Cleaving crane

At Hart Crane’s Tomb

“tangential slants,
inter-woven symbolisms”
—Hart Crane

often beneath—gulf of mexico waves
I can hear—the dice of bones being thrown
again—and again on murky ocean floors—
down below…where the orizaba—
left me with an embassy—of dead
poets listening to—obscure tangential

slants—interwoven words the bones—
of drowned men washing up—
on key west sandy beaches—
miami art deco hotels rotting—
decaying like me —that’s all that’s left
of us the poets—that were once alive
but not now—we’re only messages
undeliverable—washing ashore…
we’re mute—dead mariners now our
snake-eyes—are rattling dice…
we’re the bones dead men only—
mute things now…

Contriving Farther Tides

“Compass, quadrant
and sextant contrive
No farther tides…”
—Hart Crane

measuring—the line the way
enjambment works and all the other
things that go—into the tides…but mariners—
like me we also—invent & compute extended—

metaphors embedded—deep vividness…
i have my own compass and quadrant & sextant—
that my gay imagination employs despite being
deeply embedded in—the deliberate and exact…
despite yvor winters & the new york times…

Inventing an Idiom

“the beauty of experience—
rather than innocence...”
—Hart Crane

i wrote allen tate—
let’s invent an idiom translating jazz
into clean sparkling words…something beyond—

an insane jumble ofthe 4 winds and 6 senses—
and epic plumb pudding…a dream language—
like dunne brooding musky sensual with
an esoteric fragility…i wrote waldo frank—

each age has its own evocative quotidian…
except for ours… amazing languages—
from ancient days… how to make it new
jazz roof garden night? i wrote t. s. eliot—
i need you & evade you… your waste land
calm compared to mine… jean verdenal
drowned—like me returning home…
the orizaba railing the bridge i jumped over…

Shadows Under the Piers

“And of the curveship…”
—Hart Crane

emil opffer my lover—crossing
brooklyn bridge—east river down below

staten island & the harbor—knowing the joy
of whitmanesque love—and the companionship
peter doyle gave him—110 columbia heights
in bed with emil sleeping—the view out the
window—new york city morning…living the bridge—

voyaging into it like i did in the isle of pines…
moving it forward…inventing idioms—
like troughing waves…dusk to dawn creeping—
corridors of time…inventing atlantis—
all over again with me—in the middle of fifty
thousand years ago…antilles & west indies—
the dreaming prairie sod…it was all one american
mythic curveship of time…

The Broken Tower

“O jealousy of space”
—Hart Crane, Unpublished Poems
& Fragments, Complete Poems and
Selected Letters, New York: The
Library of America, 2006, 136.

spanish abbé night—behind us
growling mountains—thunder over the plains

this old hacienda—its tan patio balconies
palmetto-green walls—vera cruz villa
living like a romanoff—my fulbright
money—then the darkness—crescent
moon oozing down—behind the temples

mexican gods yawn—my fulbright bores them
i don’t feel at home—beneath pyramids
wreckage buried everywhere—debris, ruins
& edicts—thrown down steep steps—
my throbbing heart torn out—
beneath cold plateau stars
resigned to wonder—hours stretch
into centuries—my face buried in time—

wreckage all around me—grinning
skulls, debris, old ruins—my head
impaled on a spike—my throbbing gringo
heart—my bloody ohio carcass

thrown down steep steps—iguana green eyes—
pale as pernod in a glass—staring down at me
born tragically elegiac—my midnight
bruised eyeballs—stunned by mexican
beauty—serpent sweep of stars—planets

interlocking like gears—stone wheels of time—
a windy stormy night—incessant banging
shutters—trundle doors clamoring—

losing myself in mexico—beneath
cold plateau stars—these high altitudes

tequila-ripe breathing—brooklyn bridge far away
110 columbia heights—i’m unraveling
myself—ancient aztec umbilical
cord—snaking back into time—

Aztec apollo

“that night in Vera Cruz”
—Hart Crane, Unpublished Poems
& Fragments, Complete Poems and
Selected Letters, New York: The
Library of America

