Steve Scafidi – The Sublime

I ran across Steve Scafidi’s first book in a local indy bookstore and bought it on a whim. Might have been the cover. Might have been the title. Most likely it was glancing at a few poems and going for it. And I am glad that I did. It is filled with some amazing poems. But this poem in particular spoke to me on several levels. Emotionally, it packs a wallop. Craft-wise, it does things that amaze me and draw me back to it over and over. It is one that I have attempted to memorize and recite, and I am close, but my brain cells, well, that’s another story. I have this poem printed out and pinned on the wall above my desk.

The Sublime

—– For Larry Levis

And what good is a dream finally? It breaks your head open
and cello music pours out of a stranger’s window and the most
gorgeous woman you ever loved says to hit the road and you do
see them—that stranger and this woman. Kissing everywhere.

In the trees. On boats. In the kitchen cupboards. The fog
of daily life never lifts and the checkbook needs proper
calculations and the dog would like supper please and now
without warning the dream returns. It breaks your head open.

You lie there for a week and no one finds you until the dog
having lost its dignity finally eats and when there is no more
howls. It howls. And you are a missing person, a passage
of shit quivered into the dirt. A good boy. A terrible dream

someone picks up with a plastic bag wrapped in his hand
to throw away and you are thrown away. You do it every day.
Waking too early, driving to work, working and returning.
Reading poems of great beauty and crying at the movies.

Touching the hair of your niece who laughs at water. Flying
over cornfields so close and so openly that when you wake
there is silk in your beard. Your arms are tired and hang
at your sides like the wings of a migratory bird who is about

to die. And what good is a dream finally? It breaks your heart
and you stand in the lush dark of the moment after twilight
ends and begin to sing and nothing makes sense to you
and you sing louder for a while, then awkwardly sit down

where you are. And the stars overhead shine a little—no more
or less than usual—and whether it is daylight and they are invisible
or whether it is night and they are the embers of a blacksmith’s
fire, they shine and you are grateful. That love is like a hammer.

Steve Scafidi

The book is Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer (2001). His second book is For Love of Common Words (2006). Both are from LSU Press and are worth owning, reading and re-reading.

Steve Scafidi was raised in Virginia and earned his MFA at Arizona State University. His first book was nominated for the 2001 National Book Award, the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and won the Fifth Annual Larry Levis Reading Prize. He occasionally teaches poetry at Johns Hopkins University, but in the real world he works as a cabinet maker and lives in West Virginia with his wife and daughter.


14 Responses to “Steve Scafidi – The Sublime”

  1. PJ DeGenaro aka Chorophyll Says:

    Oh my jeebus wow.

  2. You know why I have a deep aversion to patronizing my local independent bookshop? Because they hardly ever have anything I want there, and they’ve never, not once, had a book by a poet you’ve featured. Each time you post a poem I like, I dutifully write it down and go to the bookshop and … nothing.

    So this also explains why I still don’t own anything by Thomas Lux, even one year on from you introducing me to his work.

    • paulscotaugust Says:

      You gotta hunt for them. Most small indy places will order them, but to find them used? Not easy unless you hit upon the right store. I have good luck occasionally at Half-Price Books, even if it is corporate. Tom Lux’s New and collected was at Barnes for awhile. Else it’s just luck of the draw, or Amazon…

  3. Judy aka FloridaJudy Says:

    Oh my. That one’s going to stay with me for a while.

  4. You know its a powerful piece of work when you feel a bit emotionally drained by the end of it.

    • paulscotaugust Says:

      Yeah, I know that feeling… But it makes you feel like you just read something amazing… Because you did! :^)

  5. I have heard Steve Scafidi do a reading and he is absolutely amazing. So amazing that I took classes from him and was even more bowled over. Not only is he an amazing poet, but he’s an amazing person. (Have I used amazing enough in this comment so far? Obviously I don’t have his way with words.) And he told us once that he loved to get letters from people, so if you’ve been touched by something, I’m sure he’d love to know!

    • paulscotaugust Says:

      That’s great! I’ve listened to his readings on From the Fishouse. Would love to take a class with him someday. I bet that *was* amazing! Thanks for dropping by…

  6. Thanks for posting this. I keep reading it at home, and at work where I shouldn’t be reading poetry, and it never fails to grab me, hold me, and improve my day.

    I had the good luck to have Scafidi as a professor and he’s incredible. Incredible poet, and incredible human being: the sort of person you could sit down next to in a train and have a life changing conversation wtih.

    • paulscotaugust Says:

      Thanks for commenting. This has become that one poem I always go baack to, wish I had written, want to share with everyone. I would love to take a workshop or class with him someday.

  7. Cy Galvin Says:


    I am in the Library of Congress today (1Mar 2010) and took a break to look up your work. This led to getting your “For love of common words”. That is a very fine work. Very fine. Sorry I had not looked into it earlier.

    My Friday this week falls on Thursday because of conflicts, so I am unlikely to see you at the usual time. Again, congratulations on very fine work.

    Cy Galvin

  8. […] Denunciation of Ricky Skaggs From On Highby Steve Scafidi No more light strumming of your mandolin and the whispered tone and the sap- happy featherweight […]

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