2012 Poetry Issue | Poetry Contest | Indy Week

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2012 Poetry Issue

The impossible art

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Honorable Mention

by Andrew Bryson

People who live in glass houses are
letting them go all to seed;
wisely allowing the ivy
to grow up and over,
and, hopefully, cover them totally
(chimneys excepted);
pruning back only
those vines that entangle the downspouts,
that threaten the gunholes
or air-intake vents.

People who live in glass houses
have stopped getting stoned,
but still they grow paranoid; often
the feeling of somebody watching,
of being sealed up in a coffin,
steal on them softly and awfully,
they pause in the kitchen,
stare into the distance,
and stir at their coffee.

People who live in glass houses
jar their own jams, preserves that remain
on a shelf in the basement—
and from an adjacent hillside,
on a stormy night sometimes, one sees through the floors,
dramatically lit from behind under thunder,
sprawled out in rows like an army of pottery soldiers,
the syrupy fruits of their labors.

And people who live in glass houses keep lamps lit
well after transacting their day's worth of business;
for people who live in glass houses alone
know that sound is to water as ghost is to window.

Judge's comment: Andrew Bryson's poem "Clarification" takes the old glass houses adage, a potential minefield for cliché, and makes it wonderfully strange. The poem moves cinematically from stanza to stanza, each bearing its own delicately sketched image of isolation and paranoia. People shiftlessly "stir at their coffee," "wisely allowing the // ivy to grow up and over" the entire structure. Night and the elements constantly evade the protagonist's control, seeping in through the very foundation of the house. Regret and failure hang in the dark atmosphere of Bryson's poem. And then the stunning last line: "for people who live in glass houses alone // know that sound is to water as ghost is to window." This final ghostliness just quietly gets under your skin. —Laura Jaramillo


Andrew Bryson, a 24-year-old Durham native, is taking a break from his studies in geography at UNC-Chapel Hill. Currently living at home with his parents, he's driving a delivery car as he makes plans to return to school. The truck-driving gig gives him some important mental space.

"I've been writing a lot ... and listening to lots of music that I never got to listen to before," he says. "I began writing poetry seriously at the beginning of last year," he says, and last summer he wrote "Clarification," the only poem he submitted to the Indy.

"'Clarification' was inspired by some of my good friends," he says. "I like the images of glass house, the turning inward but being relatively open to the world ... watching time pass, people not giving up ideals." He says that the glass house in the poem was also inspired, but by an actual "cool, weird modernist house" of his acquaintance.

Asked for his current poetic enthusiasms, Bryson says, "I've been reading Milton, and also John Berryman—the form of 'Clarification,' I think I stole from him. Well, not exactly."

And another writer who comes to mind with "Clarification" is Walter Benjamin, Bryson says. "He wrote something like, 'To live in glass house is a revolutionary virtue par excellence.'

"I don't think I was thinking of that when writing it, but I thought it was funny." —David Fellerath


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