April 03, 2011
Paul Violi 1944-2011
We are sad to report that our beloved friend Paul Violi died yesterday after months of contending with pancreatic cancer. Paul -- a prince of a friend, a generous teacher, an inspiring poet -- was perhaps the most consistently inventive poet of a singularly talented generation upon whom the legacy of Ashbery, Koch, and O'Hara rested not as a burden but an as impetus toward poetic originality and freshness of vision and language. For nearly ten years Paul taught a poetry writing workshop in the graduate writing program at the New School. It was a great experience for students and teacher alike. I will write more about my friend in the weeks to come. But first the news must sink in.
-- David Lehman
Appeal to the Grammarians
by Paul Violi
We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we're capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we're ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn't bounce back,
The flat tire at journey's outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it—here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and he suddenly
Veered and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, "See, that's why
I don't like to eat outside."