Thursday, October 20, 2005


Where the world awakes

There are some poets I read often, whose work continues to speak to me and deepen my experience. There are others I read less often, at odd moments, for a perspective or sensibility they offer that I don't find elsewhere. One of the poets I read only occasionally, but who never disappoints, is Hart Crane.

Tom McGrath named Hart Crane as one of the 20th century poets whose presence McGrath felt in his own poems. Reading Crane, I can often hear the sea-sound and surging language that echo later in many of McGrath's poems.

And in the autumn drouth, whose burnished hands
With mineral wariness found out the stone
Whose prayers, forgotten, streamed the mesa sands?
He holds the twilight's dim perpetual throne.
(From "The Dance," in The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane, edited by Brom Weber, published by Doubleday, 1966. All passages quoted from Hart Crane here are from the above edition.)

Again and again when I read poems I listen for context. Sometimes their context when they were written, sometimes their context and relevance in the world now. Think of the Bushes and Cheneys and and Rumsfelds and Condoleeza Rices of the world, and the less publicized people who fund them, the pettiness and willful brutality, while reading the following lines from Crane's poem "Cape Hatteras":

The nasal whine of power whips a new universe...
Where spouting pillars spoor the evening sky,
Under the looming stacks of the gigantic power house
Stars prick the eye with sharp ammoniac proverbs,
New verities, new inklings in the velvet hummed
Of dynamos, where hearing's leash is strummed...
Power's script -- round, bobbin-bound, refined --
Is stropped to the slap of belts on booming spools, spurred
Into the bulging bouillon, harnessed jelly of the stars.
Towards what? The forked crash of split thunder parts
Our hearing momentwise; but fast in whirling armatures,
As bright as frogs' eyes, giggling in the girth
Of steely gizzards -- axle-bound, confined
In coiled precision, bunched in mutual glee
The bearings glint, -- O murmurless and shined
In oilrinsed circles of blind ecstasy!
Crane was born in 1899 (on July 21, the same day as Ernest Hemingway). His family was wealthy. During childhood he spent time in the Caribbean, on the Isle of Pines south of Cuba, where his grandfather had a fruit ranch. As he grew older, Crane's father, a hard-driving businessman in Cleveland, was outraged that his son was determined to write poetry. In 1932 Hart Crane ended his life by suicide, jumping off a ship in the Caribbean heading to New York.

I can't speak with any authority on the extent to which his being gay may have affected his relations with his family. Nor am I equipped to speculate on the reasons for his suicide. He published two books of poems during his lifetime, White Buildings and The Bridge, and he left behind at least an equal amount of uncollected and unpublished work.

In much of Crane's poetry, I hear a mixture of revulsion at the predatory commerce of modern empire, together with a fascination and attraction for the raw energy and gleaming trappings of industry and power. Crane's poetry at times depicts brilliantly the decaying corpse of early 20th century industrial capitalism, but for the most part remains stalled in time, does not move forward to articulate a vision of a living future.

To the white sand I may speak a name, fertile
Albeit in a stranger tongue. Tree names, flower names
Deliberate, gainsay death's brittle crypt. Meanwhile
The wind that knots itself in one great death --
Coils and withdraws. So syllables want breath.

But where is the Captain of this doubloon isle
Without a turnstile? Who but catchword crabs
Patrols the dry groins of the underbrush?
What man, or What
Is Commissioner of mildew throughout the ambushed senses?
His Carib mathematics web the eyes' baked lenses!
(From the poem "O Carib Isle!")

The writer Meridel LeSueur spoke often of the limits of of the bourgeois world outlook. The bourgeoisie, she said, conceive of the world in straight lines. They don't perceive that life moves in circles, in changing and renewing cycles, in which actions have consequences that may meet us down the road. The bourgeois world outlook sees only down a narrow tunnel, can conceive only of constant rape and plunder and death.

There are other possibilities. In a world in which change is possible, history can teach us if we will listen and learn. While it is necessary to perceive clearly the horror and destruction of the present; we can also reach beyond the present, toward a potential new world of sustaining life and beauty and resurgence.
Nancy Morejon, a poet of present-day Cuba (she was born in 1944), writes in one of her poems about her mother's childhood; the lines below are from the poem "Mother," in the selection Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing translated by Kathleen Weaver (published 1985 in a bilingual edition by The Black Scholar Press):

What days, those days when she ran barefoot
over the whitewash of orphanages,
and didn't laugh
or even see the horizon.
She had no ivory-inlaid bedroom,
no drawing-room with wicker chairs,
and none of that hushed tropical stained glass.
My mother had the handkerchief and the song
to cradle my body's deepest faith,
and hold her head high,
banished queen --
She gave us her hands, like precious stones,
before the cold remains of the enemy.

lyle, thanks for this. these lines are stunning:

To the white sand I may speak a name, fertile
Albeit in a stranger tongue. Tree names, flower names
Deliberate, gainsay death's brittle crypt. Meanwhile
The wind that knots itself in one great death --
Coils and withdraws. So syllables want breath.

i haven't read hart crane for years. i have a friend whose writing style is so lush and now reading crane, i see the influence. i'm going to go back to crane....thanks.
Howdy Lyle,
Thanks for stopping by, I added you to the aggregator at

I also wanted to clarify, the list of 100 Blogging Poets In 100 Days is NOT a top 100 list (Who the heck am I to make that determination?) but is in fact an effort on my part to highlight as many blogging poets as possible. I'm already planning the next promotion in hopes of finding and promoting as many blogging poets as I possibly can albeit I know some will be missed no matter how hard I try.

Also, while I'm not yet at liberty to go public, I know several people who are working on really big projects to promote blogging poets as well. It's always going to be hard to be a poet but thanks to the Blogosphere I think it might get ever so slightly easier.

Again, thanks for stopping by. -Billy
Lyle, I love White Buildings. Crane has always been one of the poets i admire from afar--he's difficult for me. i never really 'get' him, but I enjoy him all the same. He effects me more cerebrally, i guess.
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