This morning, I visited Marianne Moore’s last home, on West Ninth Street in New York City. Of course, by “visited,” I mean I stood outside the front door for a few seconds and took three pictures of the plaque beside it—“35 WEST 9TH STREET • LAST HOME OF MARIANNE MOORE (1887-1972) PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING POET, BASEBALL ENTHUSIAST AND LIFELONG NEW YORKER”—before a person who works in the building began to approach the front door from somewhere unseen deep inside. Then I scurried across the street and took four pictures of the building itself, and then I left, wondering which of the nearby buildings were new, and which Moore saw—wondering, that is, how much of the history I could see was historical.
When I was soliciting poems for this issue of West Branch Wired, I was thinking, as I often am, about history, and which poets among my contemporaries were likely to have a prominent part in it. I don’t pretend that my choices were exhaustive—there are other living poets I might just as well have chosen—nor can I be sure my choices were correct. But I think these four poets are among the best poets writing, and they represent three generations of poets—two of the generations prior to my own, and the generation after—so together they cover a lot of chronological ground. And they are all producing, right now, this second, some of their most exciting work. Each of these poems represents, and suggests, a different approach to poetry, each implicitly makes different claims for poetry, and for these very reasons they testify to the wide range of the poetry being written by American poets today. But they all have this in common: regardless of how prominent the roles their authors will play in history might be, the poems themselves are locally immortal, locally unending, as all well-made lyric poems are, because they are inexhaustible, never revealing themselves fully to any single reader, no matter how many times they are read.
Shane McCrae is the author of several poetry collections, including Mule (2011); Blood (2013); The Animal Too Big to Kill (2015); In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and The Gilded Auction Block (2019). His honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA fellowship, among others. He is a contributing editor of West Branch.
Jorie Graham is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, most recently [To ]The Last [Be]Human (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). Her new collection, “To 2040“ will be out in the spring. She teaches at Harvard and lives in Massachusetts.
Alexis Sears is the author of Out of Order, winner of the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2022, Cortland Review, Rattle, Hopkins Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Northwest Review, and elsewhere. A native Californian, she lives in Los Angeles.
is turning on its own. The dog watches it from across the room. She knows that the door will swing open and that nothing will enter. It happens every evening at about this time. And she knows that the people will come back a little later and accuse each other of having, once again, left the door open, and Good God! The dog could have gotten out! But she hasn’t—she’s across the room, keeping her eye on the door, as she always is at this hour.
Cole Swensen is the author of 19 books of poetry and one of critical essays. A former Guggenheim fellow, she’s been awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, and the PEN USA Award in Translation, among others. She divides her time between Paris and Providence, Rhode Island, where she teaches at Brown University.
Jay Wright‘s most recent book of poetry, Transfigurations: Collected Poems, gathers work from his seven previous collections. Two volumes of selected plays, The Dramatic Radiance of Number and Figurations and Dedications, appeared in 2022. The recipient of many of awards and honors over a long literary career, Wright lives in Bradford, Vermonth.