In his writing, his speaking, his very being, Harold Bloom was a great Teacher: provocative, often outrageous, and to use one of his favorite words, daemonic. Expounding Shakespeare or Emerson, the Bible or Cormac McCarthy, he invited his listeners to scorch our hands in the fire of literature and to accept the elemental encounter. It wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with Harold: it was a matter of participating. As he wrote in the just-published The American Canon, “Poems matter only if we matter.” His parting has made, as Shakespeare wrote in Antony and Cleopatra, “a gap in nature.”
“Stella Maris, As They Say” by Max Jacob
Nouvelle Revue Française, July 1934
The ocean colors my days: in love: my days!
But look, the ocean fades. Ah! May the evening breeze
bring boats! They’ll come out, they’ll consent,
the golden puppets after an accident.
I await whatever the horizon sends
to the leaden statue of my indifference.
O sea like varnish layer upon layer
O sea do you shake your delirious scales
for old hopes, disappointed, bringing ill?
Your turrets of foam above the rocks
announce the news with still more shocks
ghost of friends lost in death or fates
Oh well-loved days, turned, forever past.
Page after page! After each turning trace
the map? an ace? alas! the page! the beach, the place…
I wait to see what hero I might be
(you’ll still be waiting for him when he comes)
I wait to love my God as I love men’s limbs
I wait to love you more than the earth,
Jesus, Adam, and You, Mother of sacred birth.
Jean Valentine read at the ALSCW local meeting in New York City just now, on November 28, 2016, at Barnard, in an evening graciously co-sponsored by Saskia Hamilton and the program Women Poets at Barnard. The audience filled the handsome Sulzberger Parlor where, as Valentine noted, the portraits of earlier presidents of Barnard, thoughtful, formidable women, seemed also to be listening. Valentine read from her two most recent books, Break the Glass (2010) and Shirt in Heaven (2015), followed by new poems of quiet force and mystery.
A Pillow Book
By Suzanne Buffam
(Canarium Books, 93 pp., $14.00)
The Darkening Trapeze
By Larry Levis
(Graywolf, 100 pp., $16.00)
In her first two books, the Canadian poet Suzanne Buffam displayed an already masterful sophistication. Her versets, spare free verse, and prose poems let “the wonderful” glint from polished ironies; the prosaic shards of statement revealed, at moments, the shape of a vanished lyric whole. “The ignorant hills look familiar./ And the darkness shall be made new,” teased “On Nova Scotia,” echoing the Book of Revelation in The Irrationalist (2010). And at times, she gave her imagination permission to play luxuriantly, as in “Fireworks”: “Radiant pitchforks thunder in the now/ Trailing specters of is.” But more often, these early poems relied on mouse-trap wit and a lacquered knowingness. Only in the somewhat longer sequence “Trying” in The Irrationalist did another tone break through; the “I” in these prose fragments is vulnerable, experimenting with fictions of confession. And what is confessed, in flashes, is the desire to conceive a child.