April is Poetry Month: Wyatt Prunty

prunty photoWe’re celebrating Poetry Month on the Blog in April with selections from recent books in the Johns Hopkins: Poetry & Fiction series.  First up, three poems by Wyatt Prunty from his new volume, Couldn’t Prove, Had to Promise. Robert Hass calls Prunty “a classic poet in the tradition of Frost, Wilbur, Merrill, and Justice,” and finds in this latest collection work that “involves a wry sanity toward the world and an impeccable ear for both prosody and the rhythms of American speech.”


Bad Dog

He was a bad dog, and he did not care.
When nature called he stood and lifted there.
He chewed socks, rugs, and shoes, the rungs of chairs.
Put on a leash, he locked his legs. He would not budge.
Asleep, he barked and chased what was not there.
Awake, he barked and chased what was not there.
When danger knocked he shrugged.

I see him still that way, facing the door,
Floppy and kind, wet nose against the glass
Or scratching over ears where going bald,
Then sniffing round to find just where he lifted earlier;
The which he did just once more when at last
Nature called and he followed.


The Gladiator of Misgivings

The small boy with the booming voice,
Whose father seemed forever on a trip,
Knew what to do. We pushed the crates
Together, tumbled the cat-ruined carpet
Down the attic steps to the garage,
Then strung the Christmas lights and lettered signs
That shorted Shakespeare of his final e.

After that, Lionel Higgenbotham took the stage,
Telling us he was Prince Hall and we,
We were those soldiers of the great events.

Our audience was H’s mother
Who would sometimes read from Tennyson,
Having us repeat each line; repeat again.
And there was also H’s ancient aunt
Who smiled and nodded yes to everything.

But once, out on the vasty fields of France,
Even the aunt had darkened thoughtfully
As looking back Hall said, “All right you Bustards, Charge.”

And with our brooms and garbage lids, we did.


What Kind

Personalize it, if you must. Somewhere
Love’s gone off for a weekend in the mountains
Or to the beach; love’s driving somewhere other
Than your little life, watchful and welcoming fan
Of yourself, to what was always coming anyway—
Something like expensive fixtures hanging from
High ceilings with a light so generalized
You are your old self even as you’re not,
Reiterative to the end, not scared exactly,
Just slowing as you feel someone familiar
Taking your side in things, cooling you down
On things, and by that making you
Think of tomorrow more fondly than before.


pruntyWyatt Prunty is the Ogden D. Carlton III Distinguished Professor at Sewanee: The University of the South, where he teaches poetry. The founding director of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Series, and the Tennessee Williams Fellowship program, he is the author of nine books of poetry and one critical work, as well as the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. He also serves as the chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  He is the author of Couldn’t Prove, Had to Promise, the most recent of  eight books of poetry included in JHUP’s Johns Hopkins: Poetry & Fiction series, published in partnership with JHU’s Writing Seminars and edited by John T. Irwin.