Poet and novelist Constance Urdang was born in New York, and attended Smith College and the University of Iowa. She worked as an editor for several New York publishers before she returned to school in 1954. In 1955, she married the poet Donald Finkel, and they moved to Mexico, where they lived until 1960. From 1974 until her death, she was on the Washington University faculty, where she taught and coordinated several writing programs. In poems such as “Reflections on History in Missouri,” and “To Live with Landscape,” Urdang uses a free verse form to reflect on the image of America, both past and present.
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Reflections on History in Missouri
This old house lodges no ghosts!
Those swaggering specters who found their way
Across the Atlantic
Were left behind
With their old European grudges
In the farmhouses of New England
Like so much jettisoned baggage
To lug over the Piedmont.
The flatlands are inhospitable
To phantoms. Here
To Live with a Landscape
Take your boulevards, your Locust Street,
Your Chestnut, Pine, your Olive,
Take your Forest Park and Shaw’s Garden,
Your avenues that lead past street-corner violence,
Past your West End, past your Limit,
To shabby suburban crime,
Vandalism in the parking-lot,
Abductions from the shopping mall—
Like making the...
Travel is a vanishing act
Only to those who are left behind.
What the traveler knows
Is that he accompanies himself,
Unwieldy baggage that can’t be checked,
Stolen, or lost, or mistaken.
So one took, past outposts of empire,
“Calmly as if in the British Museum,”