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

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seymour Faust: Two Poems Recovered

[In a conversation the other day with David Antin, the name of Seymour Faust came up, as it often does for us. In the distant days when we were all students at City College in New York, Faust was among our few poet companions – a friendship & close association that lasted till some time around 1960, when he & I broke off for personal reasons that now seem trivial in retrospect. He was certainly present at the time that Antin and I founded Hawk’s Well Press in 1958 & published his Lovely Quarry as the first of a small number of books that I was to continue to publish over the next several years. David kept up some contact, now broken off, but as far as I can remember, I saw Sy only once after that, some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

[I was aware however of his later appearance in Cid Corman’s Origin and in Ron Silliman’s Tottels Miscellany (both in the 1970s), but if there was other publication over the intervening years, it went completely past me. It was only in 2004 or 2005 that Silliman cited him on his blog as one of a number of disappeared poets from the 1960s, describing him (wrongly) as “a Brooklyn poet” (he was actually like me from the Bronx) & suggesting (also wrongly) that “Cid [Corman] and I may have been the only people ever to publish him.” There was also some talk about his self-imposed isolation after being scorned by fellow poets as “a hawk on Vietnam,” but I have a feeling that there was far less to that than meets the eye.

[More to the point though was Silliman’s short account of Faust’s actual value as a poet: “The mix between rhetoric & vocabulary here is unique to my experience, yet I don’t believe he ever published a book. … What I have of his … is an echo I can hear in my head to this day, utterly articulate, completely unlike anything – or anyone – else. I’ll never be able to thank [him] enough for all I was given.” To which I can only add my assent and republish as a personal tribute & recollection the following two poems as they appeared in Tottels Miscellany.]


old books
words polished for a hundred years
and put away a thousand
stories polished for a thousand years
odyssey, logia of jesus,, and of kung
how you have been true to us, and false

in this century
how you have been false
how the airplanes have made liars of you
the nuclear piles in the pressure hulls
electromagnetic waves
how you are undercut by the spectroheliograph
the cardiogram
guidance systems and gunnery
how advertising puts you down
and the unions and the powerful
the whole radio audience knows better than him
whom you mislead

how your paradoxes pall
your parables and fables
your modular stories
how your symbols fail
techniques of dialog
points of view

better anything than you
better to strain your eyes on protoplasm
s it flows indistinctly in bright or darkened field
under the lenses of the turret
in the utter silence of concentration
at your cosmic distance
close at hand
to trace the rockflows of the maria
the traces of devastation that radiate
from the circular maria
or film the solar prominences in hydrogen light

better the doctors lifetime
the lifetime of the assyriologist
the searcher of beach terraces of the north
at Denbigh or Krusenstern
or Onion Portage
disinterring flints and cores
already seeing man as something over
or one at work
on the improbable future
the designer of high speed high altitude aircraft
the meteorologist
tracer of clouds
or at opposite poles
the observer at Byrd Station


One real rose
in a glass vase
a cup of concave petals
filled level
to the vermillion ruffle of its surface
the stem makes angles in the water column
the long teardrop shaped

* * *

from the Cairo geniza
from the past
800 different poems
like the stones of a temple scattered
you sing of fields and flocks
the fields clothed in sheep and blades in dew
the farmers and the herdsmans world
as in those days they did
you were
you do emerge
from the empty spaces
the blank areas of the past
what shall we learn
what was going on
what shall we know of you

* * *

it changes lane
on the interstate
citybound on the right
southbound therefore
over 60
lights on
on its new suspension
reflections on the chrome wch frames its lights
or traveling
across its curving windshield glass
as good
and no better
as it has to be
as is desirable lets say
(all things considered)
in such things

* * *

names of categories
thin orange and fine orange wares
a series going back to crude beginnings
diversified diachronically
vessels with rattles in their feet
or figures moulded on them
with whistles and pictures
or portrait vases
or vessels for the interment of a child

* * *

or read Su
or anyone
and translated thru the mists
see the past emerge
the trees and plants take place
on the space of earth
the rounded boulders
the office-holder
riding thru snow
is seen by the suffering of the villagers
he offers what he can


Joseph Donahue said...

Thanks for these. Would love to read more of his work.

Kirby Olson said...

I loved the Seymour faust poems and became fascinated. He was a teacher at a private high school in Massapequa from which he has now retired, and is living in Massapequa. I have an email address and a surface mail address for him, but am currently travelling in NYC and environs. When I return to my abode, I shall send it.

If you google his name, you'll find a blog by his former high school students remembering strange things he'd said in class.

There are also two extant books that you can find through alibris.

I think what's odd about him is that he had so thoroughly incorporated scientific language into his poetry.

He coiuld actually think, and write lyrically, simultaneously. This is very rare. I think the only other poet of his time who really managed this was Corso at his very very best.

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Daniel said...

I just found a copy of Lovely Quarry in my mother's things. She was in New York City in the late 50s, and she may have known you.

Jerome Rothenberg said...

Daniel -- I'm interested in knowing more, if you can contact me using the email address in the column at the right. Best, JR