“The Year Before the Election”

From Stephen Dunn's New Collection Pagan Virtues

November 25, 2019  By Stephen Dunn

It was a time when all the poets
seemed to be dying, my favorites
and a few I couldn’t bear.
I folded back everything I knew
into everything I thought I knew
until I was a man living in a world
of his own crazy postponements.
The weather there was calm,
then tempestuous, then calm again,
an inner weather I felt at the mercy of.
A good friend dropped out of my life
without explanation, wouldn’t answer
my letters or phone calls. A woman
wrote to me saying she was sorry;
I had no idea who she was.
Only a few of the now-dead poets
committed suicide, or drank themselves
into oblivion. Their deaths were blamed
on natural causes. What could be stranger?
A prolonged silence began. In the past
that might have meant an important conversation
was about to occur. It had, I was told,
but hardly any of us were ready to hear it.


Reprinted from Pagan Virtues. Copyright (c) 2020 by Stephen Dunn. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn is the author of nineteen poetry collections, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Different Hours, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the recipient of an Academy Award for Literature. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic, and American Poetry Review, among many other publications. A distinguished professor emeritus at Richard Stockton University, he lives in Frostburg, Maryland.

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