shadows pass thru our world—interludes between transits—old aztec gods young again—young aztec hustler—sizing up the tourists—their big fat asses—cute cisco kid smile—thin mexican moustache—his dark bedroom eyes—xochipilli guide—armpits & fragrant orchids—he knows i like him—big black sombrero—standing nude by the bed—jade-green bedroom eyes—boyish yet ancient—mexican serpent gargoyle—snake alphabet words—butch young aztec stud—young quetzalcoatl goodlooks—his thin venus torso waist—olmec & mayan—aztec jade turquoise eyes—vera cruz hustlerhis sacrificial love—centuries in a moment—foxy hare-lip quiver—tender harshness—face buried in the pillow—his red volcanic lips—cinching up his boots—then uncinching them again—getting back in bed—always arriba andele —slanting obdurate moons—moody temple nights—the old shutters banging—monsoon rain pouring down—his tight family jewels—moonlit pyramids—my unladylike smeared lips—sleek oozing obelisks—flat erect nostrils—head full of blue-black hair—banging the headboard—vera cruz boyfriend—exquisite indian sculpture—jade onyx jungle eyes—windy stormy night—incessant shutters banging—lightning and thunder—handsome young god—calmly smoking a cheroot—in our dark bedroom—eyes closed calmly—haughty young cortez—my tart havana rose—cold stormy night—flint-sharp curves hard flat belly—spurs on his boots—olmec & mayan—his aztec jade turquoise mask—beneath it a boy’s face—his coruscated lips—the strange palace flutes—bridging two worlds—tan patio balconies—stunned by young male beauty—young mexican kid—snake-alphabet lips—aztec serpent gargoyles—spilling forth teenage rain—the red volcanic earth—under the pyramids—tight black wiry pubes—white murex shell teeth—slanting obdurate eyebrows—channeling the blood—thin macho waist—all of mexico city waits—viva his venus-torso—xochipilli kid—sliding from his throne—down into my arms—foxy hair-lip smile—my unladylike smeared lips—tight family jewels—lizard-green eyes—green as pernod in a glass—the vestibule fountain—his tequila-ripe lips—sullen smile doing me in—night of the iguana—

Sapphic Modernism

“the need to think about
modern U.S. poetry in a
transatlantic context”
—Brian Reed, Hart Crane:
After His Lights

someday beneath some—a hard
manhattan night sky—darkening even
deeper—as you and emil cross the bridge
hand in hand—beneath the cables

sapphic modernism—starring you as
femme fatale triumphing over exile—
miss pound’s butchy—rather fascist
androcentric—modernist poetics…

full of male desire—stoic impersonality
and misogynist hate—fading away like some
cheap vaudeville—burlesque drag show
while djuna barnes—h. d. gertrude stein
with their ‘20s queer inflection—subverting
the straights with their long-overdue—sexually
transgressive art—sapphic modernism—
always coexisting alongside—

canonical modernism…

From Fifth Avenue Up
—for Hart Crane

someday we'll know you—
dearest hart for the woman—that you
really were back then…retrieving you back—
again from orizaba deeps all those fag fathoms—
down beneath the sea—sinking your way
downward—strangled in seaweed lace—
no look of madness on your face other than—
just being bored with it all—no more
straining to touch those languorous
lanky young—mexican sailor thighs—
the one that gave you your embarrassing
black eye—and sharp babylonic cry—
we felt you coil in fear leaning across
the railing—while others jeered at you—
pausing momentarily urged by
some bitter secret—whispering
in your ear—we saw your arms

swimming hard then growing—tired
in the humid heat—we saw your

damp chemise—pulsing in the pea-green
oozing caribbean soup—we saw you
sagging down—into the dappled damp
deeps—some soft saliva on your lips…

once we wouldn’t have—called you
the woman you are—all the spleen
you drew—from your so-called

poet friends and colleagues—
like miss yvor winters—dishing
the bridge—with obvious
homophobic canonical abhorrence—
how their clique hated you—
allen tate, waldo frank, burke,
munson, pound—male modernism
with all its misogyny and—reactionary
hang-ups—plunging grandly failing

you on the other hand your—
sapphic modernist grace…

Seen From The "L"
for Hart Crane

crane yawns in her apartment—standing nude
adjusting two amber combs—lolling in her hair…

a cigarette dangling loosely—as she tosses
a molested carpet—down the dusty
length of stairs—she doesn’t see
us go by—she doesn’t care if we’re
there seeing—her bored every morning…

we’re usually always there—the frail mosaic
of her window—facing starkly toward
the “l”—streaked by shitty sparrow

scooing pigeons—with their little
rocking back & forth waddles—it could just
as well be—chicago, paris, london, berlin

the way bird-shit etches glass—the window
sill & fire escape—shirtless with a beer her
husband—cooling off from the summer heat…

both are chain-smokers—her body past its prime
and her husband with a beer-gut—slipping
through the stitch—of time into crime i glance
at them both vaguely in the heat—

they bloomed vividly once—but now
they’re just repulsive—like some
uncouth truth…

To a Burlesque Poet
—for Hart Crane

it takes more than—a thousand days
and nights—to make a decent scheherazade…

you’ve gotta get up there—even if you can’t
sing or dance—and make them laugh & cry…

even drunks have taste—and know whether
it’s really—a half-decent act or not…

it takes more than—a wig and maybe a
moo-moo and a pair of big falsies—you’ve
gotta dance up there—it doesn’t matter

what it isas long as there’s action—don’t look
at their faces just let their laughter happen—
along with your splendid grace—
don’t let them look between your legs
because they—might not
like what they see—let the lights go
the liquor flow and let them see—your
beautiful down and face…
it’s a wondrous thing how—
a little lipstick and eye-shadow—
can go a long ways…some nice false eyelashes—
even the most ratty old wig—will get you
groped sometimes…my favorite routine is playing—
claire trevor that alcoholic nightclub singer—
in key largo mean johnny rocco made me—
sing “moanin' low" acapella just—for a single
lousy drink—you don’t really need to sing
tho—i lip-synched most of the time with

a microphone between my knees—when you’re
up there on stage—in front of a bunch
of stumbling lustful drunks—that aren’t sweet
that’s when a woman dies—the jests that
taint your heart and—ruin your once gay
disposition—but that’s okay dearest sisters—

drag queen hearts were meant—to be
broken just like broken dreams—once
you’re past forty years—it takes more than
a thousand jibes—to make your soul
song-less, baby—you pay the price out
on the street—and if you get down on your
knees—to pray it’ll just bag your nylons…

the stage is better when it comes to—
killing a little time to sing your

swan-song like claire trevor…

Notes on Sapphic Modernism

Some personal thoughts about Sapphic modernism and gay poetry—in regard to the Crane-Barnes-Eliot-Pound connection—after reading Brian Reed’s Hart Crane: After His Lights (2006):

