the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Harry Crosby Day!

“. . . the Sun is a lighthouse on a Sea of Clouds . . .”

Yes, so wrote Harry Crosby in his diary on November 7, 1927, after seeing “a giant revolving phare” at the Salon Nautique, Paris’ annual boat show.

This is but one of many metaphors relating to the Sun that the solar-obsessed Crosby wrote in his diaries, poems, and notebooks.

“Lighthouse on a Sea of Clouds” seems particularly picturesque and poetic, and for those reasons is a favorite. Let’s celebrate it here

today – 

the 126th anniversary of Crosby’s birth on June 4, 1898.  





Monday, October 23, 2023

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2023


“and isn’t it with daydreams that poetry begins to dance?”
Ah yes!  And aha!  

Today’s the 96th anniversary of the birth of Philip Lamantia, in 1927, in San Francisco!   

Let’s celebrate!  

How about we luxuriate in and cerebrate on the rhetorical question pinned between the photos above?

The question – permit me please to repeat it –
“and isn’t it with daydreams that poetry begins to dance?”
– is a line near the end of Lamantia’s “Diana Green,” a major poem first published in 1987 and included in Bed of Sphinxes (City Lights, 1997) and Collected Poems (University of California Press, 2013).  It’s a marvelous example of Lamantia directly and evocatively suggesting, in verse, what seems to me to be a key element of his poetics.

Daydreams and creativity – free and wild creativity –  have long been linked.  See, for example, Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Day-Dream (1842)  –

     “. . . I too dream’d . . . And ordered words asunder fly”

– and Sigmund Freud, Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming (1908), which ties reveries and creativity back to childhood play.  And there has been – click each of the five words that follow, if you please – plenty similar in recent decades
In the half-dozen lines that follow, from his “Bile Nature” (first published in 1976), Lamantia seems to present that which came from a daydream and also suggest much about the particular poetic dance of his imaginative reverie, including its wondrous movement, power, evanescence, drama, energy, fire, speed, weirdness, mystery, and magic:
the rainbow leaps onto the gorge of daydreaming be it
ever the sandy castles
fleeting as mental blowtorches
into the crashing water
quicker than a chipmunk’s chess game
reverses the coyote’s invisible dart
I enjoy here how the first verb in these lines – “leaps” – brings to mind grand jetés and the like, and thus the dance of poetic association-al daydream-y thought.

In the following lines from “Redwood Highway,” first published in 1981, Lamantia exults reverie – the “dream wide awake” – evoking via an image a drummed rhythm (dance again!) and, in this instance, a marvelous harmonic vision:
Chance to dream wide awake
With the antelope-necked tom-toms
Whose sinews of silence project
The perfect Edenic Reunion
Lamantia’s suggestion that “with daydreams poetry begins to dance” reminds me of a marvelous biographical detail concerning his maternal Sicilian grandmother that he mentioned when talking on February 27, 1999  at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California.  Calling her a “special woman,” Lamantia remembered his Nonna, age 70, tarantella-ing at a huge gathering – hundreds of people – in a forested grove, winning first prize in a dance contest.  
I also remember how Lamantia, in a 1975 essay available in Preserving Fire: Selected Prose (Wave Books, 2018), described the surrealist dance of Alice Farley as “poetry itself moving visibly” (italics in the original) and how, in the notes to his poem “Redwood Highway” in Becoming Visible (1981), he praised “the surpassing poetic beauty of the Kachina dance” which he had seen in the Hopi village of Walpi.

Let’s end with these beautiful lines, from “Pure Automatism” (a late poem, from circa 1999), which as I read them marvelously enact and describe, as they move across and down the page, the daydream dance of poetry – here an enthusiastic dendrologic / arboreal manifestation of that – while rightfully insisting that it don’t, to say the least, come easy:
words coalesce: sudden seed
            trunk, branches, then, up a whole
solar splendiferic Tree!
effervescence        A quality of
           subsumed quantum—
           there’s nothing harder to do
                                  like true love
                                  — like automatic


Philip Lamantia 
at the
Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
Venice, California 
February, 1999
-- photo by Michael Hacker --

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Harry Crosby Day!


