Thursday, August 23, 2012

I just discovered a new poet that I love: Ryan Teitman

Litany for the City by Ryan Teitman
I love this book. Discovering Litany for the City by Ryan Teitman is an unexpected joy. And I love the fact that I found this collection at my favorite full service bookstore the Elliot Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill (Seattle) by just browsing the books. Of course the evocative cover art helped lead me to the opening poems as did the forward by Jane Hirshfield. I was primed.

                       I want to find the line

                       where the city becomes the city,
                       where invention becomes instrument.

These are some of my favorite lines but this is a book full of favorite lines. So what if it is a slender volume; each idea is so smart and lovingly played with that I started the book a second time as soon as I finished my first reading. This is the voice of a poet that feels so familiar and utterly fresh at the same time. I wonder how these words could not have been ordered like this before -- but they have not.

There are no lurid secrets lurking in this book nor fancy geographies --- the first section of the book is a series of poems dedicated to the poet's (i presume) hometown of Philadelphia mixed with other European and imagined cities. Yes, perhaps that has been done before but not like this. There are epistolary poems to Dr. Franklin (3 of them) which I love and other prose poems that draw me in although I am not a fan of the genre. Teitman also has a three poem section on "Foreign Films"which are also wonderful. I'm hesitating to type out one poem here because the book asks to be read in units and it feels as if I ruin the poet's intention to excerpt one poem -- perhaps the sign of a really good ordering of poems --- no easy task for any poet. Here is the poem I quoted from above.

Dear Doctor Franklin
                                    Ryan Teitman

Everything is an invention,
I’ve come to learn. The way we press

into each other on the morning train—
that brush of cloth and wool

that seeps into us like a benediction,
or how the old woman

waiting for the bus folds her newspaper
into quarters, and presses it

to her face when she thinks no one
is watching—how the smell of ink

and newsprint reminds her of her
night shifts at the printing plant,

how she crawled into bed
still in boots and a work shirt,

and ran dye-purpled hands
down her neck. I see eyeglasses

on everyone nowadays—
It comforts me to know that light

visits us all differently,
that the imprecisions of our bodies

can work on us the way a cabinet maker
tends panel after panel

of soft wood. The city rouses slowly
these mornings—I watch it rattle

in the handprinted windows
of the train. I want to find the line

where the city becomes the city,
where invention becomes instrument.

Some days I see it in the moment
the graffiti thickens near the tunnels,

or when the train stumbles
into the city’s shadow—when the light

we knew becomes delicate and cruel—
and I see how fragile our eyes will become.

How lovely to find a new voice in American poetry that lifts up our lives (even when understanding life's cruelties). I look forward to Teitman's next book --- he is a poet I will be sure to keep an eye on. I can't recommend Litany for the City published by BOA Editons enough. Please, go buy it and then spend the afternoon inspired to write better poems. That's my plan.


  1. Oh I will have to check him out! Thanks for the nod!

  2. He's really this good --- not just this one poem! I think you'll like him :-)