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Apparently the Best Poet We Have Is Frederick Seidel

By Harriet Staff

The Chicago Tribune, in its “Life Lessons” section, has published a feature on the poet Frederick Seidel, entitled “Frederick Seidel’s Sordid Glory.” Huh. Michael Robbins leads with shocking news:

The clearest sign that American poetry is in disarray is that the best poet we have is Frederick Seidel. I say this approvingly, for one effect of reading Seidel closely is to realize just how sodden the rest of the poetic field is. In one row we find mealymouthed banalities dressed up as wisdom literature; in the next, the stale avant-gardism of half-wits. No wonder no one reads the stuff.

No one reads the stuff! More of this guy’s opinion:

Seidel, on the other hand, is a field of his own, where wild things grow, many of them bitter and poisonous. In rhyming doggerel, he flaunts his wealth, his vulgarity, his disdain for political correctness. He sets the giddy theatricality of Sylvia Plath to music that riffs on the sort of amateur treacle you find in nursing home newsletters:

My girlfriend is a miracle.

She’s so young but she’s so beautiful.

So is her new bikini trim,

A waxed-to-neatness center strip of quim.

“Nice Weather,” Seidel’s first volume since the career omnibus “Poems 1959-2009,” is full of metrical howlers, bad puns, simplistic rhymes and offensive themes. And it is bubbling over with invention and wit and chutzpah and grace:

Canoeing in the Ozarks with Pierre Leval: the rains came down so hard

The river rose twenty-three feet in the predawn hours and roared.

Came the dawn, there was improbably a lifeguard,

There was a three-legged dog, the jobless numbers soared.

Dreamers woke in the dark and drowned, with time to think this can’t be true.

Incomprehensible is something these things do.

They bring the Dow Jones into the Ozarks and the Ozarks into the EU.

A raving flash flood vomits out of a raindrop. The Western world is in the ICU.

“It’s the recession,” Seidel explains: “It’s very weird in New York. / Teen vampires are the teen obsession.”

Did I mention he’s a 76-year-old millionaire?

Later, Robbins adds:

None of this would be worth taking seriously if Seidel weren’t also our most primitively primatial poet, roaring on the savanna with his rival’s brains dripping from his club. He’s a one-man abattoir, masturbating on poetry’s grave in his finest bespoke suit from Savile Row. He demands our attention. If we look away, we circumscribe our understanding of the liberating risks and potentialities of poetry in its twilight.

The full review of Nice Weather is here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.