Tuesday, November 05, 2013

`The Leaves, Frost-Crisp'd'

A reader asks if I’m familiar with the poems of the marvelously named Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914). I am, thanks only to Yvor Winters, who championed her work and rightly called her “a minor poet of great distinction.” Dead almost a century, Crapsey reminds us that reputation is fleeting and uncertain. Only dedicated readers keep a poet alive. Crapsey devised a homegrown poetic form, the American cinquain, much influenced by traditional Japanese verse, and reminiscent of the work of her contemporaries, the early Imagists. Here is the quiet, wistful “Amaze”:  

“I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.”

I’m in Austin as I write. It’s a Northern sky, low and dense like gray milk. The live oaks are dripping. Except for a letter to the editor in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the first time I saw my name in print was in my high school literary magazine. My contribution was a prose poem titled “November.” The prose was lush and said absolutely nothing. It was an effusion written under the sway of Thomas Wolfe, an influence my writerly auto-immune system quickly threw off, but not before I compared the color of the autumn sky to “tarnished pewter.” Here’s Crapsey’s more tasteful and rhythmically sophisticated “November Night,” which reminds me of early Eliot: 

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.”

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