Yes oh Yes on this day in 1898 Harry Crosby was born and Yes oh Yes we here celebrate the oh Yes quasquicentennial oh Yes of his birth and oh Yes oh Yes please do join the party!

Here is a short poem by Crosby from Transit of Venus, his fourth collection.  First published in 1928 by his and his wife Caresse’s Black Sun Press, the book was republished in 1929 and again in 1931, with a preface by T.S. Eliot, as a part of the posthumous Crosby Collected Poems.  This particular poem -- “All That Is Beautiful” -- is the third in the book.  It most definitely lives up to its title.  It is convincingly positive, a lovely love poem, and, in the end, a supremely Crosby-confident affirmation and celebration of the remarkable power of desire and passion.  So Yes oh Yes here it is for you: 

Eliot, in the preface mentioned above, asserted that Crosby’s poetry was “consistently . . . the result of an effort to record as exactly as possible to his own satisfaction a particular way of apprehending life”  and that what interested him the most was Crosby’s “search for a personal symbolism of imagery.”  If there is wisdom in these critical judgments -- and I think there is -- then “All That Is Beautiful” is a wonderful example of why that is so, and, more to the point, a most excellent example of Crosby’s wondrous way with words.  May the poem serve you well, especially today, the 125th anniversary of Crosby’s birth!

Harry Crosby, sitting in the Sun

While deep within our hearts . . . 

Strange fire growing young . . .




Sunday, October 23, 2022

Philip Lamanta Day --- 2022


“Touch of the Marvelous” may be the best known of Philip Lamantia’s poems.  It’s certainly one of his earliest.  It was written in 1943, at age 15 (!)  and published—as seen above—in the February 1944 final issue of VVV, the surrealist magazine edited in New York by David Hare with André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst.  The issue also included two other Lamantia poems, an ardent letter by him to Breton (“To rebel! That is the immediate objective of poets!”), a striking cover by Matta —  

— writings by such luminaries as Benjamin Peret, Aimé Césaire and Leonora Carrington, and art by, among others, Carrington, Enrico Donati, Duchamp, Ernst, Wilfredo Lam, Jacqueline Lamba, Yves Tanguy, and Dorothea Tanning.  

Even among the stellar array of writings and art in VVV no. 4, “Touch of the Marvelous” shone bright, and still does today.  Here again is how the poem looked on the page (go ahead, read it again!):

The energy in this poem is—yes, I will say it—marvelous.  I wrote about it about ten years ago, when it appeared in the lead off spot in Lamantia’s Collected Poems (University of California Press, 2013).  

But I’m compelled to write about the poem again today, on —yes, I said yes — the 95th anniversary of Lamantia’s birth, in 1927, in San Francisco, because I recently finished—

The Penguin Book of Mermaids (2019), “a treasury of . . . tales about merfolk and water spirits from different cultures, ranging from Scottish selkies to Hindu water-serpents to Chilean sea fairies,” as the publisher puts it on the rear cover.  Edited by University of Hawaii professors Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown, the book’s a delight, including the general introduction as well as the head- and endnotes for the sixty tales (some are excerpts), including 20 translated into English for the first time.  These editors know their stuff, and share it extremely well.

Reading The Penguin . . . Mermaids, I got to thinking on Lamantia’s mermaids in “Touch of the Marvelous” and how they fit with, extend, or differ from the centuries-old folk and literary traditions about the sea-creatures.  Shall we, er um, swim around in that for a bit?   

Lamantia’s poem fits the folk and literary traditions in its depiction of what Bacchhilega and Brown call “a fleeting interspecies encounter,” which they identify as one of three a common plots in merfolk tales (the others are the taking of a mer(maid)-wife, or the abduction of a human into the water.)    In “Touch of the Marvelous,” the mermaids arrive, they depart, and despite trying to hold on to one, the speaker–who I’ve always considered to be Lamantia—ends up “lost in the search to have,” “looking for,”  “recalling memories of,” and “looking beyond the hour and the day to find” the mermaid.     

