Monday, April 27, 2009

Final Plan B Posting - Ryan Eckes, Philly Poet


Before we get to Plan B's final installment today, I want to thank Steve May for coming on the DA and sharing some of his press' catalog. I said it before and will say it again: the work of the small press, especially one like Plan B, is essential. Without the efforts of the careful small press many voices would not get heard.

As a reminder the contest to win a free signed copy of Finding The Words by Dan Maguire is still going on. See here for details. The contest ends with the month.

Now to Plan B...

Steve May on Ryan Eckes


When I Come Here is Ryan Eckes’ second chapbook. His first was a smaller booklet with drawings by his brother, Brandon. “Great Short Stories of the World” was likely meant to get Ryan’s literary feet wet. It did.

I first met Eckes at an open reading in Philadelphia. He had just had a piece appear in Adbusters. What I heard that night was an “old soul”, a writer beyond his years. Perhaps it was his delivery or his voice. It certainly was his work though that stood out.

It took until 2007 for him to relent and send a manuscript for possible publication. He had entered the Creative Writing program at Temple University, and we had moved to Virginia for my own advance degree. We had taken over daily operations of Plan B and I was anxious to bring out something by Ryan Eckes.

His work has always felt lifted from the Daily News. Philadelphia’s athletes, politicians, … hell, even Pat Croce appears in his poetry. In his understated way, Eckes subtly delves into his subjects. His delivery works its magic as well, as in
“mall”:

you know a vacuum
cleaner is something like
a black hole and a black hole
is something like sleep
the inside of which turns
all the dust into a truth

or “recess”:


When it was cold
the schoolyard was colder
The world flat
The concrete sky

The language here is anything but simple. Using Robert Creeley as a model, Eckes brings the ordinary to view with laymen’s words. No pretensions. No fluff. The poems are clean, often anticlimactic, without overwrought drama or situations.

A hint, perhaps, of Brautigan as well. If Brautigan ever lived in Philly.

The chapbook alternates between prose poems and more traditional pieces to great effect. There’s an interesting visual aspect to it as well.

When not teaching at Temple these days, Ryan Eckes hosts a poetry series at Chapterhouse in Philadelphia as well as appearing around the city, and elsewhere. Look for him. Check him out. You won’t be sorry. ($7.00 - planbpress.com)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Plan B Week Continued with F J Bergmann


F J Bergmann is the author of four chapbooks. The most recent, Constellation of the Dragonfly, is her most ambitious to date. Bergmann has been mining a rich but mostly unknown vein of writing called Science Fiction Poetry. Other practitioners include Dwight Ackerson, Michael Bishop, Thomas Disch, and the late Ray Bradbury.

Bergman, the 2008 Rhysling Award winner (an annual award for science fiction, fantasy, or horror poetry), could be said to have perfected her own work. In her previous chapbooks, her science fiction poetry shared space with some more traditional pieces. In “Constellation of the Dragonfly”, she goes “all in,” providing the vivid cover image as well as a complete collection.

From “Astroculture”:

he saw them shining between clumps
of dry grass like exuberatingly flung glitter,
their suspicious little eyes staring up at him.

to “Angels Move Into the House Next Door”:

The new occupants whitewashed the outside
of the house, even the windows, and planted
the yard with white violets, lilies, and apple trees
that never set fruit.

To “As above, So Below”:
In the evening
sky a cloud formed in the shape of
a squid, and began raining
Indelible ink.

The collection is rife with images, as good as they come. ($13.00 - planbpress.com)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CONTEST - Win A Copy of A Plab B Chapbook


As promised. Up for grabs is a copy of Dan Maguire's Finding The Words. This contest will run all the way to the end of the month and includes all viewers. I will ship the book to Brazil if a Brazilian comes up with the best entry.

The best way I can describe the poetry of Dan Maguire is intrinsically obscure. That is to say he shares the minutiae of the personal moment and every time, despite the particulars of his life, he delivers these moments in a way that we can all relate to. This is not to say that the poetry of Dan Maguire is mundane. There is nothing quotidian about the language and construction of his poetry. I wrote a piece for one of the local papers recently, supporting my old store Wolfgang Books and the Plan B poetry reading being hosted there. You can check it out (here) if you like.

