The Daily

Seidelathon

“Arabia”

April 8, 2014 | by

Tonight, at our Spring Revel, we’ll honor Frederick Seidel with the Hadada Award. In the weeks leading up the Revel, we’ve been looking back at the work Seidel has published in The Paris Review throughout his career.

Zanzibar_Sunset

A sunset in Zanzibar. Photo: hobbs_luton, via Wikimedia Commons

When I first read “Arabia,” which appeared in our Summer 2011 issue, I was sitting on a rickety chair looking out at Lake Michigan. It was a gorgeous day in late June, a twenty-one-year-old cat was asleep at my feet, and I’d just started to sweat in the sun when I read the poem’s first lines:

I move my body meat smell next to yours,
Your spice of Zanzibar. Mine rains, yours pours—
Sex tropics as a way to not be dead.
I don’t know who we are except in bed.

This was before I’d read much of Seidel’s work, and these lines felt outrageous to me, especially that long row of monosyllables, “as a way to not be dead.” It was the perfect poem to read on a summer vacation—as long as it went on, I was living in a kind of lewd Zanzibar of the the mind.

With its ostentatious rhymes (Labia with Arabia), its nods and winks to the politics of the day (“The president of the United States / Is caught between those two tectonic plates, / Republicans and Democrats”) and its flagrantly oversexed images (a cowboy sipping honey from a pair of sweet lips), “Arabia” now reads to me like vintage Seidel—the way it forces the visceral and the bodily to coexist with the elegant, the faint taunt that comes in a line like “I’m happy staring at what makes me stare.” It also contains what you might read as an incidental summary of Seidel’s poetics: “It’s politics, it’s tropics, and it’s warm.” (And it is, like sex tropics, a great way not to be dead.) After that first stanza, it continues:

I’ll tell you someone I’m not happy with—
But no I won’t. I won’t destroy the myth.
The president of the United States
Is caught between those two tectonic plates,

Republicans and Democrats, the nude
Alternatives to naked solitude.
It’s politics, it’s tropics, and it’s warm
Enough to arm the sunrise with a car alarm

That’s going off and starts the earthquake shake
And shiver, shiver, of the sobbing steak.
O sweet tectonic fault line and sweet lips
Exuding honey that the cowboy sips.

Read the whole poem here.

 

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“For Holly Andersen”

March 25, 2014 | by

On April 8, at our Spring Revel, we’ll honor Frederick Seidel with the Hadada Award. In the weeks leading up the Revel, we’re looking at Seidel’s poems.

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Bemelman's Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, New York. Photo: Arvind Grover

Over the weekend, I turned on Studio 360. A cardiologist was describing the health benefits of dance—and this cardiologist was none other than Holly Andersen, hero of a great poem by Frederick Seidel, from his 2006 collection, Ooga-Booga. Dr. Andersen is also the dedicatee of the poem. I guess you could say she is its muse, but hero is the better word. This is a poem about heroism: doing your job in the face of death. It happens also to be a love poem, for in Seidel’s work love and admiration are rarely far apart. I never have a drink at the Carlyle Hotel without thinking of the first lines, and I think of the last lines much more often than that.

Seidel has never given a public reading, but he has made several recordings of his poems, including this one. I played it as soon as the segment was over.

What could be more pleasant than talking about people dying,
And doctors really trying,
On a winter afternoon
At the Carlyle Hotel, in our cocoon?
We also will be dying one day soon.

Dr. Holly Anderson has a vodka cosmopolitan,
And has another, and becomes positively Neapolitan,
The moon warbling a song about the sun,
Sitting on a sofa at the Carlyle,
Staying stylishly alive for a while.

Her spirited loveliness
Does cause some distress.
She makes my urbanity undress.
I present symptoms that express
An underlying happiness in the face of the beautiful emptiness.

She lost a very sick patient she especially cared about.
The man died on the table. It wasn't a matter of feeling any guilt or doubt.
Something about a doctor who can cure, or anyway try,
But can also cry,
Is some sort of ultimate lullaby, and lie.

 

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Flame

March 18, 2014 | by

On April 8, at our Spring Revel, we’ll honor Frederick Seidel with the Hadada Award. In the weeks leading up the Revel, we’re looking back at the work Seidel has published in The Paris Review throughout his career.

Flame_1

Photo: Shreyas Joshi, via Wikimedia Commons

“Flame” appeared in our Spring 1981 issue, which included stories by Faulkner, Carver, and Gass; poems by Amiri Baraka and Maxine Kumin, both of whom died earlier this year; and an interview with Rebecca West.

With its images of fireflies, moonlight, and waves, the poem finds Seidel at his most earnest; a muted sadness, almost romantic, permeates “Flame,” which is devoid of the wry, lacerating ironies that usually mark his work. And it finishes with one of the most quietly perceptive descriptions of, well, a flame that I can remembering encountering. Here, best to read it for yourself; the poem is more beautiful than any writing about it will be.

The honey, the humming of a million bees,
In the middle of Florence pining for Paris;
The whining trembling the cars and trucks hum
Crossing the metal matting of Brooklyn Bridge
When you stand below it on the Brooklyn side—
High above you, the harp, the cathedral, the hive—
In the middle of Florence. Florence in flames.
Like waking from a fever ... it is evening.
Fireflies breathe in the gardens on Bellosguardo.
And then the moon steps from the cypresses and
A wave of feeling breaks, phosphorescent—
Moonlight, a wave hushing on a beach.
In the dark, a flame goes out. And then
The afterimage of a flame goes out.

Buy your ticket to the Revel here.

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Dayley Island

March 11, 2014 | by

On April 8th, at our Spring Revel, we’ll honor Frederick Seidel with the Hadada Award. In the weeks leading up the Revel, we’re looking back at the work Seidel has published in The Paris Review throughout his career.

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Photo: Christoph Michels

Dayley Island” is the first poem Frederick Seidel published in The Paris Review—it appeared in our twenty-sixth issue, from Summer/Fall 1961, alongside work by Norman Mailer, Thom Gunn, Malcolm Lowry, and Tom Keogh, among many others; there were also interviews with Ilya Ehrenburg and Marianne Moore. (“I have a passion for rhythm and accent, so blundered into versifying.”)

In the sumptuousness of a line like “My slippers / exhale lamé,” “Dayley Island” bears the traces of what would become, to me, a Seidel hallmark: a certain brand of knowing, luxurious weariness. The poem also makes elegant use of one of my all-time favorite verbs, the arrantly unpoetic “winterize.”

But what’s it about, you ask? Well, far be it for me to say. But a brief round of Googling did reveal this amusingly compact summary, from a 1963 edition of The Virginia Quarterly Review: “In ‘Dayley Island’ the slaughter of rabbits on a Maine coastal island becomes associated in the mind of an aging refugee woman psychiatrist with the extermination of her family by Nazi hands.” Sounds like something to add to your Netflix queue. The VQR also notes, approvingly, that “some readers may feel … their decorum outraged” by Seidel’s poems.

26

Gulls spiral high above
The porch tiles and my gulf-green,
Cliff-hanging lawn, with their
Out-of-breath wail, as
Dawn catches the silver ball
Set in the dried up bird bath
To scare the gulls. My slippers
Exhale lamé.

I was egged on by old age—
To sell that house,
Winterize this house,
Give up my practice...

Read the whole poem here, and buy your ticket to the Revel here.

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