The best poem I’ve ever read in nearly six decades of the New Yorker is one that wasn’t even presented as one of its two weekly poetry selections.
Instead, it appeared recently within a theater review, where the play under consideration reminded the critic “of the late poet Essex Hemphill, a master of frank desire whose smart, life-hungry speakers toss of lines like these:
I am lonely for past kisses,
for wild lips certain streets
breed for pleasure.
Romance is a foxhole.
This kind of love frightens me.
I don’t want to die sleeping with soldiers
I don’t love.”
A bit later comes a couplet from a different Hemphill poem:
I am beautiful.
I will endure.
My, how I admire the directness of those lines, their acerbic observations unencumbered by literary aspirations.
Yes, he skirts the imagist realm of so much of my own verse but somehow, to my eyes, averts any preachiness that can come from the subjects he’s examining.
What hits me the most is the clarity and intensity of his self-examination.
Yes, each time I return to these.