X. J. Kennedy

Winner of the 2009 Frost Medal

At Paestum

Our bus maintains a distance-runner's pace.
     Lurching on tires scraped bare as marrowbones,
It hauls us past a teeming marketplace.
     We shun life. What we're after is old stones.

Pillars the Greeks erected with a crane
     Went up in sections as canned fruit is stacked.
An accurate spear could pierce a soldier's brain
     Before he'd even known he'd been attacked.

Bright fresco of a wild symposium
     With busy whores, nude boys, a choice of wines—
("And where in Massachusetts are you from?")
     Abruptly, snowdrifts clasp the Apennines.

"Wouldn't you think him practically alive?"
     Says someone of a youth fresh out of school
Painted upon a tomb, who makes a dive
     Into the next world's waiting swimmingpool.

Lunch is a belch-fest: rigatoni, beer.
     A sawtoothed wind slices through fat-topped pines.
Weathered white temple columns linger here
     Like gods who went away and left their spines.

from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems: 1955-2007 (John Hopkins, 2007)

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Billy Collins on X. J. Kennedy

X. J. Kennedy occupies a distinct position in contemporary American literature not only because of the force and nimbleness of his own poems but because of his unwavering belief in the role of humor in poetry, his delightfully entertaining, childlike capacity for silliness, and his versatile range of expression.

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