Pamela Spiro Wagner

Pamela Spiro Wagner Poems

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,

Cool as Christmas
plump as a wish
and simon-pure as cotton

At first it seemed a good idea not to
move a muscle, to resist without
resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon
I was the stillest object in that room.

Black ice. An accident's chain-
reaction crumples 28 cars one by one.
Forgetting the latest advisory
you steer into our skid

He says:
I was always more important than you thought
with your cutting me down to size quarrel
about just who I thought I was. I thought I was

Off the corridor plumed with oxygen
the blue incandescent symmetry of your tiger
burns blue behind every door,
consumes and is consumed

I dreamed my mother cut off
my baby toes, the suturing so perfect
she left no gangrene, no scars, just a fine line
of invisible thread and four toes on each foot

it goes with the territory - end
of the millennium, end of the world.
Criswell promises a black rainbow,
a perfect symbol against thinking we will live

After Tyrone, the little boy next door,
makes her eat a handful of dirt
for telling lies
about where babies come from,

An absurd delusion, perhaps, but
I maintain she always loved me
even as her dagger pierced my chest
and I felt my breath go black and tight.

Touch me. No, no, do not touch.
I mean: be careful—
if I break into a hundred pieces
like a Ming vase falling from the mantle

You know you shouldn't,
and that it is impossible to change
yet when the sirens scream
and fire-trucks go racing in the direction


Pops and crackling, a radio tuning itself,
the squeal and echo of feedback
before the broadcast of secrets, thoughts no one should know.

Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night.
The sense of things loses hold, demurs.
Everything means. Numbers soldier
with colors and directions, four by four

We've learned to hear them, haven't we,
the sounds of silence in subway graffiti,
in a Zen hand clapping,
and on the railway trestle
over the thruway, in names
we’ve seen a hundred times

Tyrant, they called you, emperor, bully,
the first time I was in the psychiatric wing.
Yes, you finger-painted, getting down on your knees
to smear pigment with stiff abandon

"For the listener, who listens in the snow..."
Wallace Stevens

night and day
belches "jug-o-rum"
to a teetotaling

Pamela Spiro Wagner Biography

The author of We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, Poems, (CavanKerry Press 2009) Wagner lives with schizophrenia. She graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and attended medical school for one year. Despite having spent at least ten years of her life in psychiatric units and hospitals, she has won many awards, including a First Place in the 2001/2 International Poetry Competition sponsored by the BBC World Service. Her first book, co-authored with her twin sister, a psychiatrist, Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey Through Schizophrenia (St Martin's Press,2005) , won the national NAMI Outstanding Literature Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, LA Weekly and Tikkun, among other places. Wagner has a second poetry manuscript, Learning To See In Three Dimensions, which is ready for publication. She is working on a sequel to the memoir.)

The Best Poem Of Pamela Spiro Wagner

How To Read A Poem: Beginner's Manual

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

You can now read poetry.

Pamela Spiro Wagner Comments

Pamela Spiro Wagner 28 December 2012

Hi yaya, i wonder if in that year that is now over how it went... Did you get to write and let yourself keep your work? I hope so. Remember that all writing counts as practice, so even when you cannot sit down to write a poem you are still working when you take care in writing emails or notes to anyone at any time. I would love to hear from you, see what youve been up to, writing-wise, if you cared to show me. Feel free to contact me, you know how! My best. Pam

1 0 Reply
inge Ferns 31 December 2011

Years ago I was on a forum and you introduced me to poetry. The first poem I read was How to Read a Poem, Beginner's Manual and then I read the Mathematician and then To Forgive. You showed me how not to be afraid to read or write poetry. So I starting writing my own poetry but then later I tore it all up. Just yesterday I ordered two books of poetry on and plan to read a poem a day as you suggested and maybe I will start writing poetry again and this time I will keep my poems in a binder. Thanks Pam for introducing me to poetry. I now feel ready to read and write poetry and not be afraid of it. Best regards to you. Moeder aka Yaya

1 0 Reply

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