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2009 National Book Award Winner,

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Keith Waldrop
Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy
University of California Press

Keith Waldrop receiving the 2009 National Book Award in Poetry. 

Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading

Photo credit: Jacob Delafon


If transcendental immanence were possible, it would be because Keith Waldrop had invented it; he’s the only one who could—and in Transcendental Studies he has. These three linked series achieve a fusion arcing from the Romantic to the Postmodern that demonstrates language’s capacity to go to extremes—and to haul daily lived experience right along with it: life imitates language, and when language becomes these poems, life itself gets more various, more volatile, more vital.


This compelling selection of recent work by poet Keith Waldrop presents three related poem sequences—“Shipwreck in Haven,” “Falling in Love through a Description,” and “The Plummet of Vitruvius”—in a virtuosic poetic triptych. In these quasi-abstract, experimental lines, collaged words torn from their contexts take on new meanings. Waldrop, a longtime admirer of such artists as the French poet Raymond Queneau and the American painter Robert Motherwell, imposes a tonal override on purloined materials, yet the originals continue to show through. These powerful poems, at once metaphysical and personal, reconcile Waldrop's romantic tendencies with formal experimentation, uniting poetry and philosophy and revealing him as a transcendentalist for the new millennium.


Keith Waldrop, Brooke Russell Astor Professor of Humanities at Brown University, has published more than a dozen works each of original poetry and translations. His first book, A Windmill Near Calvary, was shortlisted for the 1968 National Book Award. Recent books include The Real Subject: Queries and Conjectures of Jacob Delafon, with Sample Poems, The House Seen from Nowhere, and a translation of The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire.


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Keith Waldrop Wikipedia Entry

Keith Waldrop page at


December 3, 2009
Duke University, Durham, NC


Shipwreck in Haven

I can’t swim at all, and it is dangerous to converse with an unaccustomed Element.




Balancing. Austere. Life-
less. I have tried to keep
context from claiming you.

Without doors. And there are
windows. How far, how
far into the desert have we come?

Rude instruments, product
of my garden. Might also be
different, what I am thinking of.

So you see: it is
not symmetrical, dark
red out of the snow.


Enemies for therapy, the
rind of the lime tree
in elaborate garlands.

Strew the table. Let the hall
be garlanded and lit, the will
to break away. Welcome your couches.

Witness these details. Your judgment, my
inclination. Hear. Touch. Taste.
Translate. Fixed: the river.

Disquieting thought, I am not
ultimate, full moon, memory.
Prepare for rout.


Here, even, in the
sand. Among the rocks, I have
heard, remnant of a cloud.

Unfleshed, short, thin, pointed.
Independent of you, a
revelation. A great city.

Flatly unknown, you do not
know of yourself, do not know
yourself, not stuck full of nails.

Under such illumination, darkness
becomes terror. Under this high
wall, dark ground.


High marble wall, broken mid-
way. Dark unphenomenality, like
the hand of a clock. Sun baked.

No direct communication likely. Marble
terrace. Suffusing with soft-
tinted glow. Images first.

The gods and you come later, a wealth
of approaches. Within the portico:
marble. Bundled like qualities.

Not—the world—one of
several, as if it could be
different. Nothing. Nothing different.


I mean translated, though some
charms are predetermined. Shall I
not delve and deliver?

If I could think it. Our
wings are broken. As easily might
plunge. In a violent sweat.

The desert. And might be
the same: lemurs
swim down gutters.

And might be threshold, never
hesitate, ship on the high sea.
The desert in the house.


Intrinsic, your un-
thinkability. Casts over all created
things annihilating shadow.

An opening for possible
storms, as a deity enters
the world, a stranger.

The bed we are not in: can-
not surprise it. What passes
in the street? Pure picture.

In the world these
limits, almost occult—only signals
corporeal. To think of something.


I was hardly dead, when you
called. Now are you convinced?
Infinitely soft strum.

As if night. As if im-
perceptibly. Slowly you fall. Break
somewhat the blackness of the day.

Might also be any
direction, every start
takes us to other time.

Forth across the sands. From
sky or from the liver,
divined. Endless beginning.


Need not end. Indeed, nothing. Step
out. Grist for wits. Shadow of your
shell. Stand there.

No other ground. No
other. And the world concerns you every-
where, but do not identify with it.

Let light onto us. Flowers through the
gate, flowers skimming
the wall. A carpet of petal.

Treasures below the earth. Neither in
this world nor another, guarding.
Nothing but fade and flourish.


Now there is a door and whoever
very beautiful and very
very strange. Near you a table.

Laughing. Singing. Calling to one
another, the crack of whips. Cloud to
cloud in ricochet.

Music of hooves and wheels. The heavenly
Jerusalem from shards of Babylon
destroyed. Now a door.

Where thinking ends, house and temple
echo, possible objects of
admiration. Will you go?


Oh yes and wheels on the pavement,
angels of incidence, rebounding from
waves, but precisely. Reflective angels.

Like the hand of a clock which, minute
by minute, crosses its appointed
spaces. Oh! You are passing!

Things are ready. All
things, because something
must be settled. Slung.

Answering laughter. Mixture of
diamond and diamond
and blood, a rope of flowers.


Keith Waldrop interviewed
by Craig Morgan Teicher

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