POETRY MONDAY - March 1, 2010
I have admired Chard deNiord’s poems for some time, but his life — the whole tale of how he came to pursue a career in poetry — is so impressive as an example of the sacrifices that some people make for poetry that I want to share it with you before telling you of his publishing history. Following his graduation from Yale Divinity School, where he had considered pursuing ordination as an Episcopal minister, he followed the advice of his bishop to gain some work experience first. For five years (1978-1983) he worked at the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven, spending three years on the research floor, where he helped to carry out many double blind protocols in the treatment of depression, schizophrenia and heroin addiction and later moving to the outpatient department, where he worked as a therapist for two years. At that point – and here is where the fields of poetry and psychoanalysis intersect most interestingly – he learned that he had been accepted at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His supervisor in New Haven was the analyst and psychiatric historian, Dr. Stanley Jackson, who had been a friend and doctor to the eminent American poet, Theodore Roethke. Jackson advised deNiord that this “once in a lifetime opportunity” had to be pursued.
Chard deNiord left the security of his job at CMHC and took his wife and two children to Iowa, where he found work as a teaching assistant and part-time minister to help support his family. His wife also gave up her job as a middle-school teacher to make the move and worked several tedious jobs to become the main bread-winner during their time in Iowa. After receiving his MFA in poetry, he worked as an English teacher at the Gunnery School in Connecticut and then at the Putney School in Vermont, where he held an endowed chair in comparative religions and philosophy. Since 1998, he has been teaching writing and literature at Providence College. In 2000, he co-founded, with poets Gerald Stern and Jacqueline Gens, a stellar, single-genre MFA program in poetry at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, He remained there as director until 2007and now oversees its post-MFA program.
Chard deNiord has published three books of poetry, Asleep in the Fire (University of Alabama Press, 1990), Sharp Golden Thorn (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003), and Night Mowing (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). His new book of poems, The Double Truth, is due from the University of Pittsburgh Press in spring 2011. Also coming out in spring 2011 is Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs, a book of essays and interviews on contemporary poetry. His poems and essays have appeared recently in Best of the Pushcart Prize, New England Review, Best American Poetry, Hudson Review, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review and Salmagundi. He lives in Putney, Vermont.
Here, for March, are three new poems by Chard deNiord.
This is the wristwatch
telling the time
of the talkative man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.
I stood behind the table of urinals
on evening shift, my last day on the job,
and turned this ward into a bar.
Patients glanced at me from the lounge
and almost smiled. “Listen up,” I said.
“It’s happy hour!
All drinks are free!”
“You’re as crazy as we are,” Robert said.
Nancy laughed like a chickadee.
“What’ll it be?” I asked.
Rhoda was on an upswing,
walking like a penguin down the hall.
“Give me a screwdriver,” she said,
“to tighten my screws.”
“Comin’ right up.” I said.
“I’m NPO for ECT, my dear.
Better not. I’m getting
the hangover that lasts a year.”
I asked Kenny if he wanted a gin and catatonic.
Not funny. Suddenly quiet.
I was at an altar now instead of a bar.
“How about a lemonade or sarsaparilla?”
He stood as still as a mannequin
against the wall and stared at something
so far away it came too close to him.
Alex stopped his pacing in front
of the bar to regard me.
I pictured a worm devouring his brain
like so many leaves.
“I’ll take a daiquiri,” he said
The first thing he’d said in days.
I poured him a glass of air
and passed it to him, which he took
and thanked me for and drank,
then returned the glass as if it were real,
which it was, it was.
I poured one for me
and held it high. “L’ chaim,” I said,
“to all of you.” “And also to you,”
Rhoda chimed. “We’ll miss you, dear.”
I drank as Alex did, in a single swig,
then put my goblet down on the bar
and smelled that smell that was also mine.
“You’ll never leave this ward,”
a voice cried out from inside the cans.
I’ve never mentioned this before
and wonder now just why I it took so long.
I keep her in a little red cage
where she sits like Buddha one minute,
then flies like a banshee the next.
Each morning I invent a new lock
to replace the one she picked
the night before with a hair
from her hair that equals my days.
ANCHORITE IN AUTUMN
You rose from bed and coughed
for an hour. Entered your niche
that was also a shower. Shaved
your legs with Ockham’s razor.
Rinsed your hair with holy
water. Opened the curtain
that was double-layered—candescent
on the outside with a dark interior.
Slipped on your robe like a shroud
of desire. Gazed in the mirror
with gorgeous terror. Took out
a cigarette and held it
like a flower. Lit it devoutly
with a miniature flare. Dragged
on it and hummed a prayer.
Stared out the window
at the leaves on fire, fire, fire…