The poet I would most compare Maguire to (something I am loathe to do) is none other than T.S. Eliot. There is a similar semantic of situation meeting language. That said, the contest will concern T.S. Eliot.

I have taken a stanza from Eliot's masterwork, "The Waste Land" and it will be up to you to finish the final line of the stanza. Here it is in original:

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
'Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.'
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

The winner of the contest will replace "And puts a record on the gramophone." with the best alternative.

Submissions should be sent to theaccountant@devilsaccountant.com. Free book. Free shipping to anywhere in the world. Just come up with the last line.

Winner will be contacted and announced on April 31st.

Did I mention that the book is signed by the poet? Well, it is.

Plan B on Sandy Crimmins


Sandy Crimmins’ String Theory, ( $9.00 ISBN 978 09728312-9-1 Buy it here) was first published in 2005. String Theory is Sandy Crimmin's first book of poetry. Weaving together through string imagery the poetry articulates the perilous balance between science and faith. Ms. Crimmins explored through experiences and musings, the inevitable logic of analytical science and the raw truth and strength of nature. All four elements; fire, water, earth and air; are interspersed throughout the book, with the fifth element bringing the book to a close is time.

Ms. Crimmins also was an editor and a freelance producer at venues such as the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Pieceworks, the Sedgwick Cultural Center in Mt. Airy and the former YWCA of Germantown.

Ms. Crimmins’ poetry appeared in the anthologies “Poets Against the War,” “Voices in Wartime,” “Meridian Bound,” “The Eternal Now!” and “Pagan’s Muse,” and in the online magazine The Pedestal. Her short stories were published in a variety of print and electronic journals, including American Writing, Schuylkill Valley Journal and Philadelphia Stories: The Best of 2004-2006.

Her performance work “Iowa Summer,” with musicians Richard Drueding and Stephe Ferraro, was released as a CD several years ago. Her show “El Cid in Flamenco and Flames,” based on a reworking of the classic Spanish poem “The Lay of the Cid,” brought together musician David Falcone’ choreographer and fire-eater Tomas Dura, and a troupe of flamenco dancers.

In a review of String Theory, Rosemary Cappello, editor of Philadelphia Poets, said, “one feels the majestic strains of what the human soul can know.”

Sandy Crimmins was been published in a variety of print and electronic journals, including American Writing and Philadelphia Stories, and in the anthologies The Eternal Now, Meridian Bound and Pagan's Muse. Her work was read as part of the WritingAloud series in Philadelphia and in venues from Boston to Washington, DC. One show, Iowa Summer, created in collaboration with musicians Richard Drueding and Stephe Ferraro, was released on CD. Her most recent show, El Cid in Flamenco and Flames, brought together musician David Falcone, choreographer and fire-eater Tomas Dura and a troupe of flamenco dancers for a new look at the poem The Lay of the Cid.

She died suddenly while sitting next to her husband in their backyard in July, 2007. The shock of her loss continues to ripple through her neighborhood and across the city of Philadelphia. In addition to writing extremely well, there was a vibrancy about her that we have not seen much in our travels. She will be deeply missed.

String Theory is the closest book that Plan B Press has so far produced to the embodiment of the premise we have been trying to achieve of poetry with visuals, images with text in which both elements blend to make a great experience overall. It was Sandy’s idea, while discussing with our Creative Director, to use Harold and the Purple Crayon as an example of how she would like the book to appear. The collaboration between Sandy and our CD let to an incredibly unique little book. We are especially proud of it, and the poems themselves.

