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About this poet

Born in 1969 in Providence, Rhode Island, Timothy Donnelly holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University, and an MFA from Columbia University.

Donnelly is the author of two collections of poetry, The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books, 2011) and Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit (Grove Press, 2003). His work has also been translated into German and appears in the poetry anthologies Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry, and Poet, Poems and Poetry, edited by Helen Vendler.

Donnelly's work has been widely praised. Jorie Graham has remarked that his poetry is "musically brilliant and articulate," and Richard Howard found Donnelly's first collection, "as vigorous, as fresh, and as authoritative" as the work of John Ashbery.

He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including those from The Paris Review, Columbia University, and the New York State Writers Institute.

Donnelly is the current poetry editor at the Boston Review. He is also a professor in the Writing Program at Columbia University's School of the Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

By Night with Torch and Spear

Timothy Donnelly, 1969
That fire at the mouth of the flare stack rising
     more than three-hundred feet above the refinery
contorts as it feeds on the invisible current
      of methane produced by the oil's distillation

process like a monster, the nonstop spasm of it
     lumbering upwards into the dark Newark
night like a sack made of orange parachute fabric
     an awkward number of gorillas get it on in.

I would worship it. The motion, the heat, the unapologetic
     knack of the element to yank the appliance
plug from its outlet, filling the big blue business-
     suite of my head with nothing but its own

wordlessness and light. Not now, not knowing
     what I can't unknow, but back on the grasslands
before we ever came to harness it I would bow
     down among the seething life of that primitive

interior and worship the fire taking one bright
     liberty after another. Done listening to fellow
passengers tweaking the fine points. Done rubbing
     the dead end of thinking like a spent torch

against the cave's painted walls to make it burn
     better. As the train slows down as the track
curves around the body of water the fire reflects in,
     it is a form of worship. What is it in me that

hasn't yet been killed with reason, habit, through
     long atrophy or copied so beyond its master
it parses like the last will and testament of a moth-
     eaten cardigan? It dumps its nice adrenaline

into my system nights I hear the crisp steps of deer
     on fallen leaves and stop or when looking up
beneath baroque snow or when I lean over the
     banister along the border of a strong waterfall. 

All good and well. But the endless hyperactive
     plumage exploding from this toxic aviary, this sun
of industry descended from the lightning strike,
     obscures its diabolism with a Vegas brightness

so that what there is to fear in it instead excites
     me up a biochemical peak from the far side of which
my own voice, grizzled with a wisdom unknown
     to me in waking life, reminds me of the conjuror

who grew distraught because he sensed the forces
     he had stirred up with his art would not be
mastered by it. It rattles tomorrow's paperwork
     where it hangs from the branches of the ancient

timber trees. It messes with my reception, whereas
     I do not wish my reception to be messed with.      
It tells me to be careful with my worship—that if this,
     too, is a resource, then they have ways to tap it.

Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Donnelly. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Donnelly. Used with permission of the author.

Timothy Donnelly

Timothy Donnelly

Donnelly's work has been widely praised. Jorie Graham has remarked that his poetry is "musically brilliant and articulate"

by this poet

poem
Roll back the stone from the sepulchre's mouth!
I sense disturbance deep within, as if some sorcery

had shocked the occupant's hand alive again, back
to compose a document in calligraphy so dragonish

that a single misstep made it necessary to stop
right then and there and tear the botched draft up,

begin
poem

That agreeable feeling we haven't yet been able
   to convert into words to our satisfaction

despite several conscious attempts to do so
   might prove in the end to be nothing

more than satisfaction itself, an advanced
   new formula just sitting there waiting to be

poem
Driver, please. Let's slow things down. I can't endure 
the speed you favor, here where the air's electric 
hands keep charging everything, a blur of matter fogs the window 
and my mind to rub it. Don't look now, but the vast
majority of chimpanzees on the road's soft shoulder can't 
determine: Which fascinates