We are about to turn the calendar page to March. Every February reminds me of James Schuyler. Lots of things remind me of his work and words. Here is a poem written on February 28 (1969) that reflects a memory from years gone by, the glow of remembered light.
A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can’t see
making a bit of pink
I can’t quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can’t remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we’d gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They’re just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can’t get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She’s so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It’s getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It’s the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It’s the shape of a tulip.
It’s the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It’s a day like any other.
I will start a new series based upon the obscure memoirs James Schuyler lists in this Diary edited by Nathan Kernan.
When I was at GSHI the summer of 2017 reading the entries mainly written on the island I was confounded by the archaic literature he bothered with. Do all titles of yesteryear seem as stale? Will one day my books seem like fire fodder?
I think this is something we all worry about—or should be worried about.
The Introduction by Kernan explains that Schuyler though a sporadic diarist himself was a lifelong reader of diaries. James Woodeforde, Gilbert White, Virginia Woolf, and Dorothy Wordsworth. He enjoyed gardening journals, descriptions of the English countryside, details of 18th C. food and drink.
It was a memoir, Logan Pearsall Smith’s Unforgotten Years, that awakened him to the realization that he too must become a writer: reading the book as a teenager, Schuler looked up from his backyard tent and saw the landscape “shimmer.” Schuyler quotes at length in his Diary from Henry Daley’s memoir, This Small Cloud, from Iris Origo’s War in Val d’Orcia and from Boris Pasternak’s Safe conduct, he extolls Charles Darwin’s memoirs for their “simplicity” and “reticence of intimacy.” . . . One of the characteristics of the Diary, as of Schuyler’s poetry, is the way memories seem to rise abruptly out of the fabric of whatever else is going on, like Proust’s “involuntary memories.”
To be fair, in his Diary Schuyler also flashes back to tidbits from movies, musical recordings, stuff his friends have said. He weaves back and forth and finds connections or mental links to esoteric trivia.
At times Schuyler employed the “collage” poem, picking up pieces found lying around much like a Joseph Cornell box—both Cornell and his work were familiar to Schuyler and his crowd, The New York School. Cornell would scour the junk and thrift stores of New York City and find small, weird treasures—fragments of once beautiful and precious objects—and organize them into shadow boxes, the juxtaposition of these objects casting them into new light. A collection of mundane details. It was about remembering and revisioning.
Just as “February” was a reaction to the smoke and light happening outside his window, he was also reliving light from his time in Palermo, Italy, the Palazzo Abatelli, “and the carved stone ropes around its doors and windows” (Just the Thing, Letter to Miss Batie,pg 240.)