However, different from essentially all traditional mer-tales, Lamantia in his poem encounters mermaids not in water or at its edge, but in “the desert.”  A desert with a camel” and sands,” details which make it seem genuine, and also of course very dry, with all that such metaphorically evokes in terms of—as I read it—a desiccated creative zone.  This bringing of sea creatures to dry land suggests the kind of resolution of opposites the Surrealists (and others, including Heraclitus) explored and pondered.  It’s  also a compelling visual image, and that it happens in the first line of “Touch of The Marvelous” is a high-power verve-charge.

Lamantia’s mermaids also embody the traditional notion that such creatures’ are able to transform themselves; as Bacchhilega and Brown say, “like water, they are shape-shifters that resist being contained.”  In “Touch of the Marvelous” the ch-ch-changes begin almost right away, with mermaids described with “feet of roses” instead of the typical tails.  But it is with BIANCA, first named in the fourth stanza, that the shape-shifting becomes a tour de force—or is it a chef-d'œuvre? (I say both).  The mermaid first turns into two giant lips and then, in the eyes of the poet who seeks her, “the angelic doll turned black,” “the child of broken elevators,” “the curtain of holes / that you never want to throw away,” and, ultimately, “the first woman and first man” (italics added, to emphasis the shape-shifting).  These transformations reverie-rev the imagination.

“Touch of the Marvelous” also reflects the relationship between mermaids and Sirens.  Professors Bacchhilega and Brown remind that Sirens, in Homer’s Odyssey, and on ancient Greek vases and funerary monuments, were human/bird creatures, with “the power of their song and music— rather than their appearance” their primary trait.  Over time, Sirens morphed into human-piscine beings, the professors teach, based on their power, shared with mermaids, to seduce; thus, as early as the 14th Century, Chaucer, as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, wrote “[t]hough we call them mermaids here . . . Men call them sirens in France.” But while both seduce—“lead astray, divert, lead elsewhere,” Bachhilega and Brown clarify that the Siren’s lure is not entirely sexual, but “had to do with life and death, or knowing the future . . . .”

Only “mermaids” are explicitly mentioned in Lamantia’s “Touch of the Marvelous,” but I believe “Sirens” are in the poem too.  First, BIANCA is said to turn “with the “charm of a bird;” this invoking of the avian leads me right to the bird-women Sirens of antiquity.  And I hear the seductive song of  Homer’s Sirens when Lamantia writes he is looking for the region where BIANCA’s “eardrums play music . . . .”

In addition to those semi-direct associative references, Sirens are intuitively evoked given that Lamantia’s pursuit of BIANCA is not simply a desire for physical contact, although the references to “boudoir” in the early stanzas do point to a sensual experience, as does the “the mermaid’s nimble fingers going through the poet’s hair.  He wants “the secrets,” to go to a yet unknown region where there conflagration, ascent (“where the smoke of your hair is thick . . . climbing over the white wall”) and music.  He believes BIANCA might be found out past all time (“beyond the hour and day”).  BIANCA may be a named mermaid in the poem, but she attracts, as do the Sirens, with knowledge and much, much more.  

If I had to give BIANCA’s allure and essence a name, I’d say “creative energy”—but of  a certain kind, one that’s directly related to Lamantia’s poetics: that which brings on or allows access to “the Marvelous.”   In this regard, consider what he wrote in the magazine Arsenal Surrealist Subversion (1976):

I have always dreamed of the ultimate triumph of the Sirens who, it was said, were ‘defeated’ in their poetic combat with the Muses, and who can be deciphered to typify imaginative freedom from the restraints of rationally controlled poetry, whose spokesmen, like all good bourgeoisie, must always recommend that we ‘plug our ears’ against the enchantresses heard by the inspired poet on his voyage to the unknown.

Roman mosaic: Odysseus and the Sirens (Bardo National Museum, Tunis, Tunisia)



Saturday, June 4, 2022

Harry Crosby Day!


Today's the 124th anniversary of the birth (in 1898) of Harry Crosby and yes yes yes the day's well worth remembering and celebrating, as we look towards -- natch -- The Sun.  

This year it's especially important to celebrate Crosby, I think, because exactly a century ago -- 1922 -- he began the diary entries that would eventually become Shadows of the Sun, which almost surely is his crowning literary achievement.  It first appeared in 1928-29-30 in three gorgeous volumes, published by his and his wife Caresse's Black Sun Press in Paris, then again in 1977 in a beautiful unexpurgated version edited by Edward Germain for Black Sparrow Press.

