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David Baker



Orange-and-midnight the moth on the fringe tree—

first it nags a bloom; sips and chews; then shakes

the big flower.  Then its wings slow.  Grows

satiate, as in sex.  Then still, as the good sleep after.

Each bloom a white torch more than a tree’s flower.

Each is one of ten or twelve, conic, one of many

made of many green-white or white petals

held out, as by a hand, from the reach of the limb.

A field this morning was full of white moths.  More

in the side yard, in the bluebottle, lifting—fog

off the dew, white wings like paper over flames

and floating awry or pieces of petal torn off.

Weeks now my words on paper have burned.

Burned and flown, like a soul on fire, with

nothing to show but ash, and the ash flies too.  


Today, in the news—so many martyrs—

an “unnamed suicide bomber” took herself into

the arms of flame, and five others, “by her own hand.”

Whitman means the beauty of the mind is terror.

Do you think I could walk pleasantly and 

well-suited toward annihilation?

But there is no likeness beyond her body

in flames, for its moment, no matter its moment.

Yet the fringe bloom burns.  Yet the moth shakes

and chews, as in sex.  When the young maple

grows covered with seeds, they are a thousand

green wings, like chain upon chain of keys,

each with its tiny spark, trying the black lock.

A tumbler turns and clicks.  The world once more

fills with fire, and the body, like ash, is ash.




We were done for.  Things broken.  Things ugly.

      It being the shut end of night.  Morning breaking, more

like a bruise smeared through the wet few uppermost leaves.

      Not yet light so much as less dark.  They shouldn’t grow

this far north.  That’s what the book says.  What book.  

      What I meant was, each day begins in the dark.

That’s useless that’s too late that’s a pathetic thing to say—

      older than bees the magnolia.  More primitive, the book 

says, whose carpels are extremely tough.  They do not flower

      in sepals.  They do not want such differentiation 

in their flower parts, from whence the term tepals.  

      They open, the anthers, splitting themselves out.  That’s your

melodrama.  No they split at the front facing the flower center. 

      16-something.  Pierre Magnol.  Morning starting through them

like a purple bruise, then a cloud, as one small pale blue 

      stretchmark, another, then another.  That’s not right.

Flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles.  Too 

      early for bees.  Grew tough to avoid damage by said beetles.  

—There you have it.  Magnolia virginiana.   Subfamily 

      Magnolioideae of the family Magnoliaceae.  

Relations have been puzzling taxonomists for a long time—

      to survive ice ages, tectonic uptearing, slow drift

of the continents, a distribution scattered.  Things too old

      for change, mutinous in the half-light, and malignant.

Stop it please please.  They shouldn’t be this far north.

      They bloom in a cup of pink fire, each one, lit by an old oil.

Before us the bees.  Before us the bees the beetles.  These trees

      —so what.  We had walked out earlier, the porch, late

terrible dark night.  Their natural range a disjunct dispersal.

      No light.  The magnolia.  The eye begins to see.  Then the long 

horrible scrape on its trunk, his single stretching paring 

      of the bark back.  But he didn’t finish his discomfort, his

antler velvet a cloud of sawdust and scrapings beneath like 

      small remains of a cold fire.  All night trying, then no 

longer trying, that’s when we walked out.  He must have run.


What You Said 


But before I died I smelled them, I could

      have missed them so quickly rushing elseward. 

Captivation depends don’t you think on

      willingness sometimes to be caught be called 

back as I was once, wet lowland where they

     were leucojum vernum honey-like “They have

a slight fragrance” and a bright white button

      of blooms “as soon as the snow melts in its 

wild habitat” or small pill-shaped pale 

      with a green (occasionally yellow) 

spot at the end of each tepal.  Did you

      find them soothing, did you affiliate

—sane and sacred there—particularly

      in the singing, don’t you think it’s too late.

No I was walking for my health, lean down

      and savor there, heard bleeding the thrush throat 

the lilac.  You have gone too far you say 

      things so as not to say something else.  I

did wish to go back.  Then you miss them  

      —too early for lilac—tell me where’s elseward—

I don’t even know what were they snowdrops

      snowflakes each to keep and all and passed on

as quick as that, you are everything that

      has not yet been lost is what you said— 
-from Scavenger Loop, W. W. Norton & Company, selected by Guest Ediot T.R. Hummer


As in "What You Said," recount a conversation you've had that, for whatever reason, has stuck with you. This conversation could have happened this morning or could have happened when you were a child. Maybe it was an argument, maybe you revealed something about yourself you didn't intend, maybe it taught you something new, maybe it scared you. Play with language. Quote. Reflect. Be mysterious. Don't just tell the story of the conversation or exchange, sing it. 


