With many thanks to the Poetry Foundation’s excellent magazine Poetry I was introduced to the work of George Oppen. In an excellent essay by Tony Hoagland, he introduces the idea of suffering vertigo in modern poetry and he cites Oppen’s poem’ The Building of a Skyscraper’. This was my introduction to Oppen’s work, and it is a beautiful and contemplative piece. It can be found below:
The steel worker on the girder
Learned not to look down, and does his work
And there are words we have learned
Not to look at,
Not to look for substance
Below them. But we are on the verge
There are words that mean nothing
But there is something to mean.
Not a declaration which is truth
But a thing
Which is. It is the business of the poet
“To suffer the things of the world
And to speak them and himself out.”
O, the tree, growing from the sidewalk—
It has a little life, sprouting
Little green buds
Into the culture of the streets.
We look back
Three hundred years and see bare land.
And suffer vertigo.