Crimmins is not interested in fluff here. She is asking the big questions, because :

“This is our sickness
What is printed on our genetic code
And carried through our veins

This is what is our from birth
This is what makes us human
What marks us searching
Through thought and emotion: “

-from ‘Our Beginning and Our End’

as we attempt to find harmony :

“(Until our souls can recognize
The joys our ears cannot hear)”

-from ‘Doxology for the Human Soul’


In a mere 37 pages, Sandy Crimmins adds to the volumes of scientific and philosophic research and datum, simply speaking as a poet on the weighty subject of humans BEING here and what that means to the universe. We long for answers we cannot find in life. For:

“we couldn’t accept
That in the beginning
There was no beginning, no end
No way to pull form or shape
Smell or texture
From the grey swirl”
-from ‘Genesis’

Perhaps she knows those answers now.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Plan B Press Takes Control of The DA


Poet and publisher, stevenallenmay reads a poem of domestic pressures.

Plan B Press poet and publisher, stevenallenmay, takes the reigns of the Devil's Accountant this week to talk about his small press and the poets he publishes. If only you knew what this meant...

Two things to note before that shiny-headed wizard takes over. One, we have a contest this week, which will conclude next Monday. The contest will be announced tomorrow and the prize will be a signed copy of Dan Maguire's Finding The Words published by Plan B Press. The link above is to the Plan B page for the title, and the following link is to a review I wrote of Maguire's book for one of the local Philly area papers, The Phoenix.

Second thing to note: The Saroyan and Spicer posts I promised late last week will instead close the month and be posted on Thursday, April 31st.

And now, The Accountant explains why Plan B is here.

I first met Steve May when he came in to my old bookstore and decided to take my business partner and I up on our open letter declaration of good will to all literary ventures. What followed was a successful series poetry readings featuring Plan B (and some other of the Press' friends) poets. By the second or third reading I was aware of one thing: stevenallenmay and the Plan B Press not only believed in what they were doing (not to sell this aspect short, but madmen believe in what their doing too) but also knew what they were doing.

The poets that Plan B publishes are remarkable. The slender chapbooks that the press issues are cleverly packaged and instantly, after recognizing the merit of the content within, the initiated reader will be reminded of the beginnings of (then) small presses like Black Sparrow and City Lights. In other words: This is important work.

I grew up in south Florida. As a child I was constantly looking at the ground as I walked around the swampy trails and sandy brush land. My goal: to find brightly colored lizards, snakes and to see the lesser known creatures go to and fro. Without the large work of a small press like Plan B our literary tradition would be devoid of the brightly painted obscurities we often fail to notice. Like I said before - Plan B Press, and other entities like them, do important work.

Over the course of the week, stevenallenmay will be posting features on a handful of the many poets published by his press. Today he talks briefly on the founding of the press and then discusses the first book they published after the Philadelphia-focused shift in the Press' direction occurred. Links to purchase the book(s) from their website are below. I encourage you to do so.

So with no further ado, I give you poet and publisher, stevenallenmay.

Plan B Takeover Starts Now



Plan B press is a small publishing company specializing in collections of poetry. In the United States, poetry is not an easy sell. In this marketplace economy, where market factors determine “value” and “worth”, poetry is seen as having little intrinsic value and the lives of poets, often semi-tragic figures in their own right, often lead to the myth that they are all crack pots or delusional malcontents.

In this country, instead of poetry being embraced by all, it splinters into smaller and smaller niches of word-practitioners who woe in the isolation of their own making. Juxtaposing these “poet-isolationists” are the “ambulance-chasers” who never turn down an opportunity to read in front of a spotlight and a wired mic. Talent be damned! They are everywhere all the time reading the same ten poems that they are known for!!!

Into this fray, in 1998, this humble poet-dreamer came upon an idea to start a small publishing concern to present work that was being featured during the month-long poetry festival that I had also created; the festival would be called Bardfest and the press would be called Plan B Press. From the beginning the Press was concerned with publishing work by people overlooked by bigger publishing companies as well as bringing out books by regional poets.

That course shifted once I moved to Philadelphia in 2001 and was given operating control of the Press in 2003 by co-founder, Dianne Miller. I had seen and heard enough in Philadelphia to know that there were several extremely talented and overlooked poets living there, and we began to bring out books of their work.


