Expansive Poetry – (A Quick Review)

Hart Crane (1899-1932) in 1930 in New York City – Photograph by Walker Evans

AG (looking back on “Expansive Poetics”, so far): We had started with a few early precursors. I started, (since this was an international shot  – or, at least, a Western shot), I started with a couple of poems of (Alexander) Pushkin, which were prophetic, about the poet putting burning coals on his tongue, or the poet meeting a seraphin the middle of the desert who pressed burning coals into his heart. And (then) we had, for expansive rhythm, an early nineteenth-century sample of high vibration in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells”. Then we went through this last session with some of Walt Whitman, who is, in a way, the innovator and expansive master, the one who first let his imagination completely loose to wander round the universe and empathize and sympathize with anything he could think of. Then we checked-out, I think, Christopher Smart,who was an early English precursor also, who wrote in long lines in the mad-house in England in the time of Doctor Samuel Johnson, eighteenth century. We went over some poems written in Europe inspired by Walt Whitman – by a friend and visitor, Edward Carpenter, who wrote in Whitmanic lines (So we were using Whitman as the great innovator for American-style expansiveness. Then we switched over to the children of Whitman and read Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Oda a Walt Whitman” (Ode to Walt Whitman) – “Not for one moment, beautiful aged Walt Whitman,/have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies/and your corduroy shoulder worn by the moon/…your voice like a pillar of ashes – ancient and beautiful as mist” – Then we went to a Portuguese (1907 or (19)10), Fernando Pessoa, who also had an ode to Walt Whitman, saying that walking down Gold Street (the Wall Street of Lisbon) he too, with his pince-nez and his business-suit, was a child of Whitman, and he defied everybody, including God, to prevent him from leaping right into Walt Whitman’s arms on the very moment, right in the middle of Lisbon.!  So all these samples are in this anthology (Fernando Pessoa being the great modernist poet of Portugal). Then we went on to.. what other children of Whitman did we get into?.. does anybody remember what the next shot was?

Student: Hart Crane

AG: Hart Crane. Hart Crane also had an apostrophe to Whitman in his poem “The Bridge” (which is printed in here (also)). Then Ann Charters.. Then Robert Duncan..

Student: Oh Allen, excuse me a moment, this might be inappropriate
AG: Well if it’s inappropriate, let’s wait, yes? – or is it appropriate?
Student: It might be appropriate
AG: Oh, oh, appropriate, ok
Student: Do you like Hart Crane?
AG: Yeah
Student: Like?
AG: Yeah
Student: Okay.
AG: Sure. I wouldn’t put him in the anthology unless I liked him.
Student: Well you might have been (trying to be) fair.
AG: No, no, I only put things in here that I liked.
Student: No, it seemed as though..that’s why I’ve been asking about Hart Crane..
AG: Yeah, I like Hart Crane, sure.
Student: Okay.
AG: Yeah, I identify with him. He was a great homosexual poet in the tradition of Whitman – As I am
Student; There were a lot of them.

AG: Yeah. As I am. So, therefore, it’s right up the same alley. And I might say that it may be that the very notion of expansive, tearful, weeping, inspired poetry may be just the hysterical faggot fix that you get in poetry coming up from, (or) coming through, Whitman to (Sergei) Esenin, to some of the hysterical homosexuals, up through Lorca, who was gay, up through Edward Carpenter, who was gay, up through Hart Crane, who was gay, up through me, (who (is) gay). So it may be actually a very specific thing that I’m talking about , but, actually, most ordinary people have responded to Whitman and to Hart Crane and to Esenin and to Carpenter, as just straight inspired language. (though some of the emotion, or feeling of deprivation and longing, that you find in Whitman and Hart Crane and the others is, maybe, just a solitary homosexual yearning (in Lorca, particularly, Lorca’s “Ode to Walt Whitman”)
If you get ahold of this anthology that we’ve put together, you can look up these texts, because I don’t want to go over them. We already did that. And I want to go on.

Then Ann Charters, who is Whitman’s biographer, came visiting.

Student: Whitman’s biographer? Mayakovsky’s?

AG: Yeah, who is Whitman’s biographer, Mayakovsky’s biographer, (Jack) Kerouac’s biographer – who was Kerouac’s first biographer – and then wrote a history of the love affair between Lili Brik and Maakovsky (who came and stayed for ten days) and so we switched over, right in time, to Russian poetry, and touched a little bit on the Futurists of 1905 (that is, the people who broke through into the modern temperament, twentieth-century, and began writing about, (as was mentioned), taxi-cabs, dynamos, ferris-wheels, subways, trains, tram-cars, bringing twentieth-century furniture into the poem.

And then we went over Mayakovsky’s political set-up and began digging what was happening to the Russian Futurists after they made their breakthrough and after they called forrevolution and they got their revolution. And half of them got shot, sent to concentration camps, or kept under surveillance by (Joseph) Stalin. We touched on that at the beginning, in and out, particularly with Mayakovsky, who finally wound up committing suicide in 1930, caught in the squeeze of love-affairs, as well as the beginning of (the) erosion of his political  heroic stature as the bureaucrats around him under Stalin began closing in on him and closed down his play, “TheBedbug” and his girlfriend was out-of-town – Lili Brik..

So Ann Charters covered some of that. So now what I want to do is go back to the Futurists and their breakthrough in the twentieth-century, and start with Russian poetry other than Mayakovsky, cover a little bit more of (Velimir) Khlebnikov, (Nikolai) Gumilev, and maybe Anna Akhmatova. To do that we have to go back to the Stray Dog Café or the Wandering Dog Café in St. Petersburg.

[Audio for the above is available here, starting at approximately two-and-three-quarter minutes in and  continuing until approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in]  


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