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Grace Schulman reads from Strange Paradise @KGB, March 18, 2019

I was very busy on Monday, March 18, but I went to KGB to hear Grace Schulman read at seven that evening, and I’m glad I did. Her reading was a gentle tour de force that began with a poem by W.S. Merwin, who had just died and whom she knew, and continued into her memoir, Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage, that begins on the day she meets her husband in the early 1960s when she is playing guitar in Washington Square. Ms. Schulman, a native New Yorker and one of the better angels, one of the movers and shakers who’ve influenced the poetry scene in America over the last fifty years, completed her reading with five new poems still in manuscript form, which makes the Vimeo below something of a treasure; I don’t think Grace Schulman reads much these days, but here, Lucky Reader and Listener, she is.

I’ve typed out two poems by the poet below, the first and the last in a recent book of hers, Without a Claim. Like the reading at KGB, Without a Claim addresses loss and aging, but there is a lyric optimism to it too which anyone can feel. As I was putting this post together, the old Okie song via Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston, Passing Through, kept passing through my mind; it certainly could have been one of the songs Grace Schulman was playing on the day she met her husband in Washington Square almost sixty years ago: Passing through, passing through./ Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,/ Glad that I ran into you./ Tell the people that you saw me passing through.


Seeing, in April, hostas unfurl like arias,
and tulips, white cups inscribed with licks of flame,
gaze feverish, grown almost to my waist,
and the oaks raise new leaves for benediction,
I mourn for what does not come back: the movie theater—
reels spinning out vampire bats, last trains,
the arc of Chaplin’s cane, the hidden doorways—
struck down for a fast-food store; your rangy stride;
my shawl of hair; my mother’s grand piano.
My mother.

How to make it new,
how to find the gain in it? Ask the sea
at sunrise how a million sparks
can fly over dead bones.

The House on East Eleventh Street

Sunset, winter. Light snuffed out. No twilight,
no second flare, as the woman leans,
rights herself again, and disappears

into the house, its whitewash chipped and peeling
but still ghost-white, boasting that it had shone
among brownstones. Now the house stays dark.

Once windows lighted up at dinners for twelve,
painters with new loves, sole with style.
On high walls, the year’s bravura

in oils, in inks, spoke for the wholeness
of art above their makers’ fractured lives.
A crystal chandelier shook with her kisses

and with her disregard—not that disaster
flickering like her eyes when she unwrapped
a canvas, sized it up, followed each line,

and said, It’s like the Aztec carvings,
the sun, the moon, the life, and suddenly
you’re old.
I call that painting back tonight

while watching hooded windows under a sky
starless and chilly. Soon she will sort
jottings which might either fill pages

or else be scattered in a breeze. A story’s end,
perhaps. But wait. Sidling out of shadow,
a man in jeans with a wheeler bag swings open

the wrought-iron gate, climbs broken steps,
stalls, presses the doorbell, lights go on.
New lover? Foreign guest? I don’t know yet.

Cancel the ending. The story begins here.

Without a Claim is published by Mariner Books at Houghton Mifflin. You can check them out here:


Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage is published by Turtle Point Press. You can check them out here:


Grace Schulman

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