Wednesday, June 07, 2006

schuyler's home book

while i already have the collected poems of james schuyler (which i picked up probably in 1997 or 1998 at atticus books in toronto), i still hang onto and/or pick up the individual volumes when i see them at a good price. a coupla years ago, for example, i found a signed copy of hymn to life at second story dupont for like four bucks.

schuyler's home bookso when i found a copy of the home book: prose and poems, 1951-1970 for half the 1977 cover price of $4.50 (that was back when gas what, what, $1.15 a gallon?) i scooped it up. and not just because of the bargain price. i figured there was bound to be some stuff not included in the collected poems and so i was essentially taking a small gamble that that stuff would be worth it.

i was not wrong. there are longer fiction-esque pieces here ("the infant jesus of prague," "current events" and the title piece), apparent non-fiction like "at home with ron padgett," wacky short plays ("the custard sellars," "mollynocket," "what to do: a problem play," "love before breakfast" and "shopping and waiting"), a journal "for joe brainard," and four prose poems: "two meditations," "father or son," "stagnation" and this one i especially like, entitled "today":

Today, hero, scented and candied like a violet, broken to a split bamboo blind, its rub a dub, ground with garbage, old hats, returns to its left breast the plate lifting hand: a lime white heart, heat smelted, whole, Ethan Brand's. A poker stirs the sky above the river, the smokestack, the mild soft drink neon sign beyond the river. Gulls faint. The tourist boat finally spools the ribbon of its passage of the island city. In the street we look up, even the pickpockets forget. It came. We're too pleased to speak of dog walkings, bags to take down, cleanings, though necessity scrubs its face. A pocket mirror serves, and the vices on the little step of each door palm, so tired, their eyes. Rainbows? Who cares! A whistler takes his thin tune past the shut fish green steepled ugly church, and too many windows to count flutter.

i love the pace here, how the sentences oscillate between paratactic stack-ups rich in sound and sense ("broken to a split bamboo blind," "a lime white heart, heat semlted, whole") to longer, hypotactic stretches of description and meditation ("A poker stirs the sky above the river, the smokestack, the mild soft drink neon sign beyond the river"). there's even something a little beat about stacked up phrases like "the mild soft drink neon sign" and "the shut fish green steepled ugly church" -- a quality i would rarely think to associate with schuyler.

"today" find schuyler approaching, as near as i've seen him but without quite matching, the highly-charged early 1950s experimentalism of o'hara and koch that i enjoy and value a great deal and makes me wonder if, anywhere in the six or so archival boxes of poetry and prose manuscripts currently housed among schuyler's papers at UCSD, there is more like it.

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