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Lloyd Schwartz

the poet

Lloyd Schwartz is the author of five collections, including the forthcoming Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems. His work has been chosen for a Pushcart Prize, The Best American Poetry, and The Best of the Best American Poetry. His other publications include Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose & Letters, and the centennial edition of Bishop’s Prose. Lloyd is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, and Somerville Massachusetts' Poet Laureate. He was awarded the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, and a 2019 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in poetry.

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the poems

(The Lake at Night)

00:00 / 03:10

The black water.

Lights dotting the entire perimeter.

Their shaky reflections.

The dark tree line.

The plap-plapping of water around the pier.

Creaking boats.

The creaking pier.

Voices in conversation, in discussion—two men, adults—serious inflections

    (the words themselves just out of reach).

A rusty screen-door spring, then the door swinging shut.

Footsteps on a porch, the scrape of a wooden chair.

Footsteps shuffling through sand, animated youthful voices (how many?)

    —distinct, disappearing.

A sudden guffaw; some giggles; a woman’s—no, a young girl’s—sarcastic reply;

    someone’s assertion; a high-pitched male cackle.

Somewhere else a child laughing.


Tires whirring along a pavement ... not stopping ... receding.

Shadows from passing headlights.

A cat’s eyes caught in a headlight.

No moon.

Connect-the-dot constellations filling the black sky—the ladle of the Big Dipper

    not quite directly overhead.

The radio tower across the lake, signaling.

Muffled quacking near the shore; a frog belching; crickets, cicadas, katydids, etc.

    —their relentless sexual messages.

A sudden gust of wind.

Branches brushing against each other—pine, beech.

A fiberglass hull tapping against the dock.

A sudden chill.

The smell of smoke, woodstove fires.

A light going out.

A dog barking; then more barking from another part of the lake.

A burst of quiet laughter.

Someone in the distance calling someone too loud.

Steps on a creaking porch.

A screen-door spring, the door banging shut.

Another light going out (you must have just undressed for bed).

My bare feet on the splintery pier turning away from the water.

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For David
00:00 / 00:49

You’re doing a crossword.
I’m working on a puzzle.
Do you love me enough?
What’s the missing word?
Do I love you enough?
Where’s the missing piece?
Yesterday I was cross with you.
You weren’t paying enough attention.
You were cross with me.
I wasn’t paying enough attention.
Our words crossed.
Where are the missing pieces?
What are the missing words?
Yet last night we fit together like words in a crossword.
Pieces of a puzzle.

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A True Poem

00:00 / 01:18

I’m working on a poem that’s so true, I can’t show it to anyone.

I could never show it to anyone.

Because it says exactly what I think, and what I think scares me.

Sometimes it pleases me.

Usually it brings misery.

And this poem says exactly what I think.

What I think of myself, what I think of my friends, what I think about my lover.


Parts of it might please them, some of it might scare them.

Some of it might bring misery.

And I don’t want to hurt them, I don’t want to hurt them.

I don’t want to hurt anybody.

I want everyone to love me.

Still, I keep working on it.


Why do I keep working on it?

Nobody will ever see it.

Nobody will ever see it.

I keep working on it even though I can never show it to anybody.

I keep working on it even though someone might get hurt.

Publishing credits

Nostalgia (The Lake at Night) / A True Poem: Cairo Traffic

  (University of Chicago Press)

Crossword: Little Kisses (University of Chicago Press)

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