The Fenn College Poetry Center of Cleveland was officially established on April 14, 1962. Dr. Randolph Randall, the Chair of the English Department, was ill and in hospital, so I was named founding director by Dr. Donald Tuttle, the acting chair. My only collaborator in the venture at the college was the late David French, the audio-visual technician of the College and an amateur poet who would complete a Ph.D. in history at Western Reserve and later become Dean of Erie College, not far up the road toward Buffalo. He and another Poetry Center habitué, Al Cahen, would inherit the Cleveland poetry magazine American Weave from its founder, Loring Williams, who presided over the Poetry Center Forums which began that fall. A local Afro-American writer, Louis Albion Williams, was the focus of the Center’s first Poetry Forum on October 19th. Julie Suk has written a memoir about it:
“My first introduction to Lew [Turco],” she wrote, “was at the Poetry Forum at Fenn College, now Cleveland State. I had just moved to Ohio from Birmingham, Alabama. Newcomer to poetry after a half-hearted painting career, I decided to venture down to the Forum and try out a few poems. I dropped my name in a basket by the door and walked in expecting a small group of readers and friends. Wrong! No smattering of people. Instead, a large and lively crowd celebrating guest speakers topped off by an AME Zion Church choir singing spirituals. ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ ‘I Wish I Knew How I’d Feel to Be Free,’ ‘There Is No Hiding Place Down Here’ — exuberant rhythms I grew up longing to listen to over and over,[…]”1
Another charter member of the Poetry Forums was Darryl Allan Levy, or “d. a. levy” (sic, å la e. e. cummings, as he liked to sign himself sans capital letters), born in Cleveland on October 29, 1942, to Joseph J. and Carolyn Levy. The unusual spelling of his middle name is the same as that of Edgar Allan Poe, and I have speculated whether his parents deliberately named him after America’s first “Decadent” poet; if so, it was an ominous portent.
Soon after the Poetry Center opened, Levy came to see me in my office on the eighth floor of Fenn Tower on the corner of Superior and West 24th Street. He told me that he had never graduated from high school — that was apparently a lie; I have no idea why he told it — and asked if it would be possible for him to get into the College without the diploma. I said I'd try to work it out, and I arranged an interview for him with the admissions office. I asked him, though, please not to shoot himself in the foot, as I knew he was wont to do, but of course, that's what he did. He deliberately botched the interview and was not allowed to enroll. After that, all he could do was come to the Poetry Center programs and, of course, make a life for himself in the city.
This is what I believed happened at the time, but since then I have had reason to doubt my interpretation of those events because, according to other sources including Wikipedia, Levy had, in fact, graduated from high school, gotten his diploma, and enlisted in the Navy. I was only eight years older than Levy, and I, too, had spent time in the U. S. Navy, four years of active duty from my own high school graduation in 1952 to 1956 when I entered college on the G. I. Bill, graduating in 1959 and attending graduate school from 1959-1960. The instructorship I held at Fenn College was my first full-time academic appointment, and I would, in fact, not complete and receive my M. A. until 1962, the same year that the Poetry Center was founded.
If Levy was at that time twenty years old, he must have graduated from high school in 1960, the year I came to Cleveland and Fenn College, and he appears to have spent a very short time in the Navy. He must either have been a Naval Reservist while he was still in high school, which is doubtful, or he was discharged early for some reason. In an e-mail message of Wednesday, December 16, 2009, my former Fenn student Russell Salamon wrote me, “d. a. levy told me about that. He was trying to get discharged, first for physical reasons[,] then he started to behave in an erratic manner, argued about the validity of the military. I think he also meditated, spent [s]ome time in the brig. He was not on the ship more than a few weeks.”
If my calculations are close to being accurate, then Levy could have made a regular application for admission to Fenn College. Was his request some sort of test he was applying to me? Did he deliberately ruin the interview with the admissions office because he knew that his true history would be discovered if he were admitted?
If it was a test of some sort, apparently I passed, for Levy continued to attend the Poetry Forums and the other Center programs, and he even asked me to submit work for some of his publications, for he had somehow gotten hold of a table-top hand press and founded the Renegade and the Seven Flowers imprints. Levy began publishing the work of his local friends and acquaintances, including young writers around the country and Russell Salamon who was his roommate for a time. Salamon’s chapbook of poems from Levy’s Renegade Press, which he dedicated to me, was titled Parent[hetical Pop]pies.2 It appeared in 1964, the year of his graduation from Fenn. Russell was eventually the author of an epic of sorts about Levy titled Descent Into Cleveland.3 It described the underground scene in the city during the ‘sixties, Levy’s involvement in it, and it led up to Levy’s suicide.
