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Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn is the author of seventeen books of poems, including the latest Lines of Defense (Norton), Here and Now and What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009. His Different Hours won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. The Room and The World: Essays on the poet Stephen Dunn, edited by Laura McCullough, was issued by Syracuse University Press in December, 2013. He is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College and lives in Frostburg, Maryland.
I often felt that Kurt lacked the selfishness of a typical, successful writer. He continued to be more interested in others than in himself, as is evident by his editorship of various anthologies. But he and Laure-Anne each had a keen, though different sense of self-protectiveness. Kurt held back the personal in both his daily encounters and in his work, whereas Laure-Anne's apparent outgoingness gave her permission to let us feel intimate with her while she was in the act of telling only what she wanted us to know. When Kurt's poems started to open up, it seemed he had learned from many sources, not just from Laure-Anne's example, ways to risk disclosure without being nakedly confessional. It seemed that his early tendency toward prolixity had been replaced by an ear that knew what and when was enough, and what language—not just information—cooperated with other language. Ultimately. we got necessary details infused with tone. He had discovered his own quiet music; he had learned to accompany himself.
"Snapshot," from his 2010 book No Other Paradise, with its staggered couplets and italicized refrain line that serve to pace and frame the poem's effects, represents a new way of moving in a poem for Brown.
A new way of moving, yes, and an eerie kind of prescience as well. It's as if the poet was acutely conscious of his mortality, or he was allowing his normally submerged unconscious to finally do the talking: "what matters is that we have been here at all." The poem is as exquisite as it is economical in its phrasing and is mysterious in ways that make some earlier Brown poems seem merely denotative. He leaves us with a question that omits its question mark, a suggestion that the wind says nothing—if it says anything at all—that is answerable. But the poem foreshadows his death, a man in his sixties who, of course, would be thinking about such a thing even without immediate cause.  


Ten men on a postcard     clinging to the cables
of Brooklyn Bridge     they look     one can't help it

like insects glued to the struts of some unspeakable web

some things will die with us     memories     words
almost everything will die with us unspoken

it's nearly gone     the sound of waves
pummeling the beach     a seagull's sharp demands

a hundred years     if we had them
won't matter     much less the years we've had

those men     suspended in air     dry leaves
caught in a fence before the wind hauls them away

what do they say     in their best suits
perched nonchalantly above the flames of the East River

what matters is that we have been here at all

waves heave up and burst in bright concussions of foam
seagulls weave above it     slandering

in the distance     flags of smoke that never touch land

why not speak of what we know
instead of dangling     always     above the ineffable

on the opposite side     no address     no message

what matters is that we have been here at all

so they say     but what does the wind say
after the men are gone     blowing through those empty cables


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