David Baker is author of eleven books of poetry, recently Scavenger Loop (Norton, 2015) and Never-Ending Birds (Norton), which was awarded the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize in 2011.  A dedicated poetry commentator, critic, and teacher, he has also published six prose books about the art, including Show Me Your Environment: Essays on Poetry, Poets, and Poems (Michigan, 2014) and Seek After: Essays on Seven Modern Lyric Poets (forthcoming in 2018). Among other awards are prizes and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Mellon Foundation, Poetry Society of America, and the Society of Midland Authors. 


David Baker lives in Granville, Ohio, where he teaches at Denison University and holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Poetry.  He also teaches frequently in the Warren Wilson MFA program for writers, as well as at many workshops, including the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, The Frost Place, Chautauqua Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Catskills Poetry Workshop, and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops in Italy and Ohio.  For more than twenty years has served as Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review.



"What Have We Done?": A Review of David Baker's Scavenger Loop by Sherod Santos, first published by the Boston Review


Why not, David Baker asks, express ideas in such a way that we perceive them as sensations? That we comprehend them not as argument or discourse or information but as lived experience—“thought through my eyes,” as Joyce described it—closing the gap in that binary divide. This fusion occurs in the opening lines of “What Is a Weed?”:
Emerald, as in the leaf of the ash,
though nothing’s burned, not yet, as the ash-green,
gray-green fiery wingspan of the adult
whose bullet body and “flat black eyes” are
less the way we know them than by the trees,
by the death of the trees, by the millions.
The adults emerge, A. planipennis
(of the genus Agrilus), in May, June…

There is a touch of virtuosity in this passage, but virtuosity is not what holds our attention. In the first line we are presented with a simile, “as in the leaf of the ash,” which suggests that “Emerald” is a color. But in the second line, “the leaf of the ash” (my emphasis) is prefigured as a leaf of ash, “though nothing’s burned, not yet.” In what follows, the conflation of those two images gives rise to a third, an amalgam of color and flame and cinder: the “ash-green, / gray-green fiery wingspan” of what, it turns out, has caused “the death of the trees.”

But how are we meant to read that “wingspan”? As metaphor? Mythology? Some corollary fact? The postponement of an answer, sustained through a series of strategically placed caesuras (obeying and disobeying their syllabic constraint), gives this passage its slowly accruing syntactic power, for there are three lines still to come before, in a sudden taxonomic turn, the source is identified: the emerald ash borer, the Asian beetle responsible for the ecological catastrophe that, since it was first identified in 2002, has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the midwest and northeast United States. ...

Continue reading at http://bostonreview.net/poetry/sherod-santos-david-baker-scavenger-loop


          Read a review of Scavenger Loop here 
          Read a review of Scavenger Loop here  



An Interview wih David Baker by Kaveh Akbar, first published with DIVEDAPPER


You’ve said the oldest poems in Scavenger Loop are fifteen years old, is that right?

Yes, that’s probably so. It takes me forever to do a book because I don’t really do books of poems, as such, at first. I just write poems one by one, and at some point I begin to look at the math of it all and try to shape something out of what I see there. A couple of pieces in this collection, and little bits and snatches of the really long title sequence, go back fifteen or so years. And of course several re-re-re-re-re-re-revised poems.

I don’t think that sort of patience is very common among poets today, especially considering the way the job market often depends upon publication.

You might be right. I don’t know how it’s all packaged and sold and I’m not a particularly enthusiastic market person anyway. I don’t like thinking about books as commodities and packages and products but I know they are. I get that. A few years ago it dawned on me that the purpose of this present book was to scavenge. I wanted to pick and remember and reprocess and regenerate and sample and find language from all over the place rather than trying to make a group of really shiny polished perfect poems. To let some of them get a little funky or a lot funky.

The title poem is a good example of that. It opens with a seasoned garbage picker and just feels very much like scattered aggregation of found material.

That’s what it wants to be. It wants to be in some way unprocessed. Part of the concern of the poem is the processing of seeds and feeds and of agribusiness, things that are so refined, so manufactured, and so chemically enhanced that they become kind of unreal. I wanted this poem to be raw and unfinished and ...

Continue reading at https://www.divedapper.com/interview/david-baker/

              Read an Interview with Baker here 
           Read an Interview with Baker here 


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