Today’s “Poem-a-Day” posted by the Academy of American Poets site is a lovely poem by Kate Angus called “Schuyler today and the students.” It’s about an experience a relatively small number of us know quite well — teaching the poetry of James Schuyler and watching students light up with excitement about his work.
In a note on the poem, Angus explains that
“I wrote this after an afternoon class when my students fell in love with James Schuyler—how joyful his poems felt to them after the other work we’d been reading (Berryman,Plath, Sexton), and how easy for them to enter. That afternoon, our seminar discussion felt like a door opened. And, of course, I was thinking also about what I love in Schuyler’s work and about New York and about someone I loved that I’d lost touch with, and how sad and beautiful and happy I was about everything.”
I was particularly drawn to the lines where Angus relishes in Schuyler’s work “the idea that it’s enough to think / one thing and then say it: maybe a stapler sits / like a black jaw on the desk while the aloe / stretches half-parabola curves / towards the light and an avocado shell / waits to be rubbish.” In a chapter on Schuyler in my new book, Attention Equals Life, I argue that a “philosophy of ‘enough,’ a poetics of what will suffice,” lies at the heart of Schuyler’s work.
This philosophy of “enough” — which I posted a little about here a couple months ago — can be found in lines like these, from “Hymn to Life”:
Life, it seems, explains nothing about itself. In the
Garden now daffodils stand full unfolded and to see them is enough
And in these, from “June 30, 1974“:
sit here drinking coffee,
writing, watching the clear
day ripen (such
a rainy June we had)
while Jane and Joe
sleep in their room
and John in his. I
think I’ll make more toast.
Here’s Kate Angus’s poem:
Schuyler today and the students
wake up when he mentions colors
and light, streets they’ve walked—
Second Avenue, West 20th, Park.
This guy is happy, right? they ask;
who am I to answer. What I like
about Schuyler is the way sonatas
and Coca-Cola flourish in the same stanza,
morning glories opening
their bright mouths, and trailing down
I don’t drink soda and I never listen
to Faure as much as I should
is chanting always be better?). What I like is
the pyrotechnics always just past
the paper horizon,
waiting to burst from underneath.
It’s the idea that it’s enough to think
one thing and then say it: maybe a stapler sits
like a black jaw on the desk while the aloe
stretches half-parabola curves
towards the light and an avocado shell
waits to be rubbish.
There are, of course, always going to be people
who hook us under the sternum and pull
us forward with wire until our own bones break
to make us relinquish them. And in their wake we watch
their boat sail away with a mast solid as the Empire
State Building and all flags in array. Goodbye, little sailor,
I’ll miss you
when I drift down under dark water
where there are shipwrecks and bleached whale
bones and fish bright as constellations, but not enough
to keep swimming.
The poem can be found here, along with an audio recording of Angus reading it.