Poetry Sunday: “Kettle,” by Phillis Levin




Flame under the bubbling water.
Blue flame. Water ready for tea.

Amber infusion soon to be seeping,

Leaves about to uncurl. Here
Is a tin, a spoon, a cup, an open

Teapot saying, Nobody else but me

To nobody else but you: awaken,
Pour. What are you waiting for?


Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets and reprinted here with their permission.


Phillis Levin is the author, most recently, of Mr. Memory & Other Poems (Penguin Books 2016), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and available here or from Amazon. Her other collections include May Day (Penguin 2008), Mercury (Penguin 2001), The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press 1995), and Temples and Fields (University of Georgia Press 1988). She is the editor of The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English (Penguin 2001). Among her honors are the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, a Fulbright Scholar Award to Slovenia, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has appeared in AGNI, The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Plume, PN Review, Poetry, Poetry London, The Poetry Review, The Yale Review, and many other magazines and anthologies. She teaches at Hofstra University and lives in New York City. More information about Phillis is available at phillislevin.com.



Poet’s Note

Although “Kettle” encapsulates a morning ritual of brewing tea, I happen to be an avid coffee drinker—and a night owl—by nature. But I thoroughly enjoy making and drinking tea, especially Assam. And watching a low steady flame do its work, following the behavior of water as it comes to a boil, are pleasures in themselves. When the initial phrases bubbled up, I had no idea where this poem would go; now I see how its closing invokes the final turn of Rilke’s sonnet, “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” An immobile object can initiate a conversation within oneself, a conversion of sorts: a common household item may beckon us, by virtue of its presence, to start anew.


[Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 25, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets at www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/kettle and published with their permission.]

You can hear the author reading her poem at https://soundcloud.com/poets-org/phillis-levin-kettle.

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