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Poetry Moment: Lynn Emanuel and 'Inspiration'

Lynn Emanuel by Heather Kresge Photo
Heather Kresge Photo
Poet Lynn Emanuel

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Inspiration” by Lynn Emanuel.

Lynn Emanuel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently The Nerve of It: New and Selected Poems, which received the Lenore Marshall Award from the Academy of American Poets. Emanuel has won numerous other prizes and taught at several universities, including the University of Pittsburgh. A long-time resident of that city, she is the founder of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series, which she directed for 20 years.

The poem for today, “Inspiration,” comes from Emanuel’s previous collection, Then Suddenly—. As we move toward the close of the year, where our daylight hours grow shorter and we become more contemplative of time’s passage, “Inspiration” flares in the mind as a poem lit by images of winter and ruminations on youthful desire. Further, it’s a poem about the way recorded sensory experience and memory itself links our younger selves to our present. Emanuel’s sharp details transport the speaker and us across vast distances, collapsing time and place, allowing traces of the past to linger and burn.



I am tired of the tundra of the mind,
where a few shabby thoughts hunker
around a shabby fire. All day from my window
I watch girls and boys hanging out
in the dark arcades of adolescent desire.

Tonight, everything is strict with cold,
the houses closed, the ice botched by skaters.
I am tired of saying things about the world,
and yet, sometimes, these streets are so
slick and bold they remind me of the wet

zinc bar at the Café Marseilles, and suddenly the sea
is green and lust is everywhere in a red cravat,
leaning on his walking stick and whispering,
I am a city, you are my pilgrim,
meet me this evening. Love, Pierre.

And so I have to get up and walk downstairs
just to make sure the city’s still secure
in its leafless and wintery slime
and it still is and yet somewhere on that
limitless, starlit seacoast of my past,

Pierre’s red tie burns like a small fire.
And all at once my heart stumbles like a
drunken sailor, and I am adrift in the bel aujourd’hui of Pittsburgh.

That was “Inspiration” by Lynn Emanuel.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

"Inspiration" from The Nerve of It: Poems Selected and New by Lynn Emanuel, c. 2015. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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