A Poem in My News Feed: “The Irises”

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This week’s poem to be featured on Slate is entitled “The Irises” and it was written by Lisa Russ Spaar. Spaar is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently Blue Venus. Her poems appear in many periodicals, including theParis Review, Yale Review, and the Best American Poetry series. She lives in Charlottesville, where she is Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

The Irises, by Lisa Russ Spaar

A fly quizzical among tufted causeways,
blue sudden avenues spumed overnight from spears.

O silk, my throat closing around a sob.
That fly again, minute leaden tank, thread-hooves,

busy, busy, to whom I mean nothing.
Relief in this. Yet to me he’s singing beside the dugout, the ditch,

cosmic with pathologies. A grave matter,
that perfume—father, mother, son, & daughter—

those phrases—no hands, no feet, how else depart,
eyes opened without ceasing—

why I can’t disturb their bruised hymning,
why I gather them all inside, until I’ll know—

In the first line of the poem, I’m assuming that the “tufted causeways” that the fly traverses are the petals of the irises. I admire Spaar’s use of the word “spumed” in conjunction with the color blue since “spumed” means to froth and foam, which makes me think of a turbulent ocean. The description of the fly is interesting to me, how Spaar describes the insect as a “minute leaden tank” with “thread-hooves.” These descriptions help to convey what a flower’s petals might feel under the assault of an otherwise harmless fly. To a flower, a fly is a rather powerful and intrusive being. It’s also rather interesting how she says the flower means nothing to the fly, but the fly to the flower is “singing beside the dugout, the ditch, /cosmic with pathologies.” Spaar’s poem is wrought with complex and intricate images and descriptions of the seemingly simple world of a flower.

What do you think of Spaar’s poem? Be sure to check out the audio recording of this poem read by the author on Slate.

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

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