The title of Timothy Donnelly’s lecture is “‘The Lip of the Flamingo’: Poetry and the Misuse of Language.” He will disuss the rhetorical device known as catachresis (from the Greek katakhrēsthai, meaning ‘misuse’) as it appears in the work of Emily Dickinson (among others), its relation to the poetic generally, and flamingos.
Timothy Donnelly is a poet and professor with two published books of poetry, Twenty-Seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit, and The Cloud Corporation, winner of the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His chapbook Hymn to Life was recently published by Factory Hollow Press and with John Ashbery and Geoffrey G. O’Brien he is the co-author of Three Poets published by Minus A Press in 2012. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fence, Harper’s, Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of The Paris Review’s Bernard F. Conners Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award as well as fellowships from the New York State Writers Institute and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He is a poetry editor for the Boston Review. Donnelly lives in Brooklyn and teaches in the Writing Program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.
Co-presented with the Bagley Wright Lecture Series on Poetry.
To His Own Device
That figure in the cellarage you hear upsetting boxes
is an antic of the mind, a baroque imp cobbled
up under bulbs whose flickering perplexes night’s
impecunious craftsman, making what he makes
turn out irregular, awry, every effort botched
in its own wrong way. You belong, I said, laid out chalk-
white between a layer of tautened cotton gauze
and another of the selfsame rubbish that you are
wreaking havoc on tonight—and it didn’t disagree.
What’s more, I said, you are amiss in this ad hoc quest
for origin and purpose. Whatever destiny it is
you are meant to aspire to before you retire to
that soup-bowl of oblivion such figments as we
expect to find final rest in couldn’t possibly be
contained in these boxes. And again—no contest.
And when I was in need, I said, you raveled off
in the long-winded ploys of a winless October,
unfaithful to the one whose instincts had devised you . . .
—At this, the figure dropped the box from its hands,
turned down a dock I remembered and wept.
I followed it down there, sat beside it and wept.
Looking out on the water in time we came to see
being itself had made things fall apart this way.
We envied the simplicity implicit in sea-sponges
and similar marine life, their resistance to changes
across millennia we took to be deliberate, an art
practiced untheatrically beneath the water’s surface.
We admired the example the whole sea set, actually.
Maritime pauses flew like gulls in our exchanges.
We wondered that much longer before we had left.
The Cloud Corporation (2010)
Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszelt (2003)
Harpers: Three Poets: “The Halls of Aspartame”
The Paris Review: “Globus Hystericus” by Timothy Donnelly
Guernica: Timothy Donnelly on The Cloud Corporation, Romanticism, and “The Historical Sense”