"Variations (for Three Old Saws)"
Photograph by Tomaz Levstek/iStockphoto.
“Le vide papier que la blancheur défend”
Poetry makes nothing happen.
Makes it happen like nothing else.
Nothing makes nothing happen like poetry.
That is why poets are legislators.
They make nothing happen.
Otherwise it would not.
When nothing does not happen,
We’re stuck with everything else
And no space at all for something.
Poetry cannot make anything
Not make me think
Nothing happens all the time
Inside the emptiness we’re made of
Like all we know we do not know.
Everything’s mostly nothing
More than whiteness letters
Like these in these lines
And poetry depends on nothing.
Like a red wheel barrow,
Nothing makes poetry happen.
Stephen Yenser has published The Fire in All Things, which won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, and more recently Blue Guide. He has written three critical books, the latest of which is A Boundless Field: American Poetry at Large, and is co-editor of five volumes of James Merrill’s work. He is Distinguished Professor and Director of Creative Writing at UCLA