The first of these, Crazy Mary and Others ($6.00 ISBN: 0-9728312-3-1 Buy it here) by Michele Belluomini won our 2004 poetry chapbook contest. Michele is a veteran of the Philadelphia poerty scene for two decades. Currently she serves as one of the masterminds for the First Monday poetry series that takes place annually at the Philadelphia Free Library between October and April. Prior to that Michele was involved in some experimental poetics, as a member of the Improvisational Poetry Group with Alexandra Grilikhes and others.

Michele’s work deals with the experience of Native Americans tribes in the US and Central America, and in the case of the poems in Crazy Mary also marginal urban women in particular, but more generally the dispossessed in urban America. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her first book, Translations from the Dark was published in 1993.

In Crazy Mary one witnesses the city (of Philadelphia) through the eyes of someone on the verge of dissolving into her own fantasies. She sings on the el, she observes in minute detail the city pass on her “#10 Trolley” :

Mary is confronted by an indifferent world, as when in “Talking with a Friend” :

‘I negotiate my way through the land-mined
field of your anger

you say: one person’s truth is another’s lie;
we are all hypocrites

then silence

you make your points with silence’

Yet in the end, as she sums up in “Look, How Beautiful Her Garden” :

‘what better was to end her life
in her own house its little garden
looking like something out of a dream’

Mary lives on her own terms, finding her own sense of dignity amongst the cold grey indifference of city at large.



The late poet, Sandy Crimmons (whom The Accountant was fortunate enough to have met and see read) will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why Is There No Quasimodo At The Barnes & Noble?



It's been fifty years since Salvatore Quasimodo won the Nobel Prize. Preceded by Boris Pasternak and Albert Camus and preceding John Steinbeck this masterful poet is yet unavailable in the United States. For thirty or more years he has been out-of-print. This is wrong.

Do to the weighty and sobering matter (he says trying very hard to sound serious like physicians and expounders of jurisprudence) of today's book I will be changing the format for the week. On Friday, two more books will be reviewed that would have been in today's post. The review of the out-of-print title below became long enough to warrant its own post.

So, with no further ado, I introduce you to Salvatore Quasimodo, Italian poet, Nobel Prize winner. Out-of-print writer.


The Selected Writings Of Salvatore Quasimodo. Edited and Translated from the Italian by Allen Mandelbaum. Farrar, Straus & Cudahy. OUT OF PRINT. 269 pp. The Devil's Accountant has partnered with ABE Books to bring you the widest selection of out-of-print or rare titles available on the internet. Click this link to view ABE's selection of this title: Salvatore Quasimodo

War summons up, with violence, a hidden order in the thought of man, a greater grasp of the truth: the occasions of reality inscribe themselves in its history.

-Salvatore Quasimodo, Discourse On Poetry


It is no revelation to even the casual literary observer that the twentieth century contained more change to forms and approaches within the writer's mind than any other. The wizened romantics of the late nineteenth century continued to influence the first ten years of the twentieth. Then the First World War came and with it changes.

In England Rupert Brooke's naive prewar jingoism was eclipsed by the grim reality of Wilfred Owen's war poetry. In France Vallery recedes and Apollanaire's modernity comes forth. In Germany the vestiges of Geothe's romanticism which had to delve deeply to find a sturm und drang in life's quiet moments suddenly is confronted with a more real storm (fascism) and stress (poverty).

In Italy too, a sad thing had occurred. The Italian tradition first entered a period of confusion over modernity. The societal poetry, long the standard born by such names as Petrarch, Dante and Leopardi, becomes seduced with the siren-call to greatness which was to color much of early Europe in the twentieth century...that is, fascism.

