Two Arts

A poem by Michael Blumenthal.

The art of winning’s rather hard to master. It’s easier to lose and blame your fate for all the things that brought you to disaster.

You lost at poker, then you lost a vaster fortune that had come your way too late. The art of winning’s rather hard to master.

You try to fill the holes in life with plaster, then with laughter, sorrow, other kinds of bait to keep the cards from pointing to disaster.

Your destiny’s harsh frère, it has a sister who scours the world, just looking for a mate, but winning her is rather hard to master.

The horses run, and yours is running faster than others that were quicker out the gate, and yet you can’t help thinking of disaster in all you do, in every feint and gesture (in all your jokes, in all your being late).
The art of winning’s all too hard to master, far easier (oh, God!) to court disaster.

— Michael Blumenthal

Poetry and loss

Michael Blumenthal has taught poetry at Santa Clara University and now holds the Mina Hohenberg Darden Endowed Chair at Old Dominion University. Of this poem, he writes, “Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle ‘One Art’ is one of the great poems of the 20th century, a masterful rendering of the connection between poetry and the ‘disaster’ of loss, particularly loss of a loved one: The two, as the poem so movingly reveals, are in fact one art. Any poet who seeks to imitate it does so at his or her own peril: The effort is doomed to come up short. Yet, I wanted, here, both to pay homage to Bishop’s poem and to look at it from a slightly different angle: How does one manage the psychological cultivation of loss, the self-defeating ‘courting of disaster’?” Blumenthal’s seventh book of poems, And, will be published by BOA Editions in 2009.

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