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Frederick Seidel’s “Spin”

June 20, 2012 | by

Photograph Mark Mahaney.

Nothing suits me as well as the combination of sweet and sour. It explains my love of Thai food and women rockers who sing like robots about heartbreak. It also explains my love of Frederick Seidel’s poetry. Apparently it’s not to everyone’s taste; he has been called the “Darth Vader of American poetry” for such seemingly cruel lines as “A naked woman my age is just a total nightmare.” Of course, that line is in a poem, “Climbing Everest,” about his own mortality, his own nakedness (a “train wreck”), and the coldness of those words allows the rest to work on us. And I suppose one must have a mind of winter, and been cold a long time, to write a poem about a dying dog: “Spin.”

Which is the poem stuck in my head.

A dog named Spinach died today.
In her arms he died away.
Injected with what killed him.
Love is a cup that spilled him.
Spilled all the Spin that filled him.
Sunlight sealed and sent.
Received and spent.
Smiled and went.

I make my creative-writing students memorize and recite poetry; I want to embed a few lines of precise language and meter in their brains, like a sleeper cell, to be activated when they are at a loss for imagery or words. To prove it can be done, I memorize a new poem every week. So you would think I’d have a multitude swimming around up there. But the one poem that always snakes its way up—intact—through the debris of memory is also the only poem that, when I recite it before my class, makes them break into tears.

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