Samuel Greenberg (1893-1917)

Samuel Greenberg – Self Portrait – courtesy the Fales Library, Special Collections, New York University

Allen Ginsberg (to his students at Naropa, in 1974) on Samuel Greenberg

“Samuel Greenberg died of tuberculosis in 1913, or something, [1917 actually]  in New York, in one of the welfare islands {Wards Island] . He wrote some very beautiful poems that were never published in his lifetime, but were picked up by Hart Crane, and turned Hart Crane onto a funny kind of home-made language (Ginsberg speaks elsewhere of  “mind-plays of obvious charm, even naivete”)

The Hart Crane-Greenberg connection (Hart Crane’s “appropriation” of Greenberg – explicitly borrowing, though never acknowledging) has proved to be the lasting (posthumous) thread.

“By a peninsula, the painter sat and/Sketched the uneven vally groves/The apostle gave alms to the Meek, the valcano burst/ In fusive sulphor and hurled Rocks and ore into the air/ Heaven’s sudden change at/ The drawing tempestious/ Darkening shade of Dense clouded Hues/The wanderer soon chose/His spot of rest, they bore the/ Chosen hero upon their shoulders/Whom they strangly admired – as/ The Beach tide Summer of people desired”

compare with Hart Crane’s “Emblems of Conduct” – 

“By a peninsula the wanderer sat and sketched/The uneven valley graves. While the apostle gave/Alms to the meek the volcano burst/With sulphur and aureate rocks …/For joy rides in stupendous coverings/Luring the living into spiritual gates.

Orators follow the universe/And radio the complete laws to the people./The apostle conveys thought through discipline./Bowls and cups fill historians with adorations,-/Dull lips commemorating spiritual gates.

The wanderer later chose this spot of rest/Where marble clouds support the sea/And where was finally borne a chosen hero./By that time summer and smoke were past./Dolphins still played, arching the horizons,/But only to build memories of spiritual gates.”

Marc Simon, Hart Crane scholar, has examined the connection extensively in his Samuel Greenberg, Hart Crane, and the Lost Manuscripts (1978), convincingly concluding that the influence was indeed, “quite lasting and quite substantial”, (more than just this one poem).  Simon asserts that Crane eventually came to “symbolically identify” with Greenberg, and that this identification assisted him in the construction of subsequent major works.

The edition of Greenberg’s poems that Allen had available and would cite is:

That edition (from 1947), regrettably included some intrusive “editorial correction” (correction of spelling, etc).

James Laughlin (New Directions) had published a smaller (but unadulterated) collection, some eight years earlier, Poems From The Greenberg Manuscripts.  (From his enthusiastic introduction: “Sam Greenberg was crazy about words, crazy about their sounds and shapes and the magical life of association which they have unto themselves as words. This boy was drunk on words and he poured them forth with a wild, chaotic passion”).

Poems From The Greenberg Mauscripts sees a welcome re-publication in a new and expanded edition (with a contribution by Garrett Caples as well as Laughlin’s original essay, Caples includes a new selection of poems from Greenberg’s notebooks, along with some of his prose).

“Now the work of this mysterious, impoverished, proto-surrealist American poet, who never published a word in his life, is available to a new generation of readers.”

‘This poet, Greenberg, . . . was a Rimbaud in embryo. . . . No grammar, no spelling, and scarcely any form, but a quality that is unspeakably eerie and the most convincing gusto..” (Hart Crane)

Charles Bernstein’s  recent contemporay appraisals are exemplary and invaluable introductions to Greenberg’s work and can be found here and here

Jacob Silverman‘s essay, “Rimbaud in Embryo” may be read here 

Michaael Smith’s Logopoeia site is also a valuable resource for the “lost” Greenberg.

Poems From The Greenberg Mauscripts (expanded version)’s official pub date is tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *