When asked to introduce this selection of poems, culled from the 200
of unpublished James Schuyler poems.1 I’ve been arranging for the
and a half years, my first thought was, how to begin from the inside
work outward to substantially address all they contain? But these poems
the b-sides and rarities, if you will, to the poems we already have.
not to say they are any less valuable, any less stunning, or any less
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
this selection cover most of Schuyler’s career. Some come from
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
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
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
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
papers), a city so removed from everything his poems do and say, a city
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
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
as a transfer of energy—if one believes in that sort of thing—or
shared experience such as in “July Sixth ”2 where we also
The grape leaves, bluish-green on one side and creamy on the
other…tossing every which way like a choppy sea churning up
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
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
2. Dated 7/6/1953.
3. Nathan Kernan, in his introduction to The
Diary of James Schuyler, references
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
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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