Crosby, as Professor Edward Brunner has neatly shown, worked hard to jot down daily events in vest-pocket notebooks, then expand upon those in ruled notebooks, then transform the latter into dated diary entries "in longhand . . . written with an eye toward seeming as if [they] had been sketched at white-hot speed."  The end result is an extremely readable, sometimes irresistible account of 1920s Paris and Crosby's travels in that decade.  It includes appearances by people such as James Joyce, Hart Crane, and Kay Boyle, plus lots (lots) of alcohol, drugs, and carrying on.  Best of all, it's all animated by what editor Germain rightly calls Crosby's "active curious mind" and reflects his many enthusiasms, including reading, poetry, horse racing, woman, art, jazz, death and -- natch again -- The Sun.

There are many, many stellar entries in Shadows of the Sun.  These include a description of Lindbergh's late night landing near Paris after his trans-Atlantic solo flight (5/21/27), and Crosby's bibliophilic joy when he received and unpacked an inheritance of thousands of rare books (5/4/28).

One hundred years ago today -- June 4, 1922 -- Crosby, in his Shadows of the Sun diary entry, wrote [translation of the French provided in brackets]: 

To the Chateau de Madrid.  Changed clothes with a waiter (tenue de soirée de rigueur [evening dress required]) so that I could dance.  Dancing and then to bed in the Chateau and the plaintive music of the tango and the coolness of linen sheets---and I am twenty-four years old to-day and we bathe in the forest and at midnight gaze into the Red Sun.  C'est Kefalin qui gagne![Kefalin wins!]
This sounds like a majorly fun birthday!  The Chateau de Madrid was a grand jazz club about three miles from Paris, in the Bois de Boulogne, where you could dance and if necessary rent a room for the nightThe Chateau had magnificent gardens with "lush and tall deep-blue green trees," and was also near the Longchamp race track. Kefalin was a horse quite successful in the 1922 season, including winning the prestigious Grand Prix de Paris.

But giant exploding X-class solar flares, let's further celebrate today with a Shadows of the Sun entry that showcases an episode of Rimbaudian derangement, shall we?  Harry loved Arthur; Crosby in 1929, the last year of his life, declared "I believe that Rimbaud is the greatest poet of them all . . . ."  (Shadows of the Sun, 4/1/29.)

The following diary entry, dated 11/14/26, recounts what Crosby writes was his first real experience with kief, the substance Wikipedia describes as a "pure and clean collection of loose cannabis trichomes."  The experience described is perhaps relatively modest  compared to other mind-altering experience Crosby wrote about, involving prodigious amounts of hashish, opium, and/or ethanol.  But this one is still a, er um, high point:

Last night for the first time really experienced the kief, and saw strange but clear visions, not vague as in a dream, but chaste with colors of pure gold and sun shining through green water and a fountain under the sea spouting jets of silver fish and an autumn-gold forest with a path leading into infinity (I have never seen such a depth of perspective) and white bodies of fauns and nymphs appearing and disappearing, copulating and uncopulating.

Hell yes, pass the kief and stone me.  More than that, I dig the poetry here.  And not just the cavalcade of gold, sun, silver, autumn-gold and white, or the rhythmic rush of the prose, nice as those are.  The tippy-top poetry here, for me, is Crosby's use of the word "chaste" when describing his visions.  They were "not vague as in a dream, but chaste . . . ."   

Now, Crosby does not use "chaste" here to suggest there was a  sexual purity to his visions, which might be assumed given the primary meaning of the word.  Any chance of that being the case is obliterated by the orgiastic mythological beings at the visions' end.

Instead, Crosby uses "chaste" in its lovely figurative sense, meaning, to borrow from the Oxford English Dictionary, "undefiled," "stainless," and "pure."  This use of "chaste" is not particularly common in literature (but see Shakespeare, Othello, V.ii.2), but it's exactly perfect here, given that kief, as said above, is a "pure and clean" substance.

