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Old 08-18-2009, 02:46 PM
T.S. Kerrigan T.S. Kerrigan is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Posts: 872
Default Remembering Louis Simpson

Remembering Louis Simpson

When I was young in the fifties with never a crack in my heart Berkeley was an exciting place to be. One walked along Telegraph Avenue with the likes of Pauline Kael, Thom Gunn, Lois Simpson, and a host of visiting poets. The Peninsula was the domain of the imperious Ivor Winters, the Commissar of metrical poetry, and across the bay Ginsburg was howling, Ferlinghetti was promoting his City Lights Bookstore and Mort Sahl was perfecting his political standup rotine.

But Simpson was my principle interest in those days. One of the predominant formal poets in the country, he was shortly to abandon meter and rime for the seductive call of Walt Whitman. By I still treasure some of the earliest of his poems. Early in the Morning was one of my favorites.

Early in the morning
The dark queen said,
“The trumpets are Warning
There’s trouble ahead.”
Spent with carousing,
With wine-soaked wits,
Anthony drowsing
Whispered, “It’s
Too cold a morning
To get out of bed.”

The army’s retreating,
The fleet has fled,
Caesar is beating
His drums through the dead.
“Anthony, horses!
We’ll get away,
Gather our forces
For another day…”
“It’s a cold morning,”
Anthony said.

Caesar Augustus
Cleared his phlegm.
“Corpses disgust us.
Cover them.”
Caesar Augustus
In his time lay
Dying, and just as
Cold as they,
On the cold morning
Of a cold day.

It was a great poem to read to each of my six children and night, The Man Who Married Magdalene was its equal.

The man who married Magdalene
Had not forgiven her.
God might pardon every sin…
Love is no pardoner.

Her hands were hollow, pale and blue,
Her mouth like watered wine.
He watched to see if she were true
And waited for a sign.

It was old harlotry, he guessed,
That drained her strength away,
So gladly for the dark she dressed,
So sadly for the day.

Their quarrels made her dull and weak
And soon a man might fit
A penny in the hollow cheek
And never notice it.

At last, as they exhausted slept,
Death granted the divorce
And nakedly the woman leapt
Upon that narrow horse.

When he woke and woke alone
He wept and would deny
The loose behavior of the bone
And the immodest thigh.

Of all the poetry I read to my kids. I suspect these two never matched the popularity of The Tyger or Daniel Hoffman’s wonderful In the Days of Rin Tin Tin, but I still get a thrill rereading these poems. When John Oelfke asked me to edit The Raintown Review, I decided to do an anthology formal poetry type issue, alaThe first issue of the Formalist sans the fuddy-duddy slant. I wrote to Simpson, asking permission to reprint some of his early poems, but I got no reply.
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Old 08-20-2009, 10:44 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Venice, Italy
Posts: 2,354

Thanks for posting these. I just had one doubt when I saw the title of the thread, but I have found nothing on the Internet to indicate that Simpson is no longer with us.

I am away from my books right now but I remember he wrote some of the best poetry of the Second World War, using, like Charles Causley, ballad forms to tell some of the horrific stories of combat. Here's a link to one of the most famous ones, "Carentan O Carentan" .

David Mason, who wrote a great piece on Charles Causley in the recent Able Muse, has also got a fine essay on Simpson in The Poetry of Life.
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Old 08-20-2009, 11:58 AM
T.S. Kerrigan T.S. Kerrigan is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Posts: 872


You make an excellent point about his being a veteran of WWII and the incise poetry he wrote about it. I was being too parochial, thinking of poems I read or recited to my children. I would have been puzzling for them to have heard

I dream of war heroes, of wounded war heroes
With just enough of their charms shot away
To make them more handsome...

From "War Heroes," from his book The Fighting in Europe. He published several wonderful collections before he felll under the spell of Uncle Walt, including Songs and Lyrics, A Discovery of America, A Dream of Governors, etc. Some poems from these earlier books are collected in People Live Here (BOA 1983).

I published some of his poetry when I edited Hierophant in 1969-1970.

I think these formal poems are some of the best of the genre and are worthy of close studies
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Old 08-22-2009, 02:22 PM
Kevin Cutrer's Avatar
Kevin Cutrer Kevin Cutrer is offline
Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 200

Thanks for sharing. In addition to Mason's essay in The Poetry of Life, there is an essay in The Reaper Essays (Eds. Mark Jarman and Robert McDowell) that explores Simpson's narrative gifts. I am more familiar with the poems he wrote "under the spell of Walt" and, as Mason pointed out in his essay, he sometimes gets lazy, but there are far more rewards than disappointments. I regret that I didn't bring any of his books with me when I left the country.
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