To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Harry Crosby: Three Poems in Retrospect, with an introduction

[The following is in celebration of the recent publication by MadHat Press of Selected Poems by Harry Crosby, which brings back the work of a major but twice forgotten avant-garde poet from the period of American poetry between the two world wars.  In 1973 George Quasha and I had promoted his recovery/rediscovery in our anthology/assemblage America a Prophecy, and in the following year I carried this forward in Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant-Garde Poetry 1914-1945.  The poems reprinted below are from the latter work, followed here by my original introduction.  My own sense of Crosby’s value as a poet & prolific innovator has never diminished. (J.R.)]


(for Lady A.)

black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black   SUN   black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black
black  black  black  black  black



    Take the word Sun which burns permanently in my brain. It has accuracy and alacrity. It is monomaniac in its intensity. It is a continual flash of insight. It is the marriage of Invulnerability with Yes, of the Red Wolf with the Gold Bumblebee, of Madness with Rā


    Birdileaves, Goldabbits, Fingertoes, Auroramor, Barbarifire, Parabolaw, Peaglecock, Lovegown, Nombrilomane


    I understand certain words to be single and by themselves and deriving from no other words as for instance the word I


    I believe that certain physical changes in the brain result in a given word -- this word having the distinguished characteristic of unreality being born neither as a result of conotation nor of conscious endeavor: Starlash

    There is the automatic word as for instance with me the word Sorceress; when the word goes on even while my attention is focused on entirely different subjects just as in swimming my arms and legs go on automatically even when my attention is focused on subjects entirely different from swimming such as witchcraft for instance or the Sorceress


                                  let the Sun shine
                                  (and the Sun shone)
on a wooden dial
in the garden of an old castle
(dumb when the Sun is dark)

on a pillar dial
in the cimetiere de l'Abbaye de Longchamp
(blessed be the name of the Sun for all ages)

on the wall of an imaginary house
Rue du Soleil Paris
(the initials of the makers H.C. and C.C. and date
October Seventh 1927 are on the face)
(true as the dial to the Sun)

on a small stone dial
over the door of a farm
(sole oriente orior
sole ponente cubo)

on the exterior of a ring dial
worn on the finger of the Princess Jacqueline
("Es-tu donc le Soleil pour vouloir que je me tourne
vers Toi")

on the dial of the south wall
                     of a tower
(the Sun is the end of the journey)

and there is a second dial
         on the north wall
(I tarry not for the slow)

on a dial
over an archway in a stableyard
(norma del tempo infallible io sono)
(I am the infallible measure of the time)

on a dial
in a garden in Malta

on a dial at Versailles

on an old Spanish dial
(the dial has now, 1928, disappeared a railroad line
having been taken through the garden where it stood)

on the wall of the
Bar de la Tempete at
Breast facing the sea
(c'est l'heure de boire)

on a small brass dial in
    the British Museum
on a silver dial in the
    Museum at Copenhagen
on a gold dial in the
    soul of a Girl
("mais à mon âme la nécessité de ton âme")

                  let the Sun shine
                  (and the Sun shone)

on a dial placed upon the
deck of the Aeolus
in the harbor of New London.
on a dial placed upon the
deck of the Aphrodisiac
in the harbor of Brest
on a dial placed upon
the deck of the Aurora
in the harbor of my Heart
("et quelques-uns en eurent connaissance")

                   let the Sun shine
                   (and the Sun shone)

on pyramids of stones
on upright stones in
ancient graveyards
on upright solitary stones
on bones white-scattered on the plain
the white bones of lions in the sun
the white lion is the phallus of the Sun
"I am the Lions I am the Sun"

on the dial of Ahaz who
reigned over Judah

on a rude horologe in Egypt
("as a servant earnestly
desireth the shadow")

on the eight dials of
the Tower of the Winds at Athens

on old Roman coins
unburied from the ground

on the twin sundials on
the ramparts of Carcassonne

on the pier at Sunderland
(and where is the sound
              of the pendulum)

on the sun-dials on the mosques
      of Saint Sophia
      of Muhammed
and of Sulimania

on the immense circular
block of carved porphyry
in the Great Square of
the City of Mexico

on Aztec dials

on Inca dials
(Femme offre ton soleil en adoration aux Incas)

on Teutonic dials built
into the walls of
old churches

on the dial of the Durer Melancholia
(above the hour-glass and near the bell)

on the white marble slab
which projects from the
facade of Santa Maria Della Salute
on the Grand Canal Venice

on the dial of the Cathedral at Chartres
("the strong wind and the snows"_

on a bedstead made of bronze
(and Heliogabalus had one of solid silver)

on a marriage bed
(lectus genialis)
on a death bed
(lectus funebrius)

on a bed
style à la marquis
("ayant peur de mourir lorsque je couche seul")

on a bed
lit d'ange

on a flower bed
on a bed of mother-of-pearl
on a bordel bed
on a bed of iniquity
on a virgin bed
on a bed of rock

(To God the Sun Unconquerable)
to the peerless sun, we only

               let the Sun shine
               (and the Sun shone)

                 Soli  Soli  Soli

Harry Crosby

Born 1898.  Died 1929.  In the last two years of his life, Crosby had developed into a major image-making poet.  The myth he unfolded was of the Sun – both as male & female -- & he followed its orders through a striking series of structural innovations.  Editor of Black Sun Press in Paris (which published works by Hart Crane, Archibald MacLeish, Eugene Jolas, & D.H. Lawrence, along with his own first books), Crosby’s verse experiments included the use of found forms (racing charts, book lists, stock reports, etc.) & concrete poetry, all concerned with sun-related imagery.  After his suicide, several volumes of his work appeared, with introductions by Eliot, Lawrence, & Pound, among others.  But in the anti-“modernist” reaction of the 1930s he was turned into a virtual non-person.  In the context of a later time, however, the importance of his vision would seem clear – its dimensions suggested by Pound’s earlier summary, viz: “There is more theology in this book of Crosby’s than in all the official ecclesiastical utterance of our generation.  Crosby’s life was a religious manifestation.  His death was, if you like, a comprehensible emotional act. … A death from excess vitality.  A vote of confidence in the cosmos. … Perhaps the best indication one can give of Crosby’s capacity as a writer is to say that his work gains by reading all together.  I do not mean this as a slight compliment. It is true of a small minority only.”

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