24 March 2008

In the Morning

The other morning (of the poem!) I went back into my FSG-on-the-cheap copy of James Schuyler’s Collected Poems. It's not nearly as attractive as this cover:

Three years ago I got the book and read Freely Espousing to little effect. But a Weird Deer told me to read “The Morning of the Poem” some morning and I, a fan of lounging in bed, decided to try Schuyler again. You can tell that Collected Poems is a New York School book because it features an ugly watercolor portrait of a New York School writer on the cover. This one is James Schuyler, reading, quite possibly on a morning!

I like that the poem starts off with Schuyler questioning the date (“July 8 or July 9, surely the eighth, certainly / 1976 that I know”). I like this because it presents a nice uncertainty to matters immediately but also because it helps characterize a poem pulls backward and forward across many mornings. Between descriptions of the morning out the window and various beverages consumed indoors, Schuyler has flashbacks like this one: “Green eyes in the / Medicine-chest mirror. You said, ‘I’m sorry: / everything just got too / Fucked up. Thank you for the book.’ That’s / what I get. Was it worth it? / On the whole, I think it was.”

These lines really speak to the tone throughout the poem: clear-eyed humorous and a gently wistful. The man’s eyes in the mirror seem to me incredibly bright as he gives the brush off any writer would fear, a variation on “goodbye but thanks for the good reading material.” Schuyler is never overwrought though—he decides the relationship was worthwhile on the whole.

Though it is a fifty-page piece, “The Morning of the Poem” feels like a simple, pleasant exercise. I think of it as a poet deciding to capture each thought, story and image that floats through one’s brain on a (particularly lucid) morning. This way we get descriptions of winter (“the kids are gloved and / Bundled up and it’s snowball-fighting time”) as well as descriptions of the July day that’s actually unfolding outside (“violet laced with orange and / White fritters: kimono colors”). It’s satisfying, the My Life-style fullness to the whole enterprise. And near the end, as Schuyler discusses Fairfield Porter painting on an island, there is some confusion over whether a rowboat or a canoe bobs in water of that landscape. The poet admits, parenthetically, “I can’t remember everything.” But still, a whole hell of a lot.

this is not
your poem, your poem I may
Never write, too much, though it is there and
needs only to be written down
And one day will and if it isn’t it doesn’t matter

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