I need to move from this expose however, and so will put it aside for the moment. Instead now let us look at the subject at hand. First, that most aristocratic of visual aids - the time line:


1959 - Salvatore Quasimodo
1958 - Boris Pasternak
1957 - Albert Camus
1956 - Juan Ramón Jiménez
1955 - Halldór Laxness
1954 - Ernest Hemingway
1953 - Winston Churchill
1952 - François Mauriac
1951 - Pär Lagerkvist
1950 - Bertrand Russell
1949 - William Faulkner
1948 - T.S. Eliot
1947 - André Gide
1946 - Hermann Hesse

13 Years of The Nobel Prize for Literature - possibly the best 13 years...


Steinebeck would have to wait three years after Quasimodo won to get his accolade. Pablo Neruda had yet to win his. Mikhail Sholokov and Jean-Paul Sartre too, were in the que. Yet if you are reading this and you are a citizen of the United States under the age of 80, even a relatively well-read person (and not a specialist in Italian literature), you probably do not know who Salvatore Quasimodo is.

Don't worry. I am not waxing arrogant critic here. I know of Quasimodo not by intensive course of study or through some aged Italian friend. I know Quasimodo because I used to be in the business of selling rare books.

As a seller of collectible books you tend to encounter plenty of out-of-print or "rare" titles. Titles that have value from their scarcity or primacy or whatever the current flavor is in collecting. Sometimes a book crosses your path that you have to look into deeper than the mere investigation of value. I think this is one of the responsibilities of being a secondhand seller. You must from time to time (sometimes by fancy or random impulse) read something unheard of when it crosses your path. Such it was when I came upon the above mentioned edition of Quasimodo's writings.

In truth I did not read the firs copy I found. Instead I sold it after researching it. It was in good condition and we needed the money at the time (as opposed to those chimerical times when a bookstore does not need money). I did research the name though and was shocked that not only was Quasimodo a Nobel Prize winning poet but also a winner in the heart of the twentieth century's most dominant era of literary awards (whatever that's worth).

A brief aside: I am not one for literary awards, as I find them a conflicting causality confusing the novice writer about just why they chose to write in the first place. That aside, I do find it curious when someone who has won a Pulitzer Prize let alone a Nobel Prize goes without a readership.

Quasimodo is available in the UK, and in many other countries, just not in the United States. The US has for forty or so years had a shaky relationship with the translated work, especially works that are not canonized by the well-worn deer path we call Academia. I didn't read that first copy that came across my desk but over time the question of why this Nobel Laureate was no longer available began to bother me. So... I ordered a copy. A nice crisp copy of the first edition from Lorne Bair Rare Books, ABAA (they specialize in the literature of the American Labor & Radical History - you should check them out sometime, a solid firm).

The first thing that excited me about the Mandelbaum edition is the fact that he included two of Quasimodo's essays. One on poetry's place in the twentieth century and another on Dante. Both essays are wonderful on their own, particularly the Discourse On Poetry. In this latter essay Quasimodo portrays (quite accurately I believe) the tendencies of the modern critic to label poets by generation. There is also a essential piece of self-awareness in this essay. It serves, being that Mandelbaum places it before the poetry, as a introduction to the poet's philosophy and milieu, which I will now get to.

The most unsettling aspect to Quasimodo's absence from the US literary scene is the fact that this was a poet of sophistication, with three clear phases to his creativity. The early idylls and pastoral sweetness of his youthful poetry evolves into a sophistacted hermeticism in his middle years. Then later on, as a wizened and most likely world-weary poet Quasimodo becomes a master of blending all the elements: the arcadias of his youth mixed with sparingly added obscurities of his middle period come full circle before the old poet's fatigued desire for something that might be called polemics.

It is amazing, to be honest. Rare is the poet that has such distinct phases, and like the quote that opened this discussion I believe it was the clear effect of the war that so drastically changed Quasimodo's mind. In his essay on poetry, Quasimodo discusses the increased difficulty the modern poet faces when trying to mix society and poetry, explaining fifty years ahead of many, that the pitfall of such an attempt is always a label of petulance. Quasimodo is essentially predicting the rise of deconstruction and postmodern theory. Poetry was becoming semiotics, and Quasimodo know this before many.

He in essence, reacted to this in his evolutions. First, the youthful arcadia. Second, the novelty of hermetic occultism. Lastly, the daring to reach towards society from those previous stations.

Here, let me offer three examples.

