The Poems That Let You In: A Special Rumpus Invitation


It’s taken me five tries to read Swann’s Way but now I love it. All of a sudden it’s as if a switch has been turned or a door opened and the parts that used to put me to sleep or left me placing the book on the table and walking off to other things now make me want to spend the whole day dreaming and moving inside them. It’s gotten me thinking about reading and love and how one grows up. I think I wasn’t ready for that book and now somehow I am. Which is funny because I don’t feel ready for much that goes on these days. But Proust is helping with that too. Everything seems more beautiful and more possible and like I’ve been invited into a new room of adulthood. The room where I learn all over again why I love language.

And I love language. These past few weeks when I haven’t been reading Proust I’ve been falling in love with Allan Peterson’s book of poems, Fragile Acts. It’s a book (like Proust) that one can really see. Maybe that’s because Peterson is also a visual artist and know how to make a world of worlds that really could be a painting as well. There’s also an element of collage in the language, a sense that the connections he is making are tenuous and could come apart at any point but don’t because his line is so beautifully wrought. And I mean line in every sense. Look:

The laughing gull that flew behind the fencepost
and never came out was the beginning
and the a hand smaller than my hand covered Wisconsin
with a gesture for explanation.

                                                From, The Totality of Facts

Those are the first lines of the book and I’m lost and completely engaged all at once. What pleasure he takes in seeing. I want to know everything about this world and this mind. Like Proust it’s an adventure I’m ready for. It’s also worth noting this book is part of the great new adventure McSweeney’s is having. They’ve started a poetry series that is ambitious and joyful and very exciting indeed.

So, in honor of summer and poetic adventures The Rumpus Poetry Book Club is doing something special this evening. We’re opening tonight’s online Rumpus Poetry Book Club chat with Allan Peterson to everyone who’d like to come. We hope this will give you a sense of what’s great about the book club and perhaps some of you will decide to join us as subscribers on a monthly basis. Or just come tonight and have some fun. Really it’s about summer loves. Blame it on Proust and on this very fine book of poems.

Here’s a sample of Peterson’s work to get you started. Feel free to come and ask questions or just listen in. Folks from McSweeney’s will be there as well to talk about the press and how this book made it to the world.

Can’t wait to see you at 6pm PST tonight. Just follow the instructions below the poems.



So our toes and fingers were all roots, once touching,
and a body sometimes grown up
to a standing beast that later came loose from the earth,
nails painted red.
The tips of our backbones grew from their processes,
sunbursts, and then receded.
The hair on our bodies had been spines like a cactus,
had been grass growing
like water in the wind, and peach fur before that flowered
in the light
like the painted paper-thin azaleas bolted to the walls
of the St. Charles Inn,
that opened with dawn and closed like breathing.

Still, I thought to escape from my birth family,
like rockets the earth. Though some fall back, I saw the bees
had their hexagons and were not tied
to the little paper cups of their wasp cousins, so anything was possible.

The lesson of change is there are no isolated cases,
and it’s not an error because things don’t go as we’d planned,
nor an accident when they do.
Such things are often decided in the last minute
like lightning’s stepped leader,
down from clouds, finding the least resistance every few hundred yards
until the discharge rises to meet it.
Only real life has slower zig-zags, leaving its burn marks on us,
foolprints one can follow,
made not with our feet, but presumptions that everyone is satisfied
and will cheer wildly if their home town is mentioned.



We want more, but more is an emergent property.
It comes for you out of the same constituents
as when you were nothing but them yourself,
from the unspoken,  the far place
nickels disappeared with their buffalos.
Most of us never believed the ordinary
was that miraculous, the complex reducible
completely to a few brash headlines.
Look at the inquisitive miles fingers have put on pianos,
knocking softly though nothing opened.
Perhaps the pretty demons inside failed to hear
the twisting polonaise, hiding behind the curtains in brocade
covered with hunting scenes,
seeing the parade of notes festive though death-dressed.
One day you discover from the ads
suspicious has the same look as discriminating,
that greeny tigers have hidden their skins on the leaves
of difembachia, ideas like onions are dropping their pale slips
to the floor, that the garden is a smile around the house,
and around what is hidden by the house.



Astronauts say their dreams are like earth dreams
but the people are floating.
Last night when Frances answered her dream phone
I was down under the pastry layers
of sheets and blue throw. Later she asked did I hear it.
No, I had been orbiting myself,
misreading a box in Carol’s kitchen ”cloudless” for cordless.
At night when stars fall on Alabama,
water goes granular and steps back, dreams improve us
with their thick pastels, revisits in tints.
Maybe the astronauts called from their cloudless telephones
with news from Long Distance:
Romans invaded Arabia Felix, Columbus discovered Ohio.



That Ruth means compassion
and ruthless is without and brutal as we expected
That each form broadens
and explains the original idea which can take forever
That nothing is complete
till all examples have been outlined and demonstrated
every leaf in Umfolozi
That first Jupiter is smothered by daylight only
to be the first in plain sight
while Mars is in Destin, Florida, hidden behind the Tastee Freez
That nothing’s in isolation
but is accompanied by lists of relations
That what will be called miraculous
is inevitable and dross-common
If I think I have exceeded my limits they were not
If I say the two magnolias
in the yard are like paired lungs from which singing
is breath from the leaves
I am nowhere near what the normal will allow


[The italic sections are important throughout the book
also the use of the symbol > ]

In the society of glass one shatters for the least mistake.
Delicate is dangerous, the risks preceded by cautions.
In the fragile acts of memory even a goblet is poignant,
it shudders, it sings one wet finger on the rim.

In the silence of stone is the discernible eloquence of fire.
Redundance is characteristic of the ancient earth opening the hours,
geodes, little earths, riches instilled in the glassy magmas.

Transparent voices enter even the radios of Hotchkiss, Colorado.
Poignancy and singing load the air composed of nothing
but recollection floating above us into the atmosphere.

What was it like ask the songs, that world remembered
with all of history see-through and all of the present vitrines,
liquid, life like rose windows, glinting with what if’s, as if’s,
precious, fragile, next to nothing.


To participate in tonight’s online Rumpus Poetry Book Club chat with Allan Peterson head over here at 6pm PST/9pm EST.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, Apocalyptic Swing, and Rocket Fantastic. Calvocoressi's poems have been published or are forthcoming in numerous magazines and journals including The Baffler, the New York Times, POETRY, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Tin House, and the New Yorker. Calvocoressi is an editor-at-large at Los Angeles Review of Books, and poetry editor at Southern Cultures. Calvocoressi teaches at UNC Chapel Hill and lives in Carrboro, NC, where joy, compassion, and social justice are at the center of their personal and poetic practice. More from this author →