Poem of the Week | October 11, 2011

[This text is also available online as part of our TextBox anthology.]


This week we are proud to feature a poem from the newly printed TMR 34.3: Amy Newman’s “On Safari in the Serengeti with Husband Kayo, Anne Sexton Writes Letters to Her Therapist.” Newman’s fourth book of poetry Dear Editor is forthcoming in 2011 from Persea Books. She is Presidential Research Professor at Northern Illinois University.

Author’s Note:

Fascinated with the materials of biography—letters, diaries, photographs—I’m taken with Henri Bergson’s concept of the present as the “gnawing” past burrowing toward its future.  Bergson writes, “We mingle a thousand details out of our past experience.” No detail of a life is so trivial as to not have potentially widespread consequence, a kind of butterfly effect. Character, in Shiv Kumar’s understanding of Bergson, is “a ceaseless stream of becoming.”

What if we could see the character of American poetry coming into being?  Elizabeth Bishop’s biographical materials make vividly clear why her sandpiper averts its gaze from the roaring sea, turning obsessively towards those pretty, diverting grains of sand. If Robert Lowell hadn’t broken Jean Stafford’s nose (horrifying!), we wouldn’t have her masterpiece “The Interior Castle.”  I imagine the history of American poetry as a kinetic diorama, the poets moving toward or away from epiphanies, navigating among odd, compelling moments, secret histories, unexpected correspondences: Sexton on safari typing a letter to her lover; Lowell heart-besieged by dancer Vija Vetra on West 16th; Roethke having a majestic insight on a lonely, manic jag.  Peter Dizikes writes, “The larger meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can readily track such connections, but that we can’t.” It’s not cause and effect that intrigues me, but these moving parts of American poetry as it continually becomes.

On Safari In The Serengeti With Her Husband Kayo, Anne Sexton Writes Letters To Her Therapist

On safari in the Serengeti with Kayo, Anne Sexton writes letters

to her therapist, with whom she is having an affair.

While Kayo hunts, she types in the Land Rover,

having come here for Kayo’s sake, for the marriage’s last great gift.

It’s too terrible, heat, sweat, flies, death,

blood running in bucketfuls out of the car.

At night I eat the game I watch die slowly.

The doctor writes poems to her,

makes copies for her, the carbon paper imitation

a double you can also love. He’s fallen into her wildness,

her wet summer madness, her tiger eye, tender machine,

all instinct and language stammering her body,

untying the cold, intensive heart,

that mystified, smoky-eyed, trance-heavy heart,

that heart that beats! Blood has to go somewhere.

Each morning on safari she and Kayo wake in an eyeless,

remarkable dark, so he can stalk one perfect impala,

reddish-brown like a summer tan, exquisite horns shaped in a lyre.

The female impala twitches like a question, and she wanders,

hungry, curious, widening each delighted eye.

Territory is an abstraction of grass shoots, of available water,

a mating dance of cocktails and thorazine.

On the portable typewriter, Anne’s tan hands

spread out their fine bones in her amnesia of love,

while zebras move in and out of Kayo’s gun sight,

tossing their pretty hair and cantering inked bodies,

their brief, incendiary hammers ringing angry and sublime.