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the collected poems of james laughlin: ExCERPTS

from the Introduction:

Two things are likely to jump out at a reader taking this book in hand. First, its size and heft. Second, that in the six decades of the writing life of James Laughlin, whose collected poetry this is, more than three quarters of these 1,250-odd poems date from his last fifteen years. This isn't simply a case of Rimbaud in reverse, of a poet actually gaining momentum with age instead of burning out in adolescence, but of a prominent mana publisher, writer, and entrepreneurgrowing in intellectual confidence, coming at last to infuse his later work with all the knowledge and experience that a long and successful life brings, though hardly mellowing. Thomas Hardy, with his darker verse, is perhaps a distant cousin in this regard. The question is, how did this remarkable reversal come about? To answer it requires an understanding of who James Laughlin was and what he did with his life.
...

And yet, looking over the whole of JLs workno matter what the form or style or subjectyou can, in fact, find a unifying thread: New Directions. I dont mean simply his personal involvement with his authors or in the long history of the house, though of course there is that; of equal consequence is his immersion in the books themselves. JLs evolving oeuvre is the counterweight to NDs evolving list. Should there be any doubt, you have only to peruse JLs notes to his poems to understand to their provenance. To put it another way, the poems and ND together comprise JLs intellectual biography; even his few but telling deeply personal poems, those concerning his family, evidence his remarkable sensibility. Here is my advice to the reader of this book. Open these Collected Poems at random or take it at your leisure from beginning to end, but when you do, consider how it came about. You may think of it as The Education of James Laughlin’’ and, by good fortune, perhaps a furtherance of your own.

Copyright ©2014 by Peter Glassgold

 

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TECHNICAL NOTES

Catullus is my master and I mix
a little acid and a bit of honey
xxxxxin his bowl love

is my subject & the lack of love
which lack is what makes evil a
xxxxxpoet must strike

Catullus could rub words so hard
together their friction burned a
xxxxxheat that warms

us now 2000 years away I roll the
words around my mouth & count
xxxxxletters in each

line thus eye and ear contend in-
side the poem and draw its move-
xxxxxment tight Milton

thought rhyme was vulgar I agree
yet sometimes if it's hidden in
xxxxxthe line a rhyme

will richen tone the thing I most
despise is quote poetic unquote
xxxxxdiction I prefer

to build with plain brown bricks
of common talk American talk then
xxxxxset 1 Roman stone

among them for a key I know Ca-
tullus knew a poem is like a blow
xxxxxan impact strik-

ing where you least expect this I
believe and yet with me a poem
is finally just
xxxxxa natural thing.

 

SOME PEOPLE THINK

that poetry should be a-
dorned or complicated Im

not so sure I think Ill
take the simple statement

in plain speech compress-
ed to brevity I think that

will do all I want to do.

 

 

THE SHAMEFUL PROFESSION

For years I tried to conceal from the villagers that I wrote poetry
I didnt want them to know that I was an oddball
I didnt want the young men with beards wearing baseball caps who
xxxxxcome to the liquor store in their pickups to buy sixpacks to know
xxxxxthat I was some kind of sissy
I decided it was prudent to buy the Daily News instead of the Times at
xxxxxthe drugstore
I burned my poem drafts at home before I took the trash to the dump,
xxxxxkids scavenge around there and the old man who does the recy-
xxxxxcling is nosey
I took every precaution
But our town is not an easy place to keep secrets, everybody knows
xxxxxeverybody and they gossip when theyre getting their mail at the
xxxxxpost office
Things began to come apart
A young man with long hair and a city accent showed up and asked in
xxxxxthe stores where the poet Laughlin lived
Then a pipe burst and the plumber told people that he saw thousands
xxxxxof books stacked in the cellar, some of them in foreign languages
Next day the head of the Volunteer Fire Department came, pretending
xxxxxto check the wiring
I began to get a bit paranoid; the town trooper is supposed to check
xxxxxeach rural road once a week but he came up our road past my house
xxxxxthree days in succession
The axe fell when somehow a reporter for the county paper heard the
xxxxxrumors and there was a little item: local poet caught speeding
xxxxxtwice on 272, Motor Vehicles may suspend license
Much has changed in my life now
Nobody has laughed at me in the street (Im over six feet weight 245
xxxxxand look pretty fit for my age) but they look at me in a funny way
I dont go to Apple House our grocery store any more because a little
xxxxxgirl with her finger in her nose pointed me out to the check-out
xxxxxlady and asked her something; now I get my liquor and supplies
xxxxxin the next towns and order Honeybaked Hams from Virginia by
xxxxxmail


My life is all different now that they know I write poems.
But if they think they can shame me out of it theyre very much mis-
xxxxxtaken. Im not breaking any law
Ill go on with it unless they have me declared a public nuisance and
xxxxxhave me sent to the Institute
Ive heard there is a poor old fellow in the Institute who claims he is
xxxxxHenry Wordsworth Longfellow. Hell understand and be my
xxxxxfriend; we can recite to each other if they wont let us have paper
xxxxxand pencils.

 

DYLAN

One of us had to make the official identification of Dylans body at
xxxxxthe Medical Examiners Morgue
Brinnin and I tossed a coin and I lost
It was a crummy building in the hospital complex on First Avenue
xxxxxand the basement, smelling of formaldehyde, was a confusion
xxxxxof trolleys with rubber sheets covering bodies
A little old man in a rubber apron was in charge
He put on his glasses to read the name I had written on a slip of
xxxxxpaper and looked around, trying to remember
He lifted one sheet. “Is this him?” It wasn't
Two or three more who weren't “Old Messy” of the pubs of Soho and
xxxxxChelsea
Finally we found him and he looked awful, all bloated
“Insult to the brain” was what it said on the autopsy report, too
xxxxxmuch booze for too many years
The old man sent me to a window to confirm the identification
xxxxxwhere there was a little girl about five feet high, struggling with
xxxxxthe forms, using a pencil stub
She got me to write “Dylan” for her on the form because she had
xxxxxnever heard of such a name and couldn’t spell it
“What was his profession?” she asked
I told her he was a poet; she looked perplexed
“What’s a poet?” she asked
I told her a poet was a person who wrote poems
She put that down, and that's what it says on the form:
Dylan Thomas— poet (he wrote poems).

Copyright © 1997, 2014 by The Estate of James Laughlin

 

 

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