The New Yorker Poem by Michael Blumenthal


It is best to mention a painter,

but obliquely, not too early,

say, in the fourth line, as in:


She had a face like a Cezanne still life--

disproportionate, overpainted, painstakingly

orderly; to reveal, slowly and subtly,

your erudition, your eclectic intelligence,

your love of the natural world. A hint

of Wallace Stevens (flamboyantly singsong,

delightfully difficult, bilingual)

ought to appear somewhere (She lit

the contrapuntal darkness with her song,

quotidian, blemished, ein kleines Liebeslied


among the sceptered stars). Always

mention water (the madefacting tears

that washed like tide against her cheeks)

and wildflowers (primrose, meadowsweet,

blazing star). It is best if you are already

“someone” (they will pay you a substantial fee

for the mere pleasure of reading your poems),

but this need not deter you: It is enough

simply to know “someone,” to have them send


a cover letter of their own along with your poem

or, better yet, you might just get lucky:

Cezanne may yet appear to you

amid the contrapuntal darkness, reeking

of forget-me-nots and gentians, wafting

his dappled palette against the moon,


etching your reputation into the light

but merely on paper--

quotidian and blemished and loved by everyone.


From “Against Romance” by Michael Blumenthal (Viking/Penguin Inc.). Blumenthal, currently Briggs-Copeland assistant professor of English at Harvard University, also works as a psychotherapist. He won the Water Mark Poets of America First Book Award for 1980 for his first collection of poems, “Sympathetic Magic,” and is also author of “Laps” and “Days We Would Rather Know.” Copyright 1987.