POEM OF THE WEEK: “Married” by Jack Gilbert


I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from  the drain,
the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came
there was no way to be sure which were
hers and I stopped.  A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
this long black hair tangled in the dirt.


Jack Gilbert’s wife Michiko Nogami died in her thirties from cancer, and in this moving poem, lacking many of the trappings of elegy, he overwhelms by understating.  It occurs to me the proper response for a reader is awe, rather than analysis, and I feel fortunate that I can still hear Jack’s voice in it. A critic once referred to Gilbert as a “lyric ghost.”  Seems right.

This poem originally appeared, as far as I can tell, in Columbia, then in a Tamarack Editions chapbook (1984) entitled Kochan, which may carry a range of meanings between “cutie” and “beloved.”  If I’m off there, someone sing out.  By the way, Michiko means “passing child” or “child of wisdom.”

Gilbert received the Yale Younger Poets Prize for Views of Jeopardy, and his Collected Poems was a runner-up for the Pulitzer.  I also highly recommend Monolithos.  Fortunately, his books are available on Amazon and other outlets.

RTSmith 6/1/18

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


“Carving the Salmon” by John Engels POEM OF THE WEEK

I shape this piece
of curly maple into the rough
form of a salmon on

my bandsaw, s fine, sour sweet smell
of sawdust. a hint of scorching and smoke
because the blade is dull, cut

the side shape first. then the top.
And then it is recognizable, a fish,
and ready for finishing.  It quivers

a little at the skew chisel, flinches
at the spoon bit.  With the straight gouge
I give it eyes, and with the veiner, gills,

and it leaps a little in my hand.  Now
that it sees and breathes, it starts
to flop and suffocate.  It becomes

much harder to hold.  But it will be
a long while before I learn
to fashion the blood.


This poem of John’s appeared in The Hollins Critic and can still be found in Sinking Creek from The Lyons Press in NYC and his huge collected (600 pages) Recounting the Seasons from Notre Dame University Press.  I post it not to make commentary but to bask in its simple beauty and sense of the magical and natural as one.  John could play the trombone, the autoharp and any trout you ever met, but he crossed over the river a decade back.    This week the mayflies are darting and lighting in my house, especially at night when all the lights are out but my lamp and its reflection in a glass of Aberlour.  How could my usual thinking of him not increase and overwhelm?  Wherever he is, corporeal or not, I hope the trout are leaving the grassy shallows to rise at an artfully tied fly.


recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


“Poem” by E. E. Cummings

what time is it? it is by every star
a different time, and each most falsely true;
or so subhuman superminds declare

— not all their times encompass me and you:

when we are never, but forever now
(hosts of eternity; not guests of seem)
believe me, dear, clocks have enough to do

without confusing timelessness and time.

Time cannot children, poets, lovers tell —
Measure imagine, mystery, a kiss
— not though mankind would rather know than feel:

mistrusting utterly that timelessness

whose absence would make your whole life and my
(and infinite our) merely to undie

Poem selected and commented on by Dannick Kenon

Time is probably the most essential invention or discovery of man. We are constantly thinking about it, asking for it and living by it. There is no question that time is relevant in our lives; rather, what is its importance? E. E Cummings’ poem” provides an insightful take on the significance of time. Poem” is a love sonnet that focuses on multiple aspects of the complex relationship between time and humanity, criticizing time as an inadequate, objective measurement of life and love.

The first stanza of “poem” asks: “what time is it?” Not only is this a fitting way to start the poem, but it also introduces the irrelevance of the question’s answer. “What time is it” hooks the reader with its familiarity and colloquialism. Everyone has heard the question, but the answer can never be objectively true. As Cummings points out, “it is by every star a different time.” Time is not synchronized across the planets or galaxies. Telling the time is subjective because it is only relevant to one’s location; time cannot be objectively true if it can be different depending on location. As Cummings writes, telling the time is “most falsely true” because time is different everywhere and nowhere tells the universal time, but it is mostly true because the subjective definition includes this variance. The first stanza of “poem” brilliantly shows time’s limitations in objectivity while the rest of the poem describes time’s inability to sufficiently measure human life.

Time may be extremely useful but can never really represent or measure a life. We record someone’s life spent alive in age. Age is nothing more than the accumulation of time expressed in years. However, years cannot “encompass me and you” because they do not account for the entire value of anyone’s life. Cummings indicates that years and age are not enough to fully account for a life’s worth. When he writes, “Time cannot children, poets, lovers tell —  measure imagine, mystery, a kiss,” he suggests that time is only a quantitative dimension. Numbers do not represent the significance of a kiss, imagination or a mystery; rather, children, poets and lovers do. Because time is a poor representative of life, why do we waste our life prioritizing time over what really matters: love?

Cummings discusses time in a love sonnet to establish the often-forgotten importance of love. He reminds the audience of love’s intrinsic value. Referring to love, he writes, “whose absence would make your whole life and my (and infinite our) merely to undie.” Unlike time, one can “feel” love rather than just “know” it. Without love, living would just be not dying or to “undie.”  “Undie” is not to be confused with just another word for living, as “undie” suggests so much more than just staying alive. “Un” is a prefix defined as the opposite of something, while die means to pass away. Therefore, “undie” means the opposite of death. Opposing death is to truly live and experience life to the fullest. Cummings stresses that love defines what it means to truly live, separating it from staying alive without love.

“Poem” criticizes time as an inaccurate, objective measurement and as an inadequate measurement of life. Cummings encourages his audience to remember that time is just a number. The value of time comes from us; time is not an objective truth and does not encompass life’s most important aspects. Love is not valued in time yet love, like all feelings, gives life meaning. “Poem” conveys the idea that time is not as important as love, so we should not rely on it as much as we currently do.

