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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.’”
Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.
Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.
Average duration of a Japanese prime minister’s tenure since August 1993, in months:
Brain shrinkage has no effect on cognition.
An Indianapolis fertility doctor was accused of using his own sperm to artificially inseminate patients, and a Delaware man pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing his former psychiatrist.
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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.'”