The Early period - 1920 - 1940

Memory grants you brief sleep;
but now awake. Behold, the well
the hour. Mine no longer, burnt
and distant semblances. And you,
south wind thick with orange blossoms,
drive the moon where children sleep
naked, force the foal to fields
damp with the tracks of mares, bare
the sea, lift the clouds from the trees.

-from "The Magpie Laughs, Black Upon the Orange Trees"


The Middle Period - 1940 - 1950

We shall follow silent houses,
where the dead stand open-eyed
and children, made adult already
in the smile that saddens them,
and branches beat at speechless windows
in the middle of the nights.

from "Where The Dead Stand Open-Eyed"


The Late Period - 1950 - 1958

You will find them, soldier, there within
your history, within the forms of streams,
of animals, or are you, too, but ash
of Auschwitz, medal of silence?
Long braids remain enclosed in urns of glass,
still crowded by amulets and infinite
shades of little shoes and shawls of Jews:
they are the relics of a time of wisdome,
of man who makes of arms the measure, they
are the myths, our metamorphoses.

Upon the plains, where love and lamentation
rotted and piety, beneath the rain,
there, a no within us beat, a no
to death, at Auschwitz dead, that from that pit
of ash, death not repeat.

from "Auschwitz"

The evolution of pastoral paen to the occult flavor of the hermeticism of his contemporaries then combine seamlessly in the socially aware pen of the aging master. This was a poet. This was the former century's true Morpheus.

It is here that the wars and social chaos of the twentieth century come to play. Not every poet adapted as Quasimodo did. Many ran, as he predicted, to the sterile realm of linguistic games - the poet as semiotic gymnast. Even fewer poets could contain the particular myths and scents of their people and yet open up a fundamentally human dialogue about war, atrocity and the strife of civilization in decline. This is why he received the Nobel Prize. He was his own poet, an innovator and yet an expounder upon the tradition.

One final note. Quasimodo is to me, a truly Italian poet. In his verse you find the melancholic wonder of Leopardi, the sophistication of society celebrated in Petrarch and Dante and finally the slightly removed celebration of the superstition and occultism of stigmata and the tarantula. It is these essentially Italian confluences, so wonderfully without conflict, that we have a master Italian poet. A poet that shamefully is out of print in the United States.

Someone (Hesperus Press, Meville House, and especially you FSG - you guys listening?) should bring this poet back in print here.

I'll leave you with a complete poem from this collection. It is one Quasimodo's more urban offerings. After reading this poem, you can't but wonder what it would sound like being read by Jack Kerouac or even Tom Waits. It is a unique poem in the Quasimodo canon. I am not sure if it is legal for me to quote it in full.

The copyright for this edition is somewhat in limbo. I don't care though. I'd love for the publisher who owns this translation yet fails to print it to come and see me. I'd have a few less than obscure words to say to them.

In This City

This city has got the machine
that grinds out dreams: with a quick
token, a little disk of pain,
in no time you're off, upon this earth,
unknown in a pack of raving shadows
on phosphorous seaweed, mushrooms of smoke:
a merry-go-round of monsters
revolving on conch shells
that fall to putrid pieces when they play.
It's in a bar down there at the turn
of the plane trees, here in my metropolis
or elsewhere. Come, the switch is on!

Monday, April 6, 2009

T.S. Eliot and The Cruelest Month


The above poster can be downloaded for free at poets.org.

The evocative, essentially daring question written on the window is somewhat out of context. The poster conjures for us a question of deviant audacity. The line comes however, from a poem of quiet desperation, of suffocation and regret.

April is National Poetry month and it is no random thing that April was chosen.

Whan that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flowr
-Geoffrey Chaucer


A nice sentiment from the poet who provided English a place as a "literary" tongue. Some will tell you that this line is why April was chosen as National Poetry Month. Others, with more poetical inclinations, will tell you that it comes from these mocking lines that open T.S. Eliot's masterwork, "The Waste Land."

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.


