PS3569.L3, according to Slavitt, is his Library of Congress number.
(Just look inside at the back of the title page; it is just so).
There's nothing wrong with with a road sign that suggests "BEWARE: humor
ahead." Slavitt's wit and humor have been a hallmark of his
work for decades. Not that Slavitt can't or won't write serious poems
-- he can and does do so with affecting power. (See review
of Crossroads from December of 1997.) There are good examples
of such in the current book. But, when I think of Slavitt, I think
of his seemingly impossible conflations, as of war, diplomacy and dessert
in Just Desserts: A Life of Nesselrode, here quoted
from part 6 and 7:
I am Swiss and I am tired, what? Have a pastry?
Sometimes, Slavitt heads into zaniness. I enjoy zaniness, whether the slapstick of Steve Martin or a poem like Tryma. Zaniness in Slavitt, though, is often a mask over another message:
...the trauma of the tryma
is with us always, as are the poor
in spirit, who will stare at you blankly
or in resentment ask,
Answer them smartly and tell them
the wahoo is a kind of Eunonymous
(which is a good name)
with arillate seeds.
Tell them your grandfather said so.
If that doesn't work, and it won't, you can take
from knowing the the false aril originates
from the orifice instead of the stalk of an ovule,
as in the mace of the nutmeg, which is an arillode...
When Frederick Turner has advocated that poets use scientific language, perhaps he didn't consider the complications of what for most readers and writers is a bilingual requirement. In a confrontation with ignorance, sadly, the loser is usually the one who knows. On such observations in poetry and prose, Voltaire built an entire career.
There are many treasures in this volume, beautifully executed by Louisiana
State, with pleasant typefaces and in proper papers so that it won't disintegrate
in five years; one of my favorite is more serious, the sequence Desk
Set. A desk in a study is a history of sorts, history in
the raw, history in artifacts (most still in use), history in the making.
As a good painter can illuminate a way of life by painting a still life
of a woman knitting a shawl, a poet can illuminate a life by looking at
a desk -- his own, in this case:
The string of my worry beads
frayed, gave way. I had to have the beads
restrung -- and have to worry now about the beads themselves,
which ought to have functioned as emblems
without assuming, without presuming....
They impose themselves now as an independent subject
of worry: thirty-three beads and a marker bead.
They have some Islamic significance,
although I bought them in spite of that,
which is, I suppose, another reason to worry.
What does Islam know that the rest of us don't?
Are there only thirty-three worries....
...The two timepieces
that adorn my desktop accuse me of wasting what they dole out,
never quite in synchronization. Perfect
devices with their quartz hearts would be cheaper than these complex
machines with springs, gears, escapements, balances, and such
paraphernalia as the industrial revolution adored. One,
an old silver Tavannes that hangs on its stand, I bought
on impulse during the three weeks or so I worked for Otto
Preminger, and tempus, it tells me, sure does fugit.
The other watch, a gift from my mother-in-law, an old-fashioned
railroad Elgin, used to belong to her father -- who did
time. No one speaks of this, but from what I gather and guess,
some construction project went bad, the gouging and graft too much
for even gaudy and greedy San Francisco....
Maybe the reminders need only be posted outside the classrooms whose
owners and controllers have never seen fit to offer David R. Slavitt a
tenured position to teach in one of them. He may not want such a
thing. 62 books is a fairly awesome career in and of itself.
But for a student, to have as teacher someone who can run metrical verse
with the skill of an A.D. Hope and free verse with that of a Wallace Stevens
would be akin to a minor leaguer having Sammy Sosa or Ted Williams as a
batting coach. Universities, if they have refused to consider Slavitt,
have done themselves and their students a disservice in this. I gather
though that this is not a new problem. But enough of such asides
and more on the book, which would hardly be a Slavitt book if it didn't
have a few "translations, imitations and caprices," as the section is called.
Perhaps the most flagrant of these is "Bette Davis: The Tragic Muse."
One should not ignore the poems of more serious tone, however.
"Cezanne Drawing" is one. Another on painting is "Northern Renaissance:"
Leave Holland? Why,
when it takes a lifetime to learn the sky....
of Hammel's grief-stricken dead -- the poor
parents of 1484
who waited for word
in the hope that their children yet might be
alive somewhere. Ignoring them, we
read to our cheerful
issue a sanitized nursery rhyme
of what happened once upon a time.
It is a fearful
tissue of lies -- the end, I mean,
with Browning's semi-comic scene
There are dozens more treasures in PS3569.L3; I urge that you go buy this book and enjoy them yourselves. If you wish to enjoy your own variety of purgation while laughing at the humorous ones, read them in the bathroom! For the rest, I recommend a quiet spot, perhaps under a maple still bearing its red leaves of Fall.
PS3569.L3 is highly recommended.
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