Salamon spent much of his time in Cleveland trying to keep Levy interested in life, for apparently his ambition was to kill himself, and he talked about it often. Levy did not have a great deal of talent as a writer, but I think he desperately wanted to be remembered when he was gone, and the best way to do that, perhaps, was to be notorious. The local poet Russell Atkins, founder and editor of the Cleveland poetry magazine Free Lance, wrote me in Oswego, New York, in 1967, “Well, I suppose you might have heard that d. a. levy and some of the group here have become objects of the police, FBI and narcotics agents. Much cause célèbre in the making here.”4
As a poet Levy — as one can tell, perhaps, by the lower-case name — was influenced by E. E. Cummings, not by the rhyming and metering poems of Poe, as in this following item titled “bop for kiddies”:
i watermeloned down the lawn
and summersalts in season
a red balloon
a blue—a green
an orange one all
with childrens dreams tied5
Though I'm sure he wouldn't have known the term, Levy here used the schema called anthimeria, substitution of one part of speech for another, as in "watermeloned down the lawn," where a noun is substituted for the verb. A similar thing happens in line two, where somersaults is perhaps, though not necessarily, deliberately misspelled. And the other errors, such as lack of punctuation, were probably also deliberate, and easier to set by hand, especially if one didn’t have many pieces of some fonts. In the e-mail message cited above Salamon wrote, “In the ‘i watermeloned’ poem all of those things are deliberate. I asked him about ‘summersalts’. He wanted it that way”
I left Cleveland in 1964, and the Fenn alumnus Russell Salamon helped me to move to Hillsdale, Michigan, where I taught for a year before I made my final academic move to the State University of New York College at Oswego. My successor as Director of the Poetry Center was Alberta Turner who wrote me on November 24, 1964, "Something will have to be done about those forums, by the way. Russ Salamon and Co. made the last forum so disagreeable that four members walked out before it was over. I've never seen so much naked vanity on display. The whole atmosphere was hostile, condescending, and confused. No hints nor jokes on my part served to shut him up, so I guess I'll just have to call him into the office for a private talk."6 But this incident was minor compared with other things that were going on with Levy and his friends.
Loring Williams, editor and publisher of the local American Weave Press and of the poetry magazine American Weave during these years, was the incumbent leader of the Poetry Forums of the Poetry Center until I departed. He himself left the city in 1966 to return to his native Maine after the death of his wife, Alice Crane Williams, a composer and an aunt of Cleveland’s most famous poet, Hart Crane. In a letter of January 30, 1967, datelined South Berwick, Loring wrote me in Oswego to say, "Well, I've been in Maine a full year, and am still quite content[....]I suppose your Cleveland correspondents are keeping you up-to-date on the Jim Lowell - d.a. levy scandal. Perhaps 'scandal' isn't the right word...but it has to do with d.a.'s publishing and Lowell's selling of 'pornographic'” literature [from his Asphodel Bookshop]. I never thought his (and his satellite's) ravings were 'pornographic'...but merely the scribblings of little boys on shit-house walls."7
An elegy I wrote for Levy, “Words for White Weather,” was written on request for a memorial publication three years after Levy shot himself the following year, 1968:
WORDS FOR WHITE WEATHER
for d. a. levy
On a gross day, in a green month
once, a child was Summer’s lover.
She, heavy with worlds, sent
the child bouquets of amber light. Giver
and taker, she tossed him petals;
in good barter he gave his leman
words shaped like flesh
of fruits: sweet peach, tart lemon,
berryheart whose vine goes
twining with grass. She gave
him this too: a grassblade made
the frost’s sickle, lush love
turned root rape, the maggot’s
carnal slither. No matter. Her
kiss was decay. Still, his songs
weather the winter. 8
I was thankful not to have been in Cleveland when Levy took his own life, nor in 1984 when another Poetry Forum member, Jau Billera, followed Levy’s example. I've known self-destructive people, but d. a. levy was world-class in that regard. I suppose his death was inevitable, but it was very sad. He was a harmless little guy, really, and not the wild Beat renegade he liked to act; however, some people do remember him as the most famous native Cleveland poet after Hart Crane, also a suicide, which is an accomplishment of sorts.
1Swerdfeger, Steven E., Editor, Lewis Turco and His Work: A Celebration, Scottsdale: Star Cloud Press, 2004, p. 196.
Archie Ammons, Bob Huff, Lew Turco & Dick Frost at Bread Loaf in 1961
In 1959, while I was still an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, Harold Vinal began to ask me to review books for his magazine Voices. He had been publishing my poems for about five years — ever since I was a post-high school sailor in the Navy — so he knew my work. I was flattered, though it had never occurred to me to be a critic, but I accepted, and in the second review that I wrote for him, titled “The Poet’s Court,” published in 1960, I first ran into the work of Robert Huff. I said that in Huff’s first book, Colonel Johnson's Ride and Other Poems (1959), the poet did not particularly believe in visual image. Except for "Porcupines," which was startling because it imitated prose paragraphs and came in the middle of the book, he stuck with quatrains, couplets, and other common stanzas all set down matter-of-factly and pushed over to the left hand margin. Robert Huff's sound however, was full. He often mixed sweet words with tough language, as in "King Salmon":