If you haven’t read the poetry of J.V. Cunningham, you should. His epigrams and concise, wry humor offer a wonderful respite from the elliptical effusions of too many contemporary poets. Here is epigram #30, for example, from his collection Epigrams: A Journal:

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.

Or there’s  “The Metaphysical Amorist” from The Exclusions of a Rhyme:

You are the problem I propose,
My dear, the text my musings glose:
I call you for convenience love.
By definition you’re a cause
Inferred by necessary laws—
You are so to the saints above.
But in this shadowy lower life
I sleep with a terrestrial wife
And earthy children I beget.
Love is a fiction I must use,
A privilege I can abuse,
And sometimes something I forget.

Now, in the heavenly other place
Love is in the eternal mind
The luminous form whose shade she is,
A ghost discarnate, thought defined.
She was so to my early bliss,
She is so while I comprehend
The forms my senses apprehend,
And in the end she will be so.

Her whom my hands embrace I kiss,
Her whom my mind infers I know.
The one exists in time and space
And as she was she will not be;
The other is in her own grace
And is She is eternally.

Plato! you shall not plague my life.
I married a terrestrial wife.
And Hume! she is not mere sensation
In sequence of observed relation.
She has two forms—ah, thank you, Duns!—,
I know her in both ways at once.
I knew her, yes, before I knew her,
And by both means I must construe her,
And none among you shall undo her.

In a profile of Cunningham a few years ago, Jody Bottum suggested that he misunderstands the significance of Duns Scotus here, but “poets are rightly not judged for the coherence of their stabs at abstract philosophy.” And Cunningham, Bottum would go on to write, was “the most fascinating poet of his generation.”

I mention all of this because D.G. Myers, who studied under Cunningham, reflects on his legacy over at his excellent Commonplace Blog:

One day in class, Cunningham asked the dozen or so graduate students enrolled to fill the blank in an epigram by Sir Henry Wotton:

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him, ________, and died.

The other students in the class struggled valiantly to rise to the occasion, devising all manner of poeticisms to satisfy the missing cretic foot. I was dull and embarrassed by my dullness. I wrote in resignation:

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him,
went to bed, and died. 

Cunningham’s response: “In twenty-five years of teaching, this is the best wrong answer I have ever received.” Myers:

In one sentence, Cunningham defined the scholarly life. It is not a matter of formulating correct answers, which is something that undergraduates, with their obsession over grades, cannot seem to grasp. It is a matter of so inhabiting other men’s minds, other men’s time, that your wrong answers are very nearly their own thinking.

Read the rest.