Monday, February 8, 2010

Frederick Seidel is Fun and Games for Everyone!

Copyright Mark Mahaney

If you don't know his work--and you should-- this article from Wyatt Mason is a good place to begin:



One night after Christmas last year, in a dark, well-upholstered restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American poet Frederick Seidel, an elegant man of 73 with an uncommonly courtly manner, told me a story about poetry’s power to disturb. “It was years ago,” Seidel explained in his measured voice, “in the days when I had an answering machine. I’d left my apartment, briefly, to go outside to get something, and when I came back there was a message. When I played it, there was a woman’s voice, a young woman’s voice sounding deeply aroused, saying: ‘Frederick Seidel . . . Frederick Seidel . . . you think you’re going to live. You think you’re going to live. But you’re not. You’re not going to live. You’re not going to live. . . .’ All this extraordinary, suggestive heavy breathing, getting, in the tone of it, more and more intensely sexual, more gruesome, and then this sort of explosion of sound from this woman, and: ‘You’re . . . not . . . going . . . to . . . live.’ 
Seidel paused. The bright cries of a group of young women giving a baby shower in the adjoining booth rose and fell behind the bare crown of Seidel’s gray head. “So,” he continued, “the first thing I did was call a girlfriend. And the woman said, ‘I’m coming over.’ And did. And listened to this thing. And burst into tears. Because it really was horrific.” Another friend, a federal judge, also listened, insisting that Seidel call the police immediately and tell them he’d received a death threat. “They came by and they said: ‘It’s real. Have you published a book recently?’ I had. And that was it, really. Meaning nothing happened. But,” Seidel said, his large blue eyes brightening, “it was the most severe review I’ve ever received.” Read more.


 Or this one, by Michael Hofman:




Poems 1959–2009, by Frederick Seidel.
 Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $40.00.

Frederick Seidel has always been interested in taboos. Only no-no’s need apply. Everything in him is sex, politics, religion, race, and class. A gentle giant of a black doorman remembered from childhood—

He wore a visored cap
With a high Gestapo peak
On his impenetrably black marble.
Waits out there in the sun to open the car door.
My noble Negro statue’s name was Heinz,
My calmly grand George Washington. 

—is to him a full house by any other name. 
From the beginning, Seidel was always a bogeyman, a Bürgerschreck, anépateur—a carnivore if not a cannibal in the blandly vegan compound of contemporary poetry. He is a purveyor of picong, a Trinidadian term, “from the French piquant, meaning sharp or cutting, where the boundary between good and bad taste is deliberately blurred, and the listener is sent reeling.” (This, as good a description of Seidel as inadvertence or serendipity can come up with, is from The World Is What It Is, Patrick French’s outstanding new biography of V.S. Naipaul, and what a lot the authors of Ooga-Booga and A Bend in the River have in common: both of them Insider Outsiders, traveling compulsively on all five continents; sharing an unspeakably deep attraction to a sort of eighteenth-century squirearchy that may or may not be England; a fascination with Africa, with Joseph Conrad, with Islam; both are students of the remorseless spread of global capital and culture, the Gulf Stream of development and the countervailing El Niño of terror; both are equally at ease in fiction and non-fiction, and in a blurring of both; and last and far from least, both exhibit, and are proud of, an insouciant erotomania. Surely Seidel, never a professional poet, never a reviewer, reciter, promoter, or teacher of poetry, could put his name to Naipaul’s boast: “I have never had to work for hire; I made a vow at an early age never to work, never to become involved with people in that way. That has given me a freedom from people, from entanglements, from rivalries, from competition. I have no enemies, no rivals, no masters; I fear no one.” Both are barbed, solitary, aloof, alarming figures, becoming, if anything, less mellow with age, and more like their intrinsic fossil selves, jagged and serviceable, “sharp / And meek,” Seidel says somewhere—he does love his noses—“like the eyesight of the deaf.” Thomas Mann’s term Greisen-Avantgardismus—meaning something like “the experimental progressivism occasionally found in the very old”—suggests itself. We as readers are uneasily privileged to witness their bold, inflammatory, defamatory gestures—gestures we know there will never be time or second thought or pusillanimousness to take back.) Typically, Seidel’s splendid ketchup, piccalilli, and black Poems—its featly five hundred pages covering fifty years of writing—runs backwards, to that beginning, to the slim volumeFinal Solutions, which shared its author’s initials and was published to no little controversy in 1963 when Seidel was twenty-eight, and reasonably fresh out of Harvard. Now Final Solutions stands at the end of Poems 1959–2009, as if it was always going to be there. Read more.


There's not much of his poetry available online, but it seems to me his collected poems is well worth the hefty price tag, and there are other smaller volumes like Ooga-Booga that will give you a taste, too.

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