Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stephenson chooses Robertson

About Hannah Stephenson 

Hannah Stephenson is a poet and instructor based in Columbus, Ohio. Recently, her work has appeared in Contrary, Huffington Post, The Nervous Breakdown, MAYDAY, qarrtsiluni, Spoonful, and Fiddleblack. For more of her work, visit her daily poetry site, The Storialist (www.thestorialist.com).

About the poem

I first encountered Robin Robertson’s “New Gravity” in what is arguably the best way to discover new poems we come to fall in love with: in books we select from shelves in bookstores for no reason, when we aren’t looking for anything. I didn’t recognize the poet’s name, but I liked the sound of it, and the look and feel of his narrow, sparse book A Painted Field (and its dark cover showing an enormous expanse of dark sky, and a very thin strip of water).

This poem is the first in the book, and the first that I read. When I bought the book, I put two little dots around the title of this poem in pen, maybe to preemptively help me fish it from my mind.

I’ve returned to it often in the decade since I first read it. It’s only ten lines (and two sentences!), yet I admire how much story and scene Robertson gives us. We know the season (fall, I assume, based on the fallen leaves), the cemetery setting, and the people present.

More than that, the simple earnestness of this poem is staggering. Robertson’s voice is so un-self-conscious and calm here--when I read this poem, I think, “This is the only way the poem could be.” He shows restraint, too--gives us just the right amount of detail. I admire how trusting he was of his own voice in writing this, how certain that this moment mattered and he wanted to give it to us. Sincerity and clarity are powerful tools. I need this reminder.

The poem
New Gravity

Treading through the half-light of ivy
and headstone, I see you in the distance
as I’m telling our daughter
about this place, this whole business:
a sister about to be born,
how a life’s new gravity suspends in water.
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree’s jigsaw;
by your father’s grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.

Note from Marly:  I have failed in getting in touch with Robin Robertson for a permission, so this one could be temporary--however, I hope that if he finds his way here, he will like finding his words with Hannah's comments about discovering wideness and clarity in ten lines.


  1. Great blog idea... Interesting choices!

  2. Now this is very interesting to me. What writing does a writer find interesting, and why. I think I have been looking forward to the poetry choice of a writer more than I consciously realized!

    As a consequence, I have been reading this poem with such focus!
    And not 'getting there' with it at all.
    And then I just read the damn thing (!) and it's beautiful!

    I then went and read some of Hannah Stephenson's poetry.
    It was like pouring beads from an open jar! Irresistible!
    I couldn't stop!

    I am so enjoying The Lydian Stones.

  3. Thanks for leaving notes--I am assuming the comments are now easier to use! And I hope that others have gone on to read Hannah's poems.

  4. Very touched by the kind words. So glad you liked my poems, Paul, and glad you liked the post, Mike.