An unalloyed true immaculate -- a chaste -- vision looks mighty fine  to me, and it certainly was for Harry.   May you have the same, if you want it.  Regardless, here's to the literary work of Crosby, who Philip Lamantia memorably called "a true dandy of explosively Promethean desire," on the anniversary of his birth.       


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2021


Yes I said yes, it’s the 94th anniversary of the birth (in San Francisco, on October 23, 1927) of the great poet Philip Lamantia – so Let’s Celebrate, and Cerebrate!  

How about we read and think about one of his many fine poems?  This one is from Lamantia’s Becoming Visible (City Lights, San Francisco: 1981 [Pocket Poets Series No. 39]):


There is a wind torturing bats
there are the scorched feet of dead suns
the city spun into the sea
where the gulfs of the pterodactyl beckon
there is a whorl of terror livening my mind
there’s the hum-whirr of the skeleton of solitude
where angry corpses flower in a bottle
and red weapons vanish into mirrors
I look back by the blade of my double
there flies— through its eye— The Hanged Man
where a pyramid of water hovers in the dark victuals of the inner life
Clark Ashton Smith’s observation  – “Explanations are neither necessary, desirable, or possible” – fully applies to this poem, I suggest.  But since we’re celebrating (and cerebrating!) perhaps you will permit me a few words.

Read silently or aloud, “Vibration” seriously moves, or, more precisely, oscillates.  All sound is vibration of course.  But here, particularly propulsive TWANGS are felt with and from the repeated line-starting word “there” (five instances) and, to a lesser but still felt degree, its rhyming echo “where” (used twice).  Each “there” functions for me as both am adverb and, especially with its repetitions, an exclamation.  

More specifically, each “there,” as an adverb, fixes what follows in a particular place or position.  Each also – this the exclamatory angle – signifies or discharges with each recurrence a kind of audio-verbal shimmer of amazement or shock.  In this regard, the final italicized use of the word in the next-to-last line seems by that point almost preordained.   

As I read the poem aloud, I naturally find myself emphasizing each “there,” and enjoy doing that!  Give it a try!   Doing that reminds me that Robert Kelly, in Caterpillar 5 (October 1968), described Lamantia’s “high excitement” during public readings.  I definitely feel that in this poem.   

Vibratory movement is also referenced in – or reverie-ed from – the third line’s “spun,” the fifth line’s “whorl,” the sixth line’s “hum-whirr” (and what a wonderful compound word that is – did anyone use it earlier?), and even the final lime’s “hovers” what with the way it brings to mind a hummingbird’s delicate wingbeats.

“Vibration,” to me, comes from, or is about, an emotional / mental state, one with frightening even terrifying elements but which is ultimately good or positive and even necessary for Lamantia, the poet.   It’s the sensation, I feel, of the oscillations or surge of creative energy.  It’s intense, VIVID, and scary – yet necessary for imagination’s vision.

The scary, frightening, and terrifying parts here are easy: “a wind torturing bats” “scorched  feet of dead suns,” [t]he city spun into the sea” “the gulfs of the pterodactyl beckon[ing],” “a whorl of terror,” the exactly perfect “hum-whirr of the skeleton of solitude,” “angry corpses” which “flower in a bottle,” “red weapons” which “vanish into mirrors,” “blade” and “The Hanged Man.”  It’s a kind of horror scene to me, a place of suffering and anguish.

And yet, the “whorl of terror,” Lamantia writes in the fifth line, is “livening [his] mind.”  And, in the final line, a pyramid of water hovers “in the dark victuals of the inner life.”  Here, while the “victuals” (an archaic word, usually pronounced “vittles” and meaning provisions or food supplies) are “dark” they are, inherent in that definition, nourishing.  They sustain the “inner life” – which I take to be the creative imagination.

I’ll leave to you to think on how the terrifying and the creative imagination must co-exist.  I’ll end here by remembering that Allen Ginsberg, in the first sentence of his Preface to Charles Plymell’s Apocalypse Rose (Dave Haselwood: San Francisco, 1966), referred to Lamantia as an “American vibration artist.”  Indeed!
Happy Birth-Anniversary, Philip!

¡Viva Lamantia!


Friday, June 4, 2021

Harry Crosby Day!


