National Poetry Month 2014, Week Three: Alfred Corn’s “Lighthouse”

April 18, 2014

Block Island Southeast Lighthouse, 1875. Photo by SEA.

Block Island Southeast Lighthouse, 1875. Photo by SEA.

When you read this, I’ll be on yet another island with Samantha, this time Isla de Vieques, an island-municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean, part of a group of islands some call the Spanish Virgin Islands.

Much of the island was formerly a bombing range of the US Navy (most of that area is now a National Wildlife Refuge), so much of Vieques was long closed to tourism.

Islands always make me think of lighthouses, of which there are two on Vieques, the ruins of Puerto Ferro and the restored Punta Mulas lighthouse.

Thinking about visiting those lighthouses reminded me of Alfred Corn’s poem, “Lighthouse,” which closes his latest collection, Tables.

I first became aware of Alfred’s poetry when I worked on the editorial staff at Viking Press in the late 1980s. Viking published his collection The West Door and his essay collection, The Metamorphoses of Metaphor. I also worked on his anthology, Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, which featured writers such as Annie Dillard, Robert Hass, Anthony Hecht, and John Hersey.

According to the biographical entry on the Poetry Foundation’s website, “Early in his career, Corn says, he aimed to write poetry that sounded like conversation and to find ‘verbal equivalents for visual realities.’ These conversational patterns have evolved into an attention to rhythm and an eye for detail. He often employs strict formal and metrical devices in his personal and social histories.”

As poet Thomas Disch has written about Corn’s poetry, “It is not the regnant mode among poetry academics at the moment, but since at least the time of Byron and Wordsworth it has been the kind of poetry that most commends itself to readers of poetry.”

I commend to you, dear readers of poetry, Alfred Corn’s poem, “Lighthouse”:

 

Pilot at the helm of a hidden

headland it steers free

from convergence with the freighter

when fog and storm clouds gather

 

Sparking communiqué no full stop ends

its broadcast performed in a three-sixty sweep

the cycle burning up five solar seconds

 

Midnight eye that blinks away

invisibility a high beam

revealing as it scans whatever seas

or ships return terra firma’s landmark gaze

 
c) 2010 Alfred Corn, used by permission of the author.

 

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