Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “I Was Playing Girl. . .”

2642254709_18d6bde4f8_oImage from Flickr via Róbert Kiss

There is a voice that sings “beyond the genius” of Wallace Stevens’s famed sea, a voice that soothes by revealing intimate knowledge gained through passionate and complex experience. The brilliant Rosanna Warren needs no introduction before she leans into the mike:


A Way

The whole trick of this thing    …    is to get out of your own light.
— Marianne Faithfull

She said she sang very close to the mike
to change the space. And I changed the space
by striding down the Boulevard Raspail at dusk in tight jeans
until an Algerian engineer plucked the pen from my back pocket.
As if you’re inside my head and you’re hearing the song from in there.
He came from the desert, I came
from green suburbs. We understood
nothing of one another over glasses of metallic red wine.
I was playing Girl. He played
Man. Several plots were afoot, all
misfiring. One had to do with my skimpy black shirt
and light hair, his broad shoulders and hunger
after months on an oil rig. Another
was untranslatable. Apollinaire
burned his fingers on June’s smoldering lyre
but I had lost my pen. The engineer
read only construction manuals. His room
was dim and narrow and no,
the story didn’t slide that way though there are many ways
to throw oneself away.
One singer did it by living by a broken wall
until she shredded her voice but still she offered each song,
she said, like an Appalachian artifact.
Like trash along the riverbank chafing at the quay
plastic bottles a torn shirt fractured dolls
through which the current chortles an intimate tune.

 This poem first appeared in Poetry magazine in the summer of 2014.

WarrenRosanna Warren teaches in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her book of criticism, Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry, came out in 2008. Her most recent books of poems are Departure (2003) and Ghost in a Red Hat (2011). She is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Lila Wallace Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the New England Poetry Club, among others. She was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2005, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.




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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen January 18, 2015 at 11:07 am

    This is a stunning poem that is stimulating on so many levels. The expression of the loss of the creative spirit expressed in this line, “Apollinaire burned his fingers on June’s smoldering lyre but I had lost my pen”. Many of us hold our breath waiting for that God of music and poetry to whisper to us, only to find that we have, indeed, lost our pen, by allowing something else or someone to take it from us.
    Thank you for this Sunday gift.