Indeed. I think all of us can identify with Spring's cruelty. Sometimes, when alone and with either love lost or love denied on the mind, those first warming days can mock and haunt our lives. In the bleakness of Winter, nothing dares to show off.

The line on the poster is taken from another of Eliot's masterworks, "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock." The poster's daring is somewhat of a mockery on it's own. We will discuss that shortly, but first let me outline some of what you can expect on The Devil's Accountant for this cruel April in our midst.

Next week I will be profiling some "lost" and "found" poetry. A Nobel Laurette who is no longer in print in the United States... Then a poet of great influence to the Beat Generation, whose mystical poetry has not been in print for years, until recently... Not to mention the verbal humor and artistry of some of the briefest poems to ever grace a stapled binding.

The following week we will put you in touch with a small press with big aspirations and an incredible list of published works - poet and publisher stevenallenmay of Plan B Press will take over the site one monday... If you only knew what that meant.

Finally we will look at some of the incredible renderings of ancient poetry that have come about over the last year or so.

Basically it will be all-poetry-all-the-time. Let us start off by talking of T.S. and his cruel Aprils.


The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot. Harcourt, Inc. ISBN: 015694877x. 88 pp. $9. Buy it here and support The Devil's Accountant.

Let me start by making it clear that I am offering no pretense to expand or enlighten you on this (one of the most) celebrated poets of the English language. Talking of such a famous book might seem to stray from the mission statement of this site, but with NPM in mind and with the ever-odd angle I take to the approach of books I will hope to prove something of merit in talking Prufrock with you.

That is what we will talk about today: J. Alfred Prufrock and his sad, withered love song.

So dust off you high school or college Norton Anthology and hopefully, like me, you haven't read this poem since those days. This poem might be too heavy and full of life's messy sap to have ever been a success in high school. All the more credit to those teachers who can pull it off.

The mocking of Prufrock may have been too strong a phrase earlier. He is a sad figure, no doubt (if you remember) and his "hundred indecisions" have placed him as a too old suitor, no longer charming or attractive. He is somewhat pitiful and to the bold of spirit he can easily be looked upon with disdain. The bold of spirit... I should say instead the boldly accomplished "fighters" of the world. Somewhere, I know someone who snickers at that line.

The decisive type (this will do better) might find Prufrock pitiful, even something to be scorned. What they miss though is shocking. The whole thing itself: the song. For all his weaknesses and lack of daring, this Prufrock offers us his song, his story.

Since the poem is in the public domain I get to offer it to you here in full.

The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

. . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled
streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that
trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns
on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

. . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


Poetry is daring stuff. The poet, more than any other manifestation of writer, has the ability to take actual snapshots of life - of the substance of being itself - and render it for us all to behold. There is no literary form that is closer to art itself, with all its subjective impetus, as poetry. Fiction and the other prose forms all rely heavily on the science of syntax. There is the efficiency of communication present somewhere in every work of prose. Like a stolid machine, prose has to concern itself with notions of entropy and above all, it must "work" successfully towards its desired meaning. Poetry need not. Like faith, poetry is cheapened by science. Like prose, science becomes muddled with the addition of faith.

In Prufrock we are reminded that poetry is not always a celebration of beauty or even sublimity. More daring yet, this song is one that confidently tells us (Prufrock's awkward interlocutors) of desperation and faltering steps - a descent into loneliness and sad regret. It takes great ability and a boldness of no lesser grade than the kind possessed by those aforementioned decisive types.

Do I dare
disturb the universe?

You do, Prufrock...just not in the way that you would have liked to. In your quiet corner you look out at those women talking about art and life. You want to add to their conversation. You could fix your tie, plainly pinned or otherwise, and ask one of them to supper or for afternoon tea. You want to and could, despite your thin arms and bald spot, but don't. For that we are thankful, Prufrock, to the poet who created you. Because your suffering under the weight of your own indecision is one that we can look upon and own, briefly, for ourselves.

Even the private diary of J. Alfred Prufrock is written with the intention of one day owning an audience. Such a notion is daring, if not audacious.