1. Sapphic modernism is a somewhat new concept and literary category put forward by Reed and certain feminist scholars recently. The work of Djuna Barnes, H. D. and Gertrude Stein has long been relegated and rejected by a butchy male Modernist canon promulgated by Ezra Pound and Company (Kenneth Burke, Allen Tate, Waldo Frank, Matthew Josephson and Gorham Munson, etc.). It was a male clique and it doesn’t take much literary research to find out that Pound despised Crane, Djuna Barnes and the other Sapphic modernists. They were rejected by the late great Pound Era—much like gay poetry today.

2. Hart Crane in turn rejected their imagist credo—while much of his early work, according to Mr. Reed, is similar to Djuna Barnes’ work. It’s this connection between Crane and Djuna Barnes that interested me as a gay poet. Rather than the “androcentric modernist poetics of male desire” which has been going on for quite some time now—long before Stonewall and Ginsberg’s Howl praising butchy goodlooking con-artist Neil Cassady and other Beatnik icons began back in the ‘50s—I’ve found decadent Sapphic modernism poetics to be quite refreshing.

3. Gender-bending and sexually transgressive writing offers different alternative ways to experiment with gender, sexuality and identity issues—specifically the 1910s and ‘20s queer inflected response to Male modernism of Djuna Barnes, H. D. and Gertrude Stein. Especially Djuna Barnes’ poetry—which gave me a totally different way of seeing Hart Crane in NYC as well as Mexico.

4. I’ve been cleaving some gay versions of 5. Barnes’ poems from The Book of Repulsive Women (1915)—switching the gender thematic from lesbian over to a slightly more homotextual one, i.e., The Book of Repulsive Men, although the POV is ambiguous in terms of who the speaker in each poem is.

5. While (re)writing “At Hart Crane’s Tomb,” “Contriving Farther Tides,” “Inventing an Idiom,” “Shadows Under the Piers,” “The Broken Tower,” “Aztec apollo,” “Inventing an Idiom,” “Sapphic Modernism,” “From Fifth Avenue Up,” “Seen from the L,” “From Third Avenue On,” “To a Burlesque Poet,” and “Twilight of the Illicit”—I kept in mind a Sapphic modernist sensibility i.e., taking a decadent transgressive stance toward New York City, Brooklyn Bridge, Crane’s Mexico period as appropriating both Barnes & Crane through a post-Stonewall POV.

6. I had in mind a Sapphic modernist poetics in regard to Hart Crane—the Hart Crane that most biographers seem to have overlooked, i.e. the feminine, femme fatale, aesthete-hermaphrodite fin de siecle side of him. William Logan in his NYTimes review of Hart Crane: Collected Poems and Selected Letters (2006) treats Crane as a sort of Ray Milland alcoholic out of The Lost Weekend—but there is more to Crane than just the Fleet being in. There is a Sapphic modernist side to him—different than the usual inherently reactionary “male modernism” of Pound and his crowd. And that’s what I explored with this cleave series of Crane poems.

7. One odd/queer thing has been the Eliot-Pound collaboration that made The Waste Land so successful. If Pound were indeed homophobic, then why did he get along with Eliot so well? There has been a great deal of literary debate over whether Miss Eliot was “latent” or “blatant”—in regard to The Waste Land being an elegy for Jean Verdenal his French lover who died in WWI. Eliot meets Pound in Paris which he describes to Edmund Wilson as quite gracious: “Pound I met the other afternoon. I found him extended on a bright green couch, swathed in a hieratic bathrobe made of a maiden aunt’s shit-brown blanket…”—Lawrence Rainey, The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 29.

8. Pound agrees to help Eliot edit the Waste Land manuscript into the form we know today—and a lively correspondence developed between the two men. Eliot seems to have dealt fairly gracefully with Pound’s somewhat boorish homophobia (in one letter Pound calls Eliot a “bitch” but nicely tho since Eliot agreed to most of the deletions without which the poem would have remained a rambling modernist pastiche). Both men shared a certain transgressive sexuality (?) in terms of humor and marriage—and so their collaboration was rather successful if one judges it in terms of a successful collaboration.

1 comment:

mantmarble said...

I found these remarks about Sapphic modernism to be quite thought provoking. Eliot and Pound deserve to be dissected with tools like these. Are you familiar with Richard Alf's "Errant Hours in San Diego"? A more modern novel, but very much in line with the texts you are delving into here.