June 9, 2021

Stephen Dunn

THE CONTRARIAN’S ADVICE TO HIMSELF

Because he who laughs last
probably didn’t get the joke,
and he who laughs at himself
will not be laughed at by others,
try to think of the sadness
latent in laughter, and say
something consciously joyous
about it. Remember, you’re
a contrarian and as such
something deeply opposite
is expected of you. Precision
will always be more radical
than passion because it is harder
to come by. But precision
without passion will cause
a dry exactitude
when what’s called for
is a punch in the nose.
When in doubt choose the latter.
Just don’t allow yourself
the apparent ease of doing nothing.
Remember, many a false step
has been made by standing still.
And if you believe that genetics
has given you one face
but your job is to create
for yourself another, try not to worry
when you fail. So much that’s worthy
occurs by accident. The Bible
couldn’t have been written by people
who thought they were writing the Bible.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021

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Stephen Dunn: “The poetry that ends up mattering speaks to things we half-know but are inarticulate about. It gives us language and the music of language for what we didn’t know we knew. So a combination of insight and beauty. I also liken the writing of it to basketball—you discover that you can be better than yourself for a little while. If you’re writing a good poem, it means you’re discovering things that you didn’t know you knew. In basketball, if you’re hitting your shots, you feel in the realm of the magical.” (web)

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