Murder In The Cathedral by T.S. Eliot. Harcourt, Inc. ISBN: 0156632772. 96 pp. $9. Buy it here and support The Devil's Accountant.

Third Priest
I see nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal
government,
But violence, duplicity and frequent malverson.
King rules or barons rule:
The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice.
They have but one law, to seize the power and keep it,
And the steadfast can manipulate the greed and lust of
others,
The feeble is devoured by his own.

Here we have something more to the DA's theme. Eliot is taught in classes worldwide and yet here, this verse play penned by the same author as "The Waste Land" goes unheard in many classrooms. It is a play most often found in religious circles, and more precisely in the minds of the English Catholic.

Thomas Becket is my favorite saint. I am a secular person so this might not say a lot. The reason Becket intrigues me is his rise to power. A boy from Cheapside who through prowess on the jousting field and in the courts of power climbs all the way to the highest station in the King's government, that of High Chancellor, is one that we should all find somewhat curious.

King Henry II was a Norman tyrant, a stubborn King (few are those contrary) who sought to consolidate power in England and become an absolute monarch. Becket was indispensable to King Henry the II. Thomas Becket's strategems and clever plotting kept the King in power and his enemies at bay. In time, when the position of Archbishop of Canterbury became available, Henry rewarded his loyal adviser by levying for his appointment, which was granted.

Henry believed that with Becket as the highest clergyman in the land he had successfully united all the powers of church and state to his will. What he failed to realize, was that Becket had different plans.

There is much speculation about Becket. The cynical mind (to which I might be partial to in this case) believes that in Becket there was a profound schemer. Who once granted the powerful position of the See of Canterbury became infatuated with his own power and sought to create more distinct separations between stately powers of Henry and the spiritual powers wielded by the Pope in Rome. Becket also became somewhat of a humanist in his position at Canterbury. He sought to support the native English people, who had perceived wrongs (and indeed endured them) at the hands of the Norman Knights and royalty connected to the stubborn and bullying King Henry.

The impending disagreement is obvious. The story is known. Becket was martyred, unarmed, at the hands of four knights sent (some say unwittingly) by King Henry. These four men of war arrive and after a brief argument slay the aged Thomas Becket.

T.S. Eliot's treatment skips the back story. It throws us into the realm of Henry the II right at the highest point of tention, as Becket arrives in Canterbury for the last time. He is aware, as his sermons indicate was the case, that Henry will seek to banish, bind or bludgeon him. He has been a thorn in the side of the great lion.

Murder In The Cathedral is not a secular play. It is however, one that is conscious of the secular power-play going on between both sides. There is Henry the headstrong King, whose final say will be written in Becket's blood. There is also Becket, ever-aware of the eternal dialogue, of the power that he can wield from the grave. As the See of Canterbury he can be slain by four of Henry's knights. As a martyred Saint he will forever live on in the hearts and minds of the faithful.

In a passage of rapid lines by the Chorus, Priests and Tempters we have the ultimate enemy plainly before our eyes.

C: Death has a hundred hands and walks by a thousand
ways.
P: He may come in the sight of all, he may pass un-
seen unheard.
T: Come whispering through the ear, or a sudden
shock on the skull.
C: A man may walk with a lamp at night, and yet be
drowned in a ditch
P: A man may climb the stair in the day, and slip on a
broken step.
T: A man may sit at meat, and feel the cold in his
groin.

The cynic sees Thomas vying for eternal fame. The faithful will see him lose his fear before these terrifying ends. The romantic might find a defiant humanism in Thomas Becket, a political idealist not willing to cave for a tyrant.

There is much to learn from the slain Archbishop of Canterbury. That, to me, is the point. Thomas Becket like all great thinkers or doers, realized that the lap of luxury was not the be-all of existence. That is the lesson that we can all take from those nobly martyred. Whether it's a secular lifestyle or one of tithing piety.

In any case, this is a book of Eliot's verse with all its daring will. Eliot was so very capable to give us the hardest reminders. Look at death's squalor beside the martyred Saint.

Makes one want to get over their thinning hair and waning physique.