"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
—Mallarmé

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                                
Desiderate.                                                     

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.         

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

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