In the studio.
I can't call the room in which I work a studio, that would be exaggerating. It's just a smallish, rectangular room with a balcony looking out on a large, hilly garden which Marilyn tends to solicitously. Facing me from where I sit are two loaded bookcases and two paintings on each side of the wall. Behind me are four more. Although I chose these because they appealed to me aesthetically, I realize now as I look at them that they express what is in my personality, and I assume, my writing.
Two express my political sympathies. They are in black and white. In one a poor black woman is carrying a heavy bucket of water from a clothesline with her husband's shirts and pants on it. On the bucket side the heavy weight is pulling her down. In the other picture, five black men in undershirts and overalls are driving a massive iron support into the ground with heavy sledgehammers. The blows are coming down with such force that it's taking two of the men with long steel pliers to hold the support in place. Three of the other pieces are somewhat satirical in a cartoonish way, and one is a simple nature scene.
Two of the paintings, it seems to me, express my more basic nature. They are very serious. The one is a black and white, solid-looking sculpturesque head of an older man looking out from years of experience. A self-portrait of the artist, it turns out. The other is a painting of a bearded, older rabbi with large protuberant, sad eyes and a tragic expression on his face. As I mentioned before, I had wrapped myself around with my inner self without being aware of it.
The poetry books in the study are divided into sections: the Brits in one bookcase, the Americans in another, and the ancient and modern 'Other' poets in a third. The study is too small to contain all my books. The rest are scattered in bookcases in my dining room, where my music collection is also, and in the hall. These too are divided into sections: art books in one bookcase, miscellaneous essays and nature and science books in another; philosophy, letters, Greek drama, critical works, Shaw, and the Encyclopedia Brittanica in a third, and books on loan from Olympus--Joyce, Proust, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dickens and such in a fourth. My backup.
Usually the books just sit there in an abstract calm, but every once in a while I have to refresh myself and read somebody else's poetry. I find myself then turning first to the Brits, to Blake and Burns and Skelton and Donne and the Elizabethan playwrights, and R. S. Thomas, who may still be alive.
I won't say whom among the Americans I turn to, for fear of leaving some out and offending them, but there are a number. Among the 'Others' I may safely browse: Horace, Catullus, Villon, Goethe, Ritsos, Tsvetayeva ... more citations would bore you.
But that's not the only thing that happens in this little enclave of mine. From time to time I come across things that give me an impish satisfaction. In 1911, Eliot, then thirty-three years old, was doing reviews for The New Statesman. He writes of HD: "These compositions seldom charm the mind. They are rather deadening and monotonous." Wow! And he writes of Marianne Moore: "Miss Moore does not seem to have very much to say. She writes a clumsy prose. She has no poetic style." At last somebody dares to come out with that! "Edith Sitwell," he writes, "flicks rhymes in our faces with elaborate jauntiness. The paraphernalia of verse are the instruments of her disdain. Metaphor is the chief mode in which she reveals her alienation from the rest of the world." Talk about reducing a poet! And in 1914 in a letter to Conrad Aiken he wrote: "Pound is rather intelligent as a talker and his verse is well-meaning but touchingly incompetent." That bit, of course, never saw the light of day and the reviews never appeared in The New Statesman. Eliot apparently had second thoughts about exposing them publicly.
At my right on a long table sit the two-volume New Oxford Dictionary, the two N.Y. Public Library science and American history books, a thesaurus, Mencken's The American Language and French, German, Spanish, Italian and Latin dictionaries, etc., and on my left is a Canon word-processor. I'm ready to do battle.
Born in 1903, CARL RAKOSI is one of the original Objectivist poets, as defined by the February 1931 issue of Poetry magazine--a legendary group that included George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, and Louis Zukofsky. His most recent book is The Old Poet's Tale (Etruscan Books, 1999).
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|Publication:||The American Poetry Review|
|Article Type:||Short Story|
|Date:||May 1, 2004|
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