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James Meetze



When asked to introduce this selection of poems, culled from the 200 pages of unpublished James Schuyler poems.1 I’ve been arranging for the past two and a half years, my first thought was, how to begin from the inside and work outward to substantially address all they contain? But these poems are the b-sides and rarities, if you will, to the poems we already have. That’s not to say they are any less valuable, any less stunning, or any less beautiful. They are, in my opinion, perhaps even more important if we are to view them as a secret entrance to his entire body of work. The poems within this selection cover most of Schuyler’s career. Some come from his first works of the early 50s, like “Sweet Roumanian Tongue” and “Coming Night,” which play at what would become his indisputable “Jimmyness.” Yet others, like the untitled poem that begins “The day gets slowly started,” from around the time of his writing The Payne Whitney Poems, show the darker, more morose side of his writing while he was dealing with his illness. But what these poems do is present the vision of a man so taken with the world and its instability, so tethered to real life that the astonishment in a new flower or the metallic gray of a rain cloud becomes almost hyper-real.
          I next thought about where these particular poems might take me. It is strange to think of James Schuyler in San Diego (the resting place of his papers), a city so removed from everything his poems do and say, a city so devoid of intimacy, both physical and interpersonal. So how to find intimacy in such a place? A vacation! To go off to Rome or Florence, Great Spruce Head Island, Long Island, or Manhattan, to sit in an English garden with hollyhocks, tulips and roses. It is easy to go when each of the poems contained here encapsulates a moment, a day, a memory so vivid and so human an experience that, as readers, we cannot help but live, albeit momentarily, within them. As such, Schuyler’s poems might begin to function as a transfer of energy—if one believes in that sort of thing—or a shared experience such as in “July Sixth ”2 where we also see:

The grape leaves, bluish-green on one side and creamy on the other…tossing every which way like a choppy sea churning up sand.
Bumble bees, like little flying bears, are floating up and down the stalks of the hollyhocks as smoothly as elevators.
          The already well-noted diaristic quality of Schuyler’s poetry gives us permission to enter the world he has captured. This is not a world of his creation, but the real world we, too, inhabit, and this poem, an early snapshot3 of his, opens the window on the timeless image of a summer afternoon. This is, however, merely one facet of the themes and conversations that enter these poems, as well as his entire oeuvre.

1. These “uncollected poems” are among his papers in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at UCSD.
2. Dated 7/6/1953.
3. Nathan Kernan, in his introduction to The Diary of James Schuyler, references a letter written by Schuyler to the painter and poet Joe Brainard, in which JS “wrote, half-seriously, ‘Perhaps there isn’t much more to poetry than point and snap.’” However “half-serious” this statement may be, there is an undeniable “eye” ever apparent in much of Schuyler’s poetry which could be described as photographic.

JAMES MEETZE is the author of I Have Designed This For You, as well as three chapbooks. His poems have been anthologized in Bay Poetics and Involuntary Vision: after Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams and have been included in numerous journals. He teaches poetry and song at the University of California, San Diego.

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