Continuing with the Stephen Dunn fixation

“I was trained more or less as an imagist, and for a long time believed that poetry was written image after image, metaphor after metaphor. Then, at some point, I realized that I was writing much more discursively than that, that I was in the business of measuring and refining consciousness, and to accomplish this I needed to think and feel my way down the page. My sense now is that metaphor is something you reach for when you can no longer say whatever it is straight-out, when only analogue will do. There’s a great essay by Pavese in which he argues that the whole poem itself can be considered a metaphor, that something well-described is a likeness in and of itself. You don’t have to keep working figure after figure. When I read that, it was enormously liberating, a validation of what I seemed to be doing in my poems. This is not to say that metaphors and similes aren’t crucial to poetry; it is to say they need to arise out of necessity, not habit.”

The Routine Things Around The House
Stephen Dunn

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable.

Yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It’s hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
If I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who’ve never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luck

she didn’t doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

Perhaps to suck them,
What would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

Who I think permits me
to love women easily
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.

3 thoughts on “Continuing with the Stephen Dunn fixation

  1. The thing that resonated with me the most were the words ‘to the incompleteness that was sufficient’

    It got me thinking. A lot of things that occur in life have that strange quality of being ‘incomplete’. Yet in a sense, I feel that the incompleteness somehow completes them. For if I had experienced them as being fully complete, it would have never struck me as much.


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