Poets

Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Terence Winch

Terence Winch has published seven books of poems, most recentlyThis Way Out (Hanging Loose Press, 2014) and Lit from Below (Salmon Poetry [Ireland], 2013). His honors include an American Book Award, the Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Also a musician and songwriter, Winch has played traditional Irish music all his life.

By This Poet

3

Grace

Didn’t know if he was a retard or a drunk. 
He would lurch around Gaelic Park 
during game days, grinning like an idiot,
dribbling onto his filthy cassock.  First time
I saw him it was a shock.   And then his
name, which had a funny sound to it:
Father McMenamin.  The drunk priest,
the embarrassment to the whole community.
Happily staggering onto the field, being gently
ushered off again, scolded as one would a
child: now, now, father, mustn’t go there.

The shame of it all.  An affliction from God.
The shepherd, the authority, the man of the cloth
as moron, bum, joke.  The meaner ones
would buy him drinks and make fun of him.
Give us your blessing, Father.  Forgive me
my sins, Father, and I’ll give you a glass.
McMenamin forgave them all,
wondering where he was. Somewhere
far from home it seemed, searching 
for grace in the darkness of the Bronx.

Q & A

Q. How important is theory in this poem? It seems as though
it just starts, goes nowhere, tells us nothing we need to know.

A. The concern here is with necessity, not fact. The poem could tell
you everything you wanted to know, but doesn't.
Some poems begin in the rinse cycle. This one goes right to spin.

Q. We noticed how marvelous the upper strata of the poem is. It suggests
the appeal of authoritarian faith in the old-fashioned
middle class. Did you write it on a train?

A. One day I heard laughter coming from some mysterious source. First I thought
it came from several people who were stuck at the bottom of a well.
Then I speculated it could be a group of teenagers on the level right above me.
After a while, however, I wondered if it might actually be weeping.
I got out my address book and started calling around. In fact, people
were crying when I managed to get in touch with them. Where are
your social contracts now, I snarled, your precious theses on the absolute?
I averted my gaze as their beliefs unraveled.

Q. We can't help but notice how you seem to be suppressing what you
really mean. Are you naked in this poem?

A. I have these pastes and mud packs that I smear all over me, so I'm
never really naked, even when I have no clothes on.
The same thing goes for this poem.
It's beautiful, stark, totally blank, yet colorful, like a sin
you're considering but haven't yet committed.

 

The Documents

The Documents are weeping, fading,
fearing the worst.

They are the messages
that keep coming.
They are promises, dreams, hymns,
i.o.u.’s. Proclamations.
Declarations.

They are word-flags.
Language
security blankets.

You could wrap yourself
in their giant pages.

They want to tell us who we are
or who we should want to be.

They are sails made of speech.

You could navigate
the vessel of your inner life
with their words propelling you along to the horizon.

The Documents tell their stories
over and over, even when you’re asleep,
even when the dark government temple
where they are entombed has shut
down for the night. The Documents never
tire, never shut down. They never expire.

They keep up their endless arguments,
hoping to be heard. Take heart, they insist.
Resist your worst impulses. Fight on,
even against invincible power. Listen
to what we have to tell you, they say, ancient,
faint, yet stronger than a wall ten miles thick.