Friday, November 22, 2013

Featured Poet: Lee Posna

I want to try something I have never done on this blog before: publish an extended piece by a poet I admire. I met Lee Posna two years ago when my partner and I relocated from Christchurch to Wellington. We quickly realised we had a lot in common. We both have a thing for Laurence Binyon's translation of Dante. Both of us attended more than one show on Braid's 2004 reunion tour, and, perhaps the most serendipitous, we are both American expats who each fell in love with a Kiwi woman in Iowa City and followed her here.

Lee's poems possess a late-Romantic sensibility, always elegiac in its delivery, which is to say it is the offering of one who seeks to live in a simultaneity of sensibilities--Pound's "all ages are contemporaneous"--the romantic overlapping the post-secular and elsewhere. There is a pervading distress at the heart of the work, at the heart of the world even when the poems take delight in it:

Scarlet persimmons, scarlet
leaves, pink sky sharing the lake
with garbage

I imagine it is the kind of distress the rose must feel when some passerby, taught to be suspicious of symbols, tries to force the flower back into its sepal.

Reading Lee's work, I am reminded of Geoffrey Hill's poems, especially those in Tenebrae, in that Lee's, too, know about history but only live erratically there. They live here erratically (but emphatically) also. The Danube that courses through Lee's poems is not a Danube you could visit now. But Lee's poems make me wonder if this Danube ever existed, or if only it exists.

The following long poem, "Arboretum," was my first real introduction to Lee's work and I am really honoured to publish the poem in its entirety for the first time. I encourage you to visit Lee's website for signposts to more of his work. 


I die right now.
Now I am past.
I reigned but thirteen months
over my mind
as far as the Danube,
for a day the Borysthenes
in a blinding meadow.
At length disease, the flower
of disease crossed the meter-thick ice
under which tumble the ice-black stones
even at night.
And with the round violence, the hollow
in a country of years,
the terrible equality of all dead violence
I was lost.
True to my word I never
forgot the cedar growing near sideways
from the far bank.
O Red Sun, wherein a fury
broils in place, middle-
aged, held
as a bead in frost,
truly middle-aged.


I approached death
from behind—so far ahead
had I got—tracking abandoned sites
of one more me than I…

Escarpment greened over
quag-dregs—up brick eagle
red seltzer cloud—copper-
panicled prairie…

70 hillcrests, 7 x 70 ice
driven as a will
of clay or mind
of wind through…

Such ropy light
of the 20th century (farce):
corrugated mirror
of the 14th century (tragedy)…

Our ball bearing eyes rolled
in mercury science-
language dripping, click
stone steps history sovereign…

Where the young flung up
citadels in thunder
just wander right in
with these sweaty 100 horse…

That Methusalan cloud—
I broached it
from behind to leer
through a carmine heath…

Of wrung eternity, appled
young vision—flower
before fruit, sound before song,
man before song…man after song…

Life in a tree is beautiful.

I passed my life under a tree.

Spent my life thinking about my life.

Under that giant ash, dark as the tree of life.

I went blind that tree could see my whole life.

Some people’s lives you can see all stretched out before them like trees.

Who couldn’t see what would happen to my sister?

Beautiful is death in a ditch.
Did horde my-death in a ditch.
Gathered my cankers while I may.
Ditch-blind, painted death I.

Those thought death not.
Blew off death from a wet balustrade.
Bright as winter war.

Did they live better die worse?
Dead mines men fell into.
Some lives one dies into.

It was dark, one says.

How? is the enduring
question – as in by what
road? In the throat

of a dead night I hung
from one live branch
ten yards over

the frost-glassed grass. This
tree blurry as any one

sees years down
the way. I once imagined how
by multiplying
myself, as if our years were

But there was no place
in that tree for my imagination.
Or else it was
hollow through.

Birds made me sad.

Oh I drooped and I
drooped, sagging
with my bloody fruit I’ll never
know how bloody

Bright, infected, throbbing fruit

Scarlet persimmons, scarlet
leaves, pink sky sharing the lake
with garbage

To bite it I’d bleed, squeal—blood
and speech twined—bile
in that melon-carrot
fruit—what speech!

Who could disentangle me now
from this knotty scrub, bleeding
kings’ uncles with their bubbling

Who are they anyway?
Why this corner of this

xeric thicket, flakes
of fire adrift
like windless snow beyond?

When try the
fruit I left in light?

Where if it
never ripen?

My purpose wasn’t dead
in a single night.

What it was.

The fork between empire
and love is real
I found, as, finally, with all
over against empire. True
what a pre-Socratic said, this Danube’s
not the same Danube, wide
and urgent, internalizing
fast snow. Here I looked back
through salt stoai, architraves
of gesturing angels to Ravenna.
Looked east, where we point
in death our feet. Who says
my death was a work of love?
That history’s a pointillist work of anything?
No matter where I look the storm
mutes violence; my eyelashes
cold flakes fill.
I was alone on Earth because
heavy snow hoofed like dark
erasing the unimportant.
I never loved the world until
it made me—times love
covered me.












Calling them my name

You planted my ashes in aluminium soil

And talked to them in tepid rain

And rained-on leaves’ tepid tête-à-têtes

Hiding to face the sad chess

Of the forest, its redeemable economics

The hydrangeas you imagined would be red

Because I stopped for death

Pointless chess

You said

Here is a holly.
Now I am gone.
Fell dead through the unity
of dead history.

I shared with you,
an obsolete and moribund Aeneas
Silvius, Pius II, your black damask-
curtained litter, I drew

when thronging crusade-deserters passed

to keep your heart afloat
down that mortal aqueduct
to empty Ancona.

When you, nascent renaissance
poet-pope rowed me
back across a turgid Danube
you spared me no

now I am gone.

I approached

death from behind
so far afield
had I got loose—cancer in a redcar, cardiac
arrest like dads, cardiac constellations wherever
you scan sky—all statistics

okay, what solders us to the bell
curve. And yet:
Borysthenes. I read
the ranks of Alani,
hills bloody with rain, opposed

in living country. A far love
globed my mind philanthropic.
Is this annihilation?

Here one knelt like an angel, drawing
the hundredth curtain
of light. Of course this brought me

to that great wall
of a tree, hung with phosphorescent,

utterly possible fruit.

*The section, "Here is a holly," was originally published in The Winter Anthology Vol. 3.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I am also a massive fan of Lee's work.

  2. This is also my first real introduction to Lee's work and I thank you for bringing it to my attention; there's much to be admired in this poem (you already know that!) but I'm especially drawn to its mesmerizing rhythms and sounds.

  3. "Spent my life thinking about my life."