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the perfect companion to his COLLECTED POEMS
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Howard Moss famously remarked of James Schuyler's poetry: "He is in touch with parts of himself not usually available for examination and not often handled by most writers." Moss was referring to a sexual honesty, but Schuyler is also unusually in touch with the everyday. He saw himself as an observer rather than philosopher, and made magic of what others deem commonplace, knowing there was more going on directly underneath. In his diary, there is much talk of weather, the sort that he turned into fine poetry ("This soft October," for example) and more quotidian fantasy. The entry for Thursday, March 16, 1989, begins: "On this brilliant, cool, delicious day the city seemed the work of a child who owns a pencil, a ruler, and a paint set." As the eighties draw on, his cat, Barbara, becomes a key player. Then again, in the lives of his friends, so does AIDS.
Schuyler's diary also served as a commonplace--in the other sense of the word-book. Quotes range from John Webster's great play The Duchess of Malfi to several passages from the memoir of Harry Daley, E.M. Forster's policeman lover; and Nathan Kernan has carefully annotated sources and filled in lacunae. Who knew that Cardinal Spellman's camp nickname was Minnie? What a delight to come upon the name of that Hitchcock-film actress Nova Pilbeam! James Schuyler thought himself as an observer, not a philosopher, but his poetry and prose are filled with decisive moments. Unlike some artists' personal records, his don't seem as if they were written with an eye to future publication. That doesn't decrease their casual intensity.Review:
Schuyler's poetry digs to the core of daily living in order to transcend it so convincingly. Daily living's a daily chore, and this poet imagined and titled his poems accordingly: "May 24th or So," "A Few Days," "Vermont Diary," "8/12/70," and so on. What to expect, then, from the diary of a poet whose approach was so diaristic to start with? Raw material galore--biography, memory, backstory. (Schuyler was formerly an art critic and at one-time a secretary to W. H. Auden.) But that's just the beginning; this fine book not only augments Schuyler's sizable poetic output but enriches it as well. There's a candor or lucidity to these journal entries that stands apart from (and next to) his point-blank lyrics and chapbook-length narrative poems. We know the routine already, but this time we're standing backstage. Lucky for us. Here, we see the writing is vivid and clean as ever, as after a day's events in March: "On this brilliant, cool, delicious day the city seems the work of a child who owns a pencil, a ruler, and a paint set." And editor Kernan knows his subject utterly, usefully well. A footnote defining an artist known for his ceiling frescoes reads: "Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Venetian painter; like Schuyler, a poetof skies."
Copyright © 1996, Boston Review. All rights reserved. -- From The Boston Review
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