Among those who love the writing of Harry Crosby (born this day in 1898), the big news over the last 12 months was the publication of a Selected Poems.  The book, announced by MadHat Press as available in June 2020 (and paid for then), arrived in early 2021.  I’d hoped it would nicely showcase Crosby’s poetry.   

Alas, while the book has some positives, its major problems are, unfortunately, the main story.

Here’s the deal: the primary criteria used to select the poems – everything that happened to be published in magazines and anthologies in or just after Crosby’s lifetime  –  is unconvincing, and in part botched.  As a result, this Selected includes nearly a dozen pages of work that ain’t poetry, and another dozen pages or so of, I kid you not, essentially duplicate texts.  Ugh.  Further, due to either uninspired or uninformed editing, a dozen or so essential Crosby poems are not included.  Ugh again, and let me explain.


About two-thirds of the book – the  first 100 or so of its 150+ pages– is given over to what is  said, to quote the introduction and back cover, “the whole of” or “all of” Crosby’s contemporary magazine and anthology appearances.  This was done, the editor asserts, so we can read the poems seen at the time, and have a historical record of what was submitted by Crosby and printed by others.  

That reasoning doesn’t make sense.  At the same time he submitted poems to magazines, Crosby self-published , or prepared for publication, several volumes of his poetry.   I would think the work he chose to collect and publish himself would be the starting point for any selected poems, as well as the poems not included in those books but which appeared elsewhere.

Said another way, the right way to compile a selected poems is to consider EVERYTHING  a poet wrote, then, focusing on the work itself, fashion a collection that  reflects the breadth or characteristics of the poet’s achievement, or some other angle intrinsic to the work.  Discarding all that for an extrinsic and rather arbitrary factor such as where poems happened to first appear, especially when the magazine and anthology poems are greatly outnumbered by the entirety of the poetry, devalues the work as a whole, and thus the poet’s legacy.  In this way, much of the MadHat selected Crosby is wrongly compiled.

The book, by the way, fails in it’s on its own terms. Contrary to its claims, it does NOT include the “whole of” or “all of” Crosby’s contemporary magazine poems.  O editor and publisher, get thee to Poetry, Vol. XXXIV, Number 11 (May 1929), at pages 78-79 (“Fragment,” a 35 line verse poem).  I wonder what else was missed?  Oh yeah, the key series of question and answers, first published in transition 14 (Fall 1928),  that Crosby published as the prose poem “Enquette” in his Mad Queen.  This tremendously entertaining four-part word-rush reveals much about Crosby’s vision of himself, including as an expatriate outsider.  “The End of Europe,” a short visionary and apocalyptic prose-poem in transition 16-17 (June 1929) is also not included.  

And while these poems were missed, the editor includes a straight prose work, “Observation-Post,” which appeared in a magazine.  It’s an essay in which Crosby critiques a magazine essay dismissive of poets that Crosby considered “the True Dawn.”  That this is not a poem is obvious.  In addition to being closely reasoned, the essay quotes liberally from the work of a number of poets, including the entirety of Hart Crane’s “O Carib Isle.”  The editor does not explain why this essay is included in a book of poems.  It takes up 11 pages and is a big mistake.    

Also, the misguided decision to include ALL magazine and anthology results in – I kid you not – approximately three dozen poems being repeated – one three times – because they appeared both in magazines and then later in an anthology.  Most of the repeated poems, which mostly all appear in the book’s first 90 pages, are duplicates of each other.   In the others, there are minor – very minor – differences, such as additions of a title.  Can you spell s-i-l-l-y and a-n-n-o-y-i-n-g?  This Selected is not supposed to a variorum edition. The poems  as Crosby finally published them himself should have been used, period.  The duplicates here, which collectively take up about a dozen pages, are another big mistake.

I’ll do the math: between the prose essay and the duplicates, there’s almost two dozen pages of text that’s either inappropriate or unnecessary.  

