Jeff Dolven

I teach Renaissance literature, particularly poetry, and poetry of other periods too. I can’t seem to stop thinking about Edmund Spenser, but my current work on literary style is grounded in lyric, and split between the sixteenth century (the Sidney circle) and the twentieth (the New York School). The style project has a lot to do with how we interact with poems when we’re not trying to say what they mean. In the classroom, that often means exercises in imitation, mastering the formal techniques and individual idiosyncrasies of other times and minds. Another way of putting it: I am interested in repairing the modern estrangement between reading and writing, and in learning to read covetously (again). My own poems—of which the following is one—have appeared in the TLS, Paris Review, Yale Review, and elsewhere.

How Do You Do?

All hands are out on the street today,
straining against the leashes of forearms.
Little concerned with us, they leap
to greet each other, tangle and clasp,
a subtle suction, like a kiss,
then off again in a friendly game
of overlord and underdog
we only understand in part.

Sometime later, folded in prayer,
or contemplation, right says to left,
if anything should happen to me
you’ll know, won’t you, what to do?

and left says to right, you’ve always kept me
friendless and illiterate
We really ought to get them to shake,
but it’s not clear that they fit that way.