George Oppen’s “Selected Unpublished Poems”

I think George Oppen: New Collected Poems ends on a high note with “Selected Unpublished Poems” as I found some of my favorite Oppen poems here, so many that I’d never think of publishing them here and deprive you of the pleasure of discovering them yourself. Let me just say that if your library doesn’t have a copy of this volume, they should have as it ranks right up there with William Carlos Williams’ works.

One of my favorites, for obvious reasons is this one:

[The Old Man]

The old man
In the mirror
Startles
Me
But the young man
In the photograph
Is stranger
Still

I imagine you have to reach a certain age to appreciate this poem, but even if you don’t appreciate it yet, you can use it to keep your life in perspective.

Not surprisingly, this is another favorite:

She Steals Birds

It is known.
She saw a baby chirping sparrow
In the grass and kneeled
To rescue him. The infant bird

Opened his beak wide
Dropped his wings and made
Little rushes at her finger
While his parents shouted from the bushes.

In many ways this poem seems to represent Oppen’s poetic genius, his ability to find concrete images or scenes to convey complex ideas.

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