Poetry 365

Poet Alan Shapiro

The sun may have set on another National Poetry Month but that doesn’t mean the fun has to end.  No, here at Off the Shelf we like to celebrate year round with Poetry 365, a monthly-minus-April feature that highlights a contemporary poet’s most recent work.  This month we pick back up with Alan Shapiro’s ambitious new book Night of the Republic.  Inventive, urgent, and moving, this twelfth collection from the L.A. Times Book Prize winner takes readers on a dreamlike tour of America’s public places.  Breathing fresh life into generic spaces such as a gas station restroom, a dry cleaner, and a funeral home, the book offers unexpected insights that “illuminate the mingling of private obsessions with public space.”   So while you bask in the afterglow of National Poetry Month, check out this excellent new collection, sample a poem below, and make sure to stop back next month for Poetry 365.

Light Switch

The bad news was the sun was mortal too.
One day it would just burn out.  The good news was
We’d all be long gone by the time it happened.
.
The good news was there wasn’t any place
Inside the house I couldn’t find extinctions
To study and by studying prepare
.
Myself for what I wouldn’t live to see:
The way the angry little ball of fire
From a struck match would vanish when I shook it
.
Into a loosening skeleton of smoke;
Or how the world that watched me from the TV screen
Swallowed itself the moment I turned it off.
.
The good news was the light switch in my room,
The way I’d flick it on and off so quickly
That when the room went black an after-room
.
Lit by a spectral light would drift on the blackness,
The bed, the desk, the streetlamp in the window,
Drifting before me till the black seeped through.
.
I watched it till it wasn’t anymore
To feel as if I understood.  That was
The good news.  The bad news was it did no good.

Russell J. (Readers’ Services)

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