The poet and critic Douglas Crase published his first book of poems, The Revisionist, in 1981, to rapturous reviews. No less than Harold Bloom, that tireless canonizer, proclaimed that “Crase has every prospect of becoming one of the strong poets of his own generation,” and John Hollander declared it “the most powerful first book I have seen in a long time.”
For various reasons, The Revisionist has stood as Crase’s sole book of poems for nearly forty years, and has long been out-of-print. Fortunately, it has just been reissued in a new edition by Nightboat Books, now gathered together with a more recent work titled The Astropastorals.
Crase has long been affiliated with the New York School poets, ever since he met and grew close with John Ashbery and James Schuyler in the 1970s, and became an important member of their circle. Schuyler fans will recall that Crase and his partner Frank Polach are featured prominently in Schuyler’s great poem “Dining Out with Doug and Frank”: “Why is this poem / so long? And full of death? / Frank and Doug are young and / beautiful and have nothing / to do with that.”
The new edition features a valuable introduction by Mark Ford, who reminds us of the “exclamations of wonder from poets and critics across the spectrum when it first appeared,” from Ashbery to Anthony Hecht to James Merrill. The book’s reappearance has been greeted by glowing reviews – with Albert Mobilio including it in a “best poetry of the year” list for Hyperallergic (“this is verse so meticulous in its construction, exquisite in its intelligence, and ravishing in its imagery that fellow poets cannot help but feel both daunted and inspired by the achievement”) and Matthew Bevis reviewing it for the London Review of Books: (‘The title poem of The Revisionist shapes an address to the nation as though it were whispering in a lover’s ear”).
Crase is also a wonderful critic, and the author of one of my very favorite essays on Schuyler’s work (“A Voice Like the Day: James Schuyler”). I’m also a fan of his unusual “commonplace book,” AMERIFIL.TXT (1996), a collage of compelling quotations drawn from Crase’s personal pantheon (which happens to look quite a lot like my own personal pantheon) – Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson, William James, Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes, Lorine Niedecker, Ashbery, O’Hara, Schuyler, Fairfield Porter, and others.
Crase’s essay on Schuyler, along with many other terrific pieces, was recently collected in an excellent gathering of his nonfiction entitled Lines from London Terrace (published by Pressed Wafer in 2017). The book is brimming with Crase’s acute insights into the work of figures ranging from Emerson to John Ashbery, Marianne Moore, Fairfield Porter, and John Koethe. Along with The Revisionists and The Astropastorals, these two recently published books testify to the vitality and range of Crase’s writing and thought.
Here is Crase’s lovely poem “When Spring Comes First to West 21st Street,” from The Revisionist:
The day we discovered the world
Was the day it had also been there all the time,
Furious to be documented in the seasons which grow on us
So unnoticeably. At Montauk the lighthouse again
Is closer to the sea and above Dyckman Street
The nets have been spread to catch the running shad,
Fewer though not less vigorous than they used to be.
In the bookstores even the lichens are said
To be in danger now (the lichens, think of that)
But in the city we’ve got the sparrows going at it
Flagrante deluxe before our eyes, apparently
Unembarrassed by DDT. It must be spring
And the blood badgering underneath the skin
Is one of the spring ephemerals perking up
Before the overpowering shade of summer does it in.
Considering its circumstance, the smell of sweet bay
In the Bronx is close to sickening in sentiment:
What have we done? Is it true the English
Could have called Long Island as they did, Eden?
Anyway, if the seas keep warming up it will all be gone
And it may be our sense of this that unlocks the day,
Bringing trout lilies and marsh marigolds into mind
As the last of the concerts are letting out uptown,
And this that brings 800 to watch the egrets
In Jamaica Bay (one hundredth of a percent:
Viewed thus, “population per capita” is really small).
Stolen, our love of the world
Must be stolen from the world the way hepaticas
Steal light from the climax forest
Where alone they are able to grow. Too much with us
And too soon, the world extends its canopy
To alter the feel as well as color of the air.
How much time we have is hard to say
But, swift as the camera’s shutter when it flowers,
That’s how swift we’re going to have to be
As the bloom of swamp maples reddens into the past
Just like the sun. The speed of the seasons
And their slant remain untouched and unidentified
Until the beauty of something beautiful makes the day.