“Freely Espousing” by James Schuyler
Filed Under: Media & Tech | Posted: 10/08/2011 at 9:32PM
Comments | Region: New York | United States
This may be the first time I’ve read this book all the way through, though I struggled with it in 1982, when my professor, Ted Berrigan, required me to buy it, and strongly implied it was a masterpiece. At the time, I couldn’t perceive Schuyler — I didn’t have the sensitive fingertips one needs, for sentences like:
don’t add up to much when there’s nothing to leave:
a bedroom, stretching from Portland
to Richmond stunningly furnished in
Besides, I was searching for an elegant working-class diction, which I would find a decade later in Langston Hughes.
But Freely Espousing — with a beautiful rowboat on the cover, painted by Alex Katz – is perfect, or at least so far above the present-day poet that it feels like a blazing nine-pointed star slowly descending in one’s front yard. It’s full of wit, but sad wit:
The bay today breaks
in ripples of applause.
(As I write this out, I realize it’s a pun on "the day breaks.") Schuyler’s great breakthrough was assuming he had an audience, though he didn’t. He writes for delicate, brilliant, gay dancers.
This was published by Paris Review, before the magazine got taken over by cufflinks and billiard cues. In 1969, the year there should’ve been a revolution. Instead, there was Freely Espousing (with a title like an anarchist manifesto) and Crisis, an album by Ornette Coleman.