I get.
When the sun comes up strong,
busy with query and preparedness,
the scales will tilt and chatter
with the work of the world.
Waiting is the portion I measure,
to sort the indifference and the rage
from the secret of joy.

From THE UNDERTOW (University Press of Florida, 1997)

The desiccated bird was just a leaf
until I looked again and saw a bird.
A grief requires a mind to be a grief.

Seizing on words too early for relief,
language makes a law of the absurd.
The desiccated bird was just a leaf,

as senseless as a mockingbird gone deaf
and mute for plagiarizing what it heard.
A grief demands a mind to be a grief

whose second glance, belief or disbelief,
discloses what denial has obscured –
the desiccated bird is not a leaf,

although its ground-time here will be as brief
as comfort lasts, delivered in a word.
A grief appropriates a mind with grief.

Of all the forms of mindlessness, the chief
is saying what occurred has not occurred.
The fallen bird has withered like a leaf.
A grief arranges minds within its grief.

From THE UNDERTOW (University Press of Florida, 1997)

Key West

In the rinsed bubble of Sunday morning,
the plastic roosters on the sarcophagi
are rescued from melting
by a January breeze flavored with north.
Cobalt-blue and lime-green beads
shimmer in Elizabeth Bishop’s doorway,
the colors brightening minute by minute.
Later, when the clouds have moved to Cuba,
Hemingway’s cats come out to be fed –
Marilyn Monroe, blonde, sumptuous, toothless;
mean, grizzled Spencer Tracy; Jennifer Jones,
a wayward opportunist; and Gertrude Stein,
who is just as I imagined,
solid, repetitive, a picky feeder.
Here is the afterlife, or its beginnings,
the first stage of the last question
“Where am I?”
answered only by the next meal, a diversion,
a boat clearing the horizon
all at once. It will take time to unload
its suspicious cargo.p Spencer Tracy, in his Hyde-suit,
shows Jennifer his teeth.p He’s old and put-upon.
there’s a lot about the world he doesn’t like
but he claims it anyway,
his property, littered with felled fruit.

From THE UNDERTOW (University Press of Florida, 1997)

Poetry Center Reading

Fall 1998
Fall 2004