All those wasted pages are a shame given the poetry that is not included.  There’s almost nothing from Crosby’s first two books, Sonnets for Caresse and Red Skeletons.  The editor implies that the work in these books is not Crosby’s “mature period.”   While that is true – the poetry’s  largely derivative in style, tone, and subject – there are a few gems in those books not included here (the homage “Baudelaire,” to name one) that would rightly shine in a selected poems.  Devour the Fire, a Crosby selected poems published in 1983, managed to do so.  It’s strange to that so few poems from these books are included, while an 11 page prose essay and at least that many pages worth of duplicate are.

Triple-alas, many stellar and essential “mature period”  Crosby poems are missing. These include the dardanic masterpieces “Stud Book,” “Sun-Testament” and “Telephone Directory,” the scintillating “Photoheliograph (Self-Portrait),” the hyper-fervent Boston-excoriating “Target For Disgust,” the marvelous Egyptian travelogue in verse “House of Ra,” “Sunrise,” a mini-epic of witnessing, the super-short but important late-life list poems “Beacons,” “Vocabulary,” and “Library,” in which Crosby sets forth, respectively, his tippy-top people, words, and books, and the brilliant manifesto-like prose poems “I Climb Alone” and “The Ten Commandments.”  All these, as I count, would have fit on the pages wasted on the long prose essay and the duplicate poems.  

I’d also have put in certain short verse poems which, while perhaps not Crosby classics, charm and stir reveries in ways that the short verse poems that are included don’t: “All That is Beautiful” (it’ll delight any gardener), “Beyond” (the powerful pull of erotic desire), “Roots” (“And the root of a tree / Dark-fingered / Thrusting into / Infinity.”), “New Every Morning” (a quick set of similes and metaphors that invigorate the dawn), and “Alchemy” (about the “madness we require” and the “sudden alchemy of splendor” that, I believe, Crosby says poets must embrace and harvest).  

Okay, the editor here swung and missed lots.  As a result, and sadly, this Selected Poems is far duller than it should have been.  The book simply does not showcase the full splendor of  Crosby as“a true dandy of explosive Promethean desire,” to use Philip Lamantia’s  characterization in “Poetic Matters” (1976).  

To be fair, the book does some things right.  The introduction winningly includes the Crosby diary entry about his inheriting a huge library of rare books.  This passage, a de facto prose poem, will make bibliophiles swoon.   The book proper includes “Illustrations of Madness,” a prose poem in ten short sections that since its initial 1929 magazine appearance has only appeared in an extremely limited edition of uncollected Crosby poems published about five years ago.  (That publication winningly included an additional sub-part to the poem that the magazine apparently edited out).  The poem is exactly what its title implies; certain sections memorably disturb, in the way great art sometimes does: “I continually feel hurricanes of magic storming into me as wild as eagles catapulting themselves into the sun.”

In addition, the book includes about a dozen Crosby classics, mostly because they happened to have been originally published in magazines or anthologies..  Among these are the disturbing and breath-taking “Hail: Death!,” the Joycean (cf. Episode 17 of Ulysses) “The Sun,” the marvelous manifesto-like “The New Word,” the stirring and inspiring rejection of the past, “Trumpet of Departure,” the middle-finger (and more) to businessmen, “Scorn,” the beguiling “Short Introduction To The Word” (albeit an edited version that lacks the full power of the original), the erotic quick five-line verse poem “Kiss,” and the breathtaking revolutionary spirit of “Assassin” (“I am the harbinger of a New Sun World.  I bring the seed of a New Copulation.  I proclaim the Mad Queen.”).  

That said, all the poems listed in the preceding paragraph, except the five-liner, are included in Seeing With Eyes Closed: The Prose Poems of Harry Crosby (Quale Press, 2019).  That book also includes most of the essential Crosby poems mentioned in the paragraph above that begins, “Triple-alas.”  And there’s a lot more in that book as well, including all of Crosby’s Aphrodite in Flight, a series of aphoristic poetic prose meditations on the correspondences between airplane flight and love.  Even without any verse poems, this collection is far closer to a representative selection of Crosby’s poetry.

So I celebrate today the poetry of Harry Crosby, but not so much the MadHat Press Harry Crosby Selected Poems.  And I dream of a complete collected Crosby, with not only all that Crosby published, as he and his wife Caresse published it, but with some of the work currently only available in archives, not published by Crosby or others in his lifetime, and only in very limited editions since then.