E.E Cummings was born Edward Estlin Cummings on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He would go on to study at Harvard, serve in a World war I ambulance service and write renowned novels and books of poetry, including The Enormous Room and Tulips and Chimneys. He died of a stroke on September 3, 1962.

Readers can find “poem” in Strongly Spent, an anthology of poems from Shenandoah published in spring/summer 2003. It was originally published in Shenandoah in 1962.

Spring Issue and Annual Prizes

On April 30 Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review will release its spring, 2018 issue (Volume 67, No. 2) on its website shenandoahliterary.org. The magazine is also announcing the winners of its annual prizes, the retirement of its long-time editor R. T. Smith, plus the hiring, through the WLU English Department, of new editor Beth Staples.

The new issue includes five stories, five essays and two dozen poems.  Contributors include Shenandoah veterans David Wojahn, Stephen Gibson, Sarah Gordon, Alice Friman and Thomas Reiter, as well as newcomers John Glowney, Amy Reading, Paul Daniel and April Darcy, whose short story about the perils of modern love, “Free Fall,” is both her first publication and the winner of the magazine’s annual prize in fiction.

Highlights of the issue include poems about hawks, Puritans, a toad, swarming bees and a poignant consolation from Plutarch to his wife.  Short stories deal with a child’s discovery of compassion and a bizarre look at the shadowy side of the art collecting world.  Essays consider whales (in the sea and in Moby-Dick), poetry that resists the temptations of fake news and the winner of the annual Thomas Carter Prize for Nonfiction, Daniel Paul’s erudite and witty “Significant Otters,” which is about the life and charm of otters.

The winner of the annual Boatwright Prize for Poetry is Lisa Beech Hartz for her poem “Portrait of Sherwood Anderson, Ripshin Farm, Doris Ullman, 1928,” which depicts a meeting in Virginia between acclaimed author Anderson and renowned photographer Ullman.  The poem was published in Volume 67, No.1 last fall.  Hartz lives in Tidewater Virginia and directs the Seven Cities Writers Project, a non-profit cost-free workshop.

Daniel Paul is pursuing a PhD at the University of Cincinnati.  April Darcy lives in New Jersey and holds an MFA from Bennington.  Honorable mentions in poetry are Lisa Russ Spaar of Charlottesville and Austin Segrest of Alabama and Georgia, now pursuing a PhD at the University of Missouri.  Lynn Sloan’s essay “Nature Rules” from 67, No.1 is the honorable mention in fiction.

Shenandoah’s prizes are not the result of a traditional contest with a submission deadline but instead have for several decades been chosen from among the work selected for publication in the journal across a volume year.  All works published in Shenandoah are eligible for the prizes in their appropriate genres, but special submissions are not considered.  The prizes come with  honoraria of $1000.

Smith has been editing Shenandoah since 1995, when he left Auburn University and the editorship of Southern Humanities Review.  Staples comes to WLU from UNC-Wilmington, where she has been editing Ecotone and directing Lookout Books.  She has previously edited Hayden’s Ferry Review for Arizona State University and will be an assistant professor in WLU’s English Department.  The new schedule for submission of work to Shenandoah will be announced on the website in mid-summer.

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


“A Dream of Death” by William Butler Yeats

I DREAMED that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above
Until I carved these words:
She was more beautiful than thy first love,
But now lies under boards.

Poem selected and commented on by Madison Hutchins

After reading the first line of the poem, the reader is aware that the narrator is about to recount a dream. By using the word “strange” to specify how the death took place in a “strange place,” Yeats stresses the importance of home from the beginning. If he were comfortable with the idea of a foreign land, the word strange would not be utilized. Yeats initially shields the importance of the person who has died, but as the poem progress, the reader becomes aware that the narrator is dreaming about someone who he loves dearly.

Yeats’s lyrical dreamscape expresses one of his consciousness’s deepest anxieties. While there is no definitive meter, there is certainly a clear rhythm.

Using a dark and unsettling tone in the third and fourth lines, Yeats paints a picture of how the “peasants” of the foreign land “nailed the boards above her face.” Yeats emphasizes how she has died a lonely death away from home as the people of this land who do not know anything about her are the ones that bury her.

“A cross they had made out of two bits of wood” presents the idea that her grave is neither made nor tended by a loved one. She was found by strangers who knew nothing about her and exerted minimal effort in burying her. His references to the cross and to a planted cypress tree add a religious and spiritual component. Often placed in cemeteries because they look sad, the cypress tree further emphasizes the solemn tone of the poem.

The last two lines emphasize how beauty fades. This is illuminated by the shift from “she was” to “but now.” Buried in the dirt, her beauty is now unseen by the world. The narrator’s use of the word “lies” has a double meaning when he says that his love “lies under boards.” Not only does she physically lie in a coffin, but her beauty is now a lie as she will slowly decay and will no longer be beautiful.

At the end, the narrator turns the attention to the reader by using the word “thy.” The reader becomes even more emotionally attached to the poem by reflecting on his own first love. By traveling to her grave and carving an inscription, the narrator makes sure the world knows she is loved for eternity.

Yeats wrote this poem about the woman he loved, Maud Gonne. At the time this poem was written, she was traveling to France. Yeats was afraid she would die on her trip as she was predisposed to illness. The historic context shows how the poem was personal to Yeats; however, the themes are important with or without historic context.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)was an Irish poet who is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20thcentury. The love he had for Maud Gonne was unrequited, yet she serves as the muse for many of his poems. His obituary notes that “It has been said his laughter was ‘the most melancholy thing in the world.’” “A Dream of Death” can be found in the greater body of his work, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, firstpublished in 1903.