"Variations (for Three Old Saws)"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
May 1 2012 6:48 AM

"Variations (for Three Old Saws)"

A poem about nothingness.

Photograph by Tomaz Levstek/iStockphoto.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Stephen Yenser read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

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.  

For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site. Click here for an archive of discussions about poems with Robert Pinsky in "the Fray," Slate's reader forum.         



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.