Thursday, January 2, 2014

John Stone: "Whittling: The Last Class"

What has been written
about whittling
is not true

most of it

It is the discovery
that keeps
the fingers moving

not idleness

but the knife looking for
the right plane
that will let the secret out

Whittling is no pastime

he says
who has been whittling
in spare minutes at the wood

of his life for forty years

Three rules he thinks
have helped
Make small cuts

In this way

you may be able to stop before
what was to be an arm
has to be something else

Always whittle away from yourself

and toward something.
For God's sake
and your own
know when to stop

Whittling is the best example
I know of what most
may happen when

least expected

bad or good
Hurry before
angina comes like a pair of pliers

over your left shoulder

There is plenty of wood
for everyone
and you

Go ahead now

May you find
in the waiting wood
rough unspoken

what is true

nearly true

true enough.

"Whittling: The Last Class" by John Stone, from Music from Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2004.

Photography credit: "A Castle Whittled by Hand," by John Burcham for The New York Times (originally color).


  1. Enjoyed this one, as my father-in-law was a whittler. I never had the opportunity to meet him in life, but I feel his essence in Stone's words.

    Coincidentally, I again read your "project" page and smiled at your words:

    "From that number I culled around 900 poems, and those I gradually whittled down to what I'll be presenting here, at least in the beginning. The whittling was a matter of listening to the wood, and paring it down with care. The grain of the poetry was true, its core solid, and my knife sharp. The carving was joy. I’m told that there are easier and wiser ways than this to assemble a poetry collection, but this is the way I chose, and I feel the richer for it."

    Thanks for your work,

    1. Your excerpt from my "project" page made me smile. I'd forgotten that I'd written that. :) Thanks for the reminder.


Thank you for participating respectfully in this blog's community of readers.