I’m grateful to the late Harold Bloom for promoting the poetry of his friends, some of which happened to be excellent. I don’t see Jay Wright, for example, much celebrated. A poet whose subjects weave myths and memories from Africa and the American South, Wright incorporates dialect and alludes to the European tradition into the occasional formalist chill of his stanzas. Below is “The Cradle Logic of Autumn.”
An ideological muddle has made World War I a blank slate for novelists (Pat Barker) and now directors. As there would be twenty-five years later, Allied powers fought a German-led coalition, but without a Hitler or Mussolini as bugaboo what remains is an abstracted horror, a senselessness that scarred a generation. If a series of accidents connected to alliances led to inevitabilities — historians remain divided — then the four years look like the most egregious spilling of blood in history. We remember the victims, not the men in power; Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson do not dwell in the public imagination, for better or worse (often worse), than FDR, Churchill, and Stalin do. The poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon remains as testaments to the terror of trench warfare, in which the machine gun felled thousands of young men like mowed wheat, all for the sake of gaining a few feet of ground. Continue reading
e.e. cummings can layer schmaltz over typographical unorthodoxies with rather too much enthusiasm, but his Christmas poem is a beaut.
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
Cherished for the pointillist specificity of his line, Gary Snyder emerged as one of the more accomplished Ezra Pound acolytes, and perhaps the most popular — I see his collections at Barnes & Noble while James Wright and Charles Wright have to be ordered. This poem’s called “December at Yase.”
You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”
After college I saw you
One time. You were strange,
And I was obsessed with a plan.
Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were—
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.
Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.
We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.
I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
Responsible for popularizing the Beats, Richard Eberhart isn’t much read for his own verse, which is a pity. “The Fury of Aerial Bombardment,” inspired by his WWII service, encapsulates his gifts: a talent for the mordant phrase, rhythmic control, and concision.
You would think the fury of aerial bombardment
Would rouse God to relent; the infinite spaces
Are still silent. He looks on shock-pried faces.
History, even, does not know what is meant.
You would feel that after so many centuries
God would give man to repent; yet he can kill
As Cain could, but with multitudinous will,
No farther advanced than in his ancient furies.
Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man’s fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?
Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
But they are gone to early death, who late in school
Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.
Happy Veteran’s Day.
Long neglected, Léonie Adams wrote a chiseled verse that, published at modernism’s peak, hearkened to a Pre-Raphaelite splendor. Her friend Hart Crane’s “The Broken Tower” bore a heavy debt to Adams’ “The Bell Tower,” posted below.
I have seen, O desolate one, the voice has its tower,
The voice also, builded at secret cost,
In temple of precious tissue. Not silent then
Forever – casting silence in your hour.
There marble boys are leant from the light throat,
Thick locks that hang with dew and eyes dewlashed,
Dazzled with morning, angels of the wind,
With ear a-point to the enchanted note.
And these at length shall tip the hanging bell,
And first the sound must gather in deep bronze,
Till, rarer than ice, purer than a bubble of gold,
It fill the sky to beat on an airy shell.
Part of the generation of poets that included Plath, Berryman, and other unfortunates for whom the psychiatric treatment available at the time proved insufficient, James Wright mastered a craggy, long-limbed verse at the end of which was a noun that glimmered like welcome fruit. I like this bit from the NYT’s 2017 review of a biography: “n 1969, after a horrible fight with his wife, he opened his journal and started drafting a plan to update his will, return to his native Ohio and commit suicide. But partway through he became absorbed in the writing itself, recasting sentences as lines of verse. A few would find their way into his Collected Poems, which received the Pulitzer Prize three years later.” In Wright we have an American example of W.B. Yeats’ adage “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” Continue reading