“The Biggest Bomb” David Ignatow

Y’all should get real intimate with this gem. It’s from “Claims for Poetry,” a dope book of essays edited by Donald Hall from 1982.

This short essay from 1955 is by a poet I had never heard of, David Ignatow. I googled him and discovered he was the kind of poet who found some success, but always had to maintain a day job: butcher, book binder, hospital admitting clerk, vegetable market night clerk, and paper salesman.”

He was also “editor of American Poetry Review, Analytic, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Chelsea Magazine, and … poetry editor of The Nation.”

Anyway, biographical minutiae aside, this “impressionistic essay” is at times monastic — “I deal with words, I give myself the pleasure of being free with my feelings, my thoughts. I allow them to fall into any shape or color they desire in words.” — and at other times animalistic: “The freedom I write about is for cockroaches, ants, mice, and lice.”

The text is post-apocalyptic, imagining life after the bomb, and anti-capitalistic: “He arrives at work sorrowfully … he is tempted to dope or drink. Seated in front of his television set, he is unhappy… Condemned to buy a house in the suburbs.”

But, most of all, the writing is evocative: “The poet is dead, long live the poetry! It will arise from the swamps of its own in the form of alligators, in the cries of victims. Poetry will emerge from the ground itself in the stalks of grain and poison ivy.”


Gorgeous stuff.

If poetry essays were video games, which they are not (but imagine!), this would be a really engaging and lush version of Fallout. But I suspect there would also be resource management and trains. And also it’s a walking stimulator.

Anyway, the end of the second graf (“but emerging from my house…” to “my opposite.”) is exactly what I needed to read tonight; it’s not didactic, but it’s illuminating, comforting. I feel simpatico vibes. I feel less alone. I experience relief: a lifting of the darkening and lonely hood.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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