Friday, December 14, 2007

An Inflorescence (James Schuyler - Making the everyday ephemeral)

In-flo-res-cence - from the Latin inflorescere - to begin to blossom. 1. the producing of blossoms; flowering; 2. the arrangement of flowers on a stem or axis; 3. a flower cluster on a common axis; 4. flowers collectively; 5. a solitary flower, regarded as a reduced cluster.

James Schuyler's private life has remained relatively private but we do know that he was born in 1923 in Chicago, and lived nearly all of his adult life in New York, writing poetry in the company of other New York modernists like John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Kenneth Koch. He was gay, he published 21 volumes of poems, letters, and journals, he suffered from manic depression. His poems seem to have a breezy conversational ease but they pan a finely focused lens on everything around - preserving assiduously what is there: friends, flowers, addictive pills, lovers, a leaky ceiling, an Italian notebook - lending these ordinary elements romance and an icing of humor. On the page his poems seem to alternate between lean, narrow columns rarely even cut into stanzas, like skinny skyscrapers, or they are composed of lines of enormous breadth, rife with punctuation - as in The Morning of the Poem, one of the landmark long-length poems of modern American poetry.

In those lean poems I love to observe what Schuyler leaves for one to infer, as in the second poem "and you/getting up, put on/your daily life." I love the many things that can mean. "October" is so symmetrical - it's perfectly made so that nothing interferes with my ability to hear, see and taste - "Apples/come home crisp in bags" you have to crunch that phrase, just like apples. The interplay between autumn leaves on the trees and the books scattered on his bed - simple but not trite. The Fairfield in "Gray Day" is Fairfield Porter, the painter. There is a real at-home feeling in that poem - I feel as though I've wandered into that house to spy on him in that cushy chair, with that regal cat stalking around, unnoticed. And that last poem is like being lost in mists of gray shadow and light.

Schuyler, Ashbery, Koch, 1956


beautiful New
York sky harder
so much than
soft walls you
see here around
it shadowy lamp
lighted plaster
smoothed by a hand
wielded trowel and
roller painted
by hand: Puerto
Rican blue pressed
tin ceiling sky
up into and on
which a white cup
(more of a mug)
falls, falls up-
ward and crack
splits into
two glazed
clay clouds

In earliest morning

an orange devours
the crusts of clouds and you,
getting up, put on
your daily life
grown somewhat shabby, worn
but comfortable, like old jeans: at the least,
familiar. Water
boils, coffee
scents the air
and level light plunges
among the layering boughs of a balsam fir
and enflames its trunk.
Other trees are scratched lightly on the west.
A purposeful mutt
makes dark marks
in blue dew. The day
offers so much, holds
so little or is it
simply you who
asking too much take
too little? It is
merely morning
so always marvelously
gratuitous and undermanding,
freighted with messages
and meaning: such
as, day
is different from the night
for some; see
the south dazzle
in an effulgence
thrown out by an ocean;
a myriad iridescence
of green;
the shape of the cold egg
you break
and with a fork
again break
and stir and pour
into a pan, where it lightly hisses.
The sediment
in your mind sinks
as something rises
in it, a thought
perhaps, like a tree when it
is just two green
crumpled bits of tape
secured to grit; a
memory - beyond
a box of Gold Dust
laundry soap a cherry
in full flower and
later full of fruit;
a face, a name
without a face,
water with a name:
Meditarranean, Cazenovia or
iced, or
to be flushed
away; a
flash of
good humor, no
more than a
wink; and the sun
dims its light
behind a morning
Times of cloud.


Books litter the bed,
leaves the lawn. It
lightly rains. Fall has
come: unpatterned, in
the shedding leaves.

The Maples ripen. Apples
come home crisp in bags.
This pear tastes good.
It rains lightly on the
random leaf patterns.

The nimbus is spread
above our island. Rain
lightly patters on un-
shed leaves. The books
of all litter the bed.

Gray Day

"There is a cloud,"
Fairfield used to say,
"that stretches from
Richmond to Bangor:
its center is Southampton."
gray day,
its center is
a nimbus over the pond
you made,
where a willow
jerks its leaves
and the oxeye daisies
stand in unserried ranks.
Helena is on a bench
by the pond, writing
a poem, I bet.
I opt
for the living room and
the squishy chairs
and Rachmaninoff
played by Richter
(who else?) and
here come Oriane
with her ragged ruff:
"Oriane, there are hairs
all over my blazer:
would you care
to discuss it?" She
would not and stalks
haughtily out of the room,
leaving me with the music
and a window
full of leaves.


After the stormy night:
the crack of lightning and
the thunder peals (one bolt
fell in my street!)
the cornflowers (or are they
bachelor's buttons?) stand,
ragged scraps of sky, in
a shrimp-cocktail glass on
thin green stems with thin
green leaves, so blue, so blue
azure as sky-blue eyes
the cornflowers (I wish
I were wading through a
field where they bloom)
tattered tales of my life.

The light within

and the light without: the shade
of a rainy April morning:
subtle shadows
cast backward by lamplight
upon daylight,
soft unforceful daylight,
the essence
of cloud cover
descending mistily into the street:
and the unwhitely
white surround of a curling photograph
models itself
as north light
modeled the face in the photograph:

and against a window
a tree shows
each lightly tinted leaf
another shadowy shade, some
transparently, some
not: and, in the corner
the dark bisected
by the light that falls
from without (created
by its absence)
lies luminous within itself:
the luminous dark within.

1 comment:

Imani said...

Schuyler is a poet I never heard of before a blogger friend sent me his Selected Poems. Thanks for writing about him since you've dropped bits of information here and there that situate the poems for me, to a certain extent. (Ashbery's intro to the book is not traditional, in that sense.)