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Last week, Arthur Krystal suggested in our discussion that contemporary culture now suffers from a dearth of great art. Krystal quoted Eliot’s statement about Yeats—“He was one of those whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them”—and said, in so many words, “show me a poet or a novelist of whom one can say the same today.”
The question of “greatness” is an interesting one, worth debating, but as the long weekend looms and, undone by aestivation, I’d rather point you towards it than argue for it. This weekend’s weekend read is therefore devoted to the most significant, serious, and joyous literary artist of our time—the poet Frederick Seidel.
“Joyous,” of course, may seem like a questionable adjective to apply to poems in which death and the declines and disappointments of the body coexist with the ecstatic use of same. But if the content of Seidel’s poems—typically the self, and not infrequently a persona blended with or standing for that of the poet—may creep into the dark, the means Seidel marries to such material are anything but shadowy. To again quote Krystal quoting someone else, “Tom Mallon once observed, [that much contemporary poetry reads] like ‘prose that has been annoyed into verse.’” Seidel’s scansions are full-fledged and if they annoy it’s by intent, not by incompetence. They are informed by the history of poetry on paper as much as the story of poetry in song—the sung being the forerunner of anything memorable said.
So, in a labor-saving Labor Day edition of the weekend read, don’t read. Listen to Seidel read. Twenty-two of his poems, ranging in length from one minute to nine, are available to hear; and his is an agreeably disagreeable voice to have in one’s head, the great voice of the current culture’s consciousness, whether we’re listening or not.
More from Wyatt Mason:
Conversation — October 2, 2015, 8:26 am
“By committing to the great emotional extremes demanded by Greek tragedy,” says Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War, “the actors are in effect saying to the audience: ‘If you want to match our emotional intensity, that would be fine.’”
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Percentage of British citizens who say that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom:
In the United Kingdom, a penis-shaped Kentish strawberry was not made by snails.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”