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Lawrence Joseph


Poet, critic, essayist, and professor of law Lawrence Joseph was born on March 10, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan.

He received his BA and JD from the University of Michigan. He also earned a BA and MA in English from Cambridge University.

He is the author of a number of poetry collections including: Into It (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), Before Our Eyes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993), Curriculum Vitae (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988), and in Shouting at No One (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983), which received the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. He is also the author of Lawyerland (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), a book of prose.

Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowships. Married to the painter Nancy Van Goethem, Joseph lives in New York City and teaches law at St. John's University School of Law.

By This Poet


Water Street

Nothing between us and Brooklyn Bridge
seen from our windows—on the other side of Pearl,

Dover is Frankfort, along the Bridge towards
City Hall—Governors, Staten, Liberty islands,

the harbor, violet and gray, a passing barge
piled with sand, ebony, the East River, the Heights

gold, rain pouring down, massed angles washed
by spacious light, air cleared, an amber luster,

thick, bristling shore of cranes on platforms,
gulls appearing, gleaming white flakes, Manhattan

Bridge, farther up the shore, brushed green.
Images, afterimages, in aftertime, remembered

time, in love’s optic, love’s characters; in sounds,
in shapes and colors, the same things thought, the thing

said is said in words refracted, pressed in the mind,
among them, now, my peers, vicious and cyanotic,

in the inmost wheels of the machinery of state,
in the invisible axle of the state, radar-jamming F-4G

Wild Weasel missiles, bursts of fire, magenta-tinged
halos circling Baghdad, Operation Desert Storm.

In remembered time, the moon is red, and patches
of red cloud; a finger drawn around the rim

of a cognac snifter; at the sight of a child
with enormous protuberant eyes squeezing

handkerchiefs in both fists, my own anger vanished.
Along these lines, the trouble I’m having

comprehending the schizophrenic prisoner
on death row must be forced to take antipsychotic

medication to make him sane enough to execute,
the drugs, according to the prosecution, beneficial

to him, his eligibility for execution the only unwanted
consequence. And, again, that self that lay hidden,

who speaks in a whisper; and ongoing revelations
in series of circles. Or, say, Water Street,

South Street Seaport, seated outdoors, late June,
early evening, strips of bright silver-pink clouds,

trio of bass, keys, drums; or, let’s say,
Water Street, Bridge Café, that February

gray winter day, table in the back, near
the window, up along Dover the Bridge.