Poet Stephen Dunn's most recent book, Different Hours (Norton, November, 2000), largely written at Yaddo, earned him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and wide praise from critics as a "sensitive" and "graceful" writer.
Different Hours is Mr. Dunn's eleventh collection of poetry. The poems in the book find their inspiration in the details of everyday life and often are set in southern New Jersey, where he makes his home. His subjects are found in daily life set against a dark emotional landscape. Previous collections include Loosestrife, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in 1996; New and Selected Poems, 1974-1994; Landscape at the End of the Century; and Between Angels. He also is the author of Riffs and Reciprocities: Prose Pairs and Walking Light: Essays and Memoirs.
Mr. Dunn, who wrote "at least half of the poems in the book" at Yaddo, said Different Hours explores "not only the 'different hours' in one's life, but also in the larger historical and philosophical life beyond the personal."
Mr. Dunn is a Trustee Fellow in the Arts and Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. In 1995, he received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his other awards are the Levinson Award from Poetry magazine and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has been a guest artist at Yaddo many times, first visiting in 1979 and most recently this past summer.
Below are three poems excerpted from Different Hours: "Different Hours," "So Far," and "Story."
If you would like to learn more about Mr. Dunn, visit www.nortonpoets.com/dunns.htm. You can also read more poems from Different Hours at the Barnes & Noble web site here: "Read a chapter from the book", and watch a video interview at the Online NewsHour web site here.
As the small plane descended through the it's-all-over-now Sturm and Drang I closed my eyes and saw myself in waves of lucidity, a vanisher in a long process of vanishing, of solitary character, truant heart. When we landed, I flipped down my daily mask, resumed my normal dreamy life of uncommitted crimes. I held nothing against me anymore. And now, next day, I wake before the sound of traffic, amazed that the paper has been delivered, that the world is up and working. A dazed rabbit sits in the dewy grass. The clematis has no aspirations as it climbs its trestle. I pour myself orange juice, Homestyle. I say the hell with low-fat cream cheese, and slather the good stuff on my bagel. The newspaper seems to be thinking my thoughts: No Hope for Lost Men. Link Between Laughter and Health. It says scientists now know the neutrino has mass. "The most ghostly particle in the universe," one of them called it. No doubt other scientists are jealous who asked the right questions too late, some small failure of intuition leading them astray. No doubt, too, at this very moment a snake is sunning itself in Calcutta. And somewhere a philosopher is erasing "time's empty passing" because he's seen a woman in a ravishing dress. In a different hour he'll put it back.
A wild incipience in the air as if everything stilled is deeply active, the night cascading through the tall pines until it's in the house. I don't feel just yet like turning on the lights. There's an unlikable bird chuckling outside the window. Another bird says to it tsk, tsk. The end of summer is upon us. Our kids are grown, have entered the venal world with some of the equipment it takes to survive. So far so good. McVeigh's been found guilty. My wife's in California, visiting friends she once was young with who can always make her laugh. I've never been the kind who feels deathly in autumn. I don't bring home the landscape. But more and more it just comes in, presses down, finds correlatives in me. The moon's shining now through the big window. In the world I can't help but live in, it seems the cold and the righteous are no less dangerous than the furious, the crazed. Everywhere, an error leading to an error. Everywhere the justified.
A woman's taking her late-afternoon walk on Chestnut where no sidewalk exists and houses with gravel driveways sit back among the pines. Only the house with the vicious dog is close to the road. An electric fence keeps him in check. When she comes to that house, the woman always crosses to the other side. I'm the woman's husband. It's a problem loving your protagonist too much. Soon the dog is going to break through that fence, teeth bared, and go for my wife. She will be helpless. I'm out of town, helpless too. Here comes the dog. What kind of dog? A mad dog, a dog like one of those teenagers who just loses it on the playground, kills a teacher. Something's going to happen that can't happen in a good story: out of nowhere a car comes and kills the dog. The dog flies in the air, lands in a patch of delphiniums. My wife is crying now. The woman who hit the dog has gotten out of her car. She holds both hands to her face. The woman who owns the dog has run out of her house. Three women crying in the street, each for different reasons. All of this is so unlikely; it's as if I've found myself in a country of pure fact, miles from truth's more demanding realm. When I listened to my wife's story on the phone I knew I'd take it from her, tell it every which way until it had an order and a deceptive period at the end. That's what I always do in the face of helplessness, make some arrangements if I can. Praise the odd, serendipitous world. Nothing I'd be inclined to think of would have stopped that dog. Only the facts saved her.