O bitter magnet, we shine
inside the most vivid colours
—archaic pop reference here—
but my methods are scholarly
like many a gallant gentleman
I lay gasping on the ground
magnetic & flashing
as any wild-wood swine
we spoke with hail but—
‘most fertile yuppie scum’
my methods are—
I seem to have anarchic tendencies
but I hang around with Trots.


I passed my exams around Thanksgiving and kept listening to Bonney’s voice. The next fall rolled around, and I started writing my dissertation and teaching double so I could join my partner in Ireland the next spring. This was a difficult fall in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was 2014, three years before people in the U.S. started saying ‘Charlottesville’ and meaning the summer 2017 white supremacist rally that killed Heather Heyer—before saying ‘Charlottesville’ meant white men with torches and meant how could this happen here. But Charlottesville was always Charlottesville, and it was its fucked-up self long before 2017. I grew up in southern Appalachia, so it wasn’t Charlottesville’s southernness that was strange to me. Charlottesville, however, was a combustible mix of money and power under a veneer of southern gentility, disenfranchised and disenchanted local folks systematically excluded from that money and that power, and a history that disingenuously championed racist and chauvinist values (‘honor’) under the guise of liberal intellectual inquiry. In 2014, Rolling Stone magazine ran a story of a sexual assault at one of the university’s fraternities. It was later discredited and retracted, but it revealed a truth: the gaping maw of sexual violence that is the university’s Greek system. When my students read the story of a woman gang-raped at a party on the shards of a broken glass table, they recognized things that might have happened. I felt shattered. There was a protest and I yelled; I gave speeches in which I said it was ok to be angry. I cried in many well-tended autumnal university gardens and on benches beneath leafless magnolias. I couldn’t do anything; I despaired.

Sean Bonney’s became part of my poetic canon of despair during those days, during which I was also writing the poems in my first book. The only thing that could comfort me in my rage and sadness—a particular balance of which leads quickly to despair—was certain incantatory verse that matched the intensity of the world’s wrongness. If I wasn’t listening to Bonney I was often repeating the lines that seemed most right to me. They were—they are—so satisfying. I felt like Edmund Spenser, damning the four elements in his elegy ‘Daphnaida’:

I hate the heaven, because it doth withhold
Me from my love, and eke my love from me;
I hate the earth, because it is the mold
Of fleshly slime and fraile mortalitie;
I hate the fire, because to nought it flyes,
I hate the ayre, because sighes of it be,
I hate the sea, because it teares supplyes.


Or I marched to class to the beat of John Donne, in his ‘Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy’s’ Day: ‘I am every dead thing’. Or I waited at the bus stop thinking Adrienne Rich’s words from ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’ over and over: ‘and they still control the world, and you are not in my arms’. Especially in the tense and breathless reading voice I never heard in person, Bonney’s pitch is up there with the high drama and grief of these poems. The only poet I can think of who can match such sustained (and artful) immediacy:

black is the colour of my
gestural forthrightness—
gently drops the rain
cold blows the wind:
in May 1968, most
young people were working in
Woolworth’s, the cosmetics counter,
cloister of learning &
trust, all was represental—
cold / blows the future