Today's poetry for today's world

Patricia Fargnoli 


Patricia Fargnoli, the New Hampshire Poet Laureate from December 2006 to March 2009, is the author of four books and two chapbooks of poetry.  Her newest book is Then, Something (Tupelo Press, fall 2009) won the ForeWord Poetry Book of the Year Award, Silver Award.  Her fifth collection, Duties of the Spirit (Tupelo Press, 2005) won the New Hampshire Jane Kenyon Literary Book Award for an Outstanding Book of Poetry and was a semifinalist for the Glasgow Prize.  Her first book, Necessary Light (Utah State University Press, 1999) was awarded the 1999 May Swenson Poetry Award judged by Mary Oliver. 


“Pat”, a retired social worker, has been the recipient of a Macdowell Colony fellowship.  She’s been on the residence faculty of The Frost Place Poetry Festival, and has taught at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and in the Lifelong Learning program of Keene State College.  She was the recipient of an honorary BFA from The NH Institute of Arts and has won the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award.  She currently resides in Walpole, NH.




To buy Patricia Fargnoli's books,

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Photo by John Hession







The moose and his mate

                        stood in the roadside marsh at dawn.

They moved the shallow sheet of water,

the smallest rustle,

                                          as if ghosts were passing.


Together they broke the surface,

                        such precision in their knobby bodies--

Were they only figments in the unestablished light?

But something held them

                                         bound them to the earth.


On a rise, above them, just at the edge of the road

                        in a kind of trance,

I stood, leaning toward them, and for a long time

we stood in each other’s company.

                                    It was as if we were appearing


and disappearing in the dim light.

                        The weight of shadow,

laden with gravity, shiftings, myths, a wild surrender.

We didn’t move,

                                    but might have been moving together


through the shallow satin of water,

                        losing ourselves, it seemed, in truth and beauty.

Or am I only making something of them they were not?

Weren’t they only two moose in a swale,

                        pulling up water plants, chewing them


just before full day fell over the earth?




published in Then, Something, Tupelo Press, © 2009,

Patricia Fargnoli.  Used with permission.












one of the duties of the spirit is joy,

 and another is serenity . . .  (Thorton Wilder in

 a letter to Paul Stephanson, 1930)


If the first is joy--

the rhumba at sunrise,

a three-note whistle in the sugar maple--


and the second is serenity--

a chair by a quiet window,

the adagio fading down the hill at sleep--


then the third must be grief--

rock-tight, then loosening like scarves the wind takes

across the ocean while on the shore

the shells’ empty houses lie scattered.


And if the first is in the brief seconds

which are all we can keep of happiness--


and if the second waits alone in the hour

where the pond smooths out, its surface

unbroken and the moon in it--


then the third which is grief comes again and again

longer and more than we wanted

or ever wished for


to wash us clean with its saltwater,

to empty our throats, and fill them

again with bloodroot song,


And if the first

duty of the spirit is leaping joy,

and the second

the slow stroll of serenity,


then grief, the third,  comes bending on his walking stick,

holding a trowel to dig where the loves have gone,


and he weighs down your shoulders, ties a rawhide necklace

hung with a stone around your neck, and hangs on and on.


But the first is slippery joy.





published in Duties of the Spirit, Tupelo Press, © 2005 Patricia Fargnoli.

Used with permission.












It is not iron, nor does it have anything to do

with the fleshy heart.  It does not quiver


like feathers, nor the arrow shot from the hunter’s bow,

is not the deer that runs or falls in the snow.


It hunkers down in the invisible recesses

of the body--its closets, scrolled bureaus,

the ivory hardness of the chest,


or disperses through every cell.  And also it flies

out  beyond the body.


Someday watch smoke travel through the air.

Someday watch a stain spread out to no stain

in the ocean.  The soul does that.


It doesn’t care whether or not you believe in it.

It is unassailable and contradictory: the dog

that comes barking and wagging its tail.


It is not, I am certain, biology.

Not a cardinal or a heron, not even a thrush or wren,

but it might be a praying mantis.


It is the no color of rain

as it sweeps a field on an August morning

full of fences and field flowers.


It is the shifting of light across the surface

of any lake, the shadows that move like muskrats

across a mountain whose shape mimics the clouds above it.


Weighed down by the vested interests

of  the body it, nevertheless, bears us forward.



published in Then, Something, Tupelo Press, © 2009, Patricia Fargnoli.

Used with permission.







Writer's Tip:  It’s been said over and over, but truly it’s the best advice I can give: Read poetry widely and deeply for joy, for love of it, for what it can teach you about how to write, and for what it can teach you about being human in this beautiful and difficult world.


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