Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Poet Grace Schulman and Painter Edward Hopper Find a Cure for Solitude

For the next several weeks we’ll be posting poems from The Poetry of Solitude: A Tribute to Edward Hopper, in which editor Gail Levin has collected poems inspired by Edward Hopper paintings. Our first is Grace Schulman’s "American Solitude."

Poet and editor Grace Schulman was born in 1935 in New York City, studying at Bard College, American University, and New York University, where she earned her PhD. She is distinguished professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, and served as the poetry editor of the Nation from 1972 to 2006. She also directed the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center from 1973 to 1985. She has published six collections of poetry, including Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems (2002) and The Broken String (2007). When Schulman was a teenager she was introduced to Marianne Moore, who had a profound effect on her poetics. Schulman wrote on the poet in a critical study, Marianne Moore: The Poetry of Engagement (1986), and edited The Poems of Marianne Moore (2004).

American Solitude
“The cure for loneliness is solitude.” 
—Marianne Moore


Hopper never painted this, but here
on a snaky path his vision lingers:


three white tombs, robots with glassed-in faces
and meters for eyes, grim mouths, flat noses,

lean forward on a platform, like strangers
with identical frowns scanning a blur,

far off, that might be their train.
Gas tanks broken for decades face Parson’s

smithy, planked shut now. Both relics must stay.
The pumps have roots in gas pools, and the smithy

stores memories of hammers forging scythes
to cut spartina grass for dry salt hay.

The tanks have the remove of local clammers
who sink buckets and stand, never in pairs,

but one and one and one, blank-eyed, alone,
more serene than lonely. Today a woman

rakes in the shallows, then bends to receive
last rays in shimmering water, her long shadow

knifing the bay. She slides into her truck
to watch the sky flame over sand flats, a hawk’s

wind arabesque, an island risen, brown
Atlantis, at low tide; she probes the shoreline

and beyond grassy dunes for where the land
might slope off into night. Hers is no common

emptiness, but a vaster silence filled
with terns’ cries, an abundant solitude.

Nearby, the three dry gas pumps, worn
survivors of clam-digging generations,

are luminous, and have an exile’s grandeur
that says: In perfect solitude, there’s fire.

One day I approached the vessels
and wanted to drive on, the road ablaze

with dogwood in full bloom, but the contraptions
outdazzled the road’s white, even outshone

a bleached shirt flapping alone
on a laundry line, arms pointed down.

High noon. Three urns, ironic in their outcast
dignity—as though, like some pine chests,

they might be prized in disuse—cast rays,
spun leaf—covered numbers, clanked, then wheezed

and stopped again. Shadows cut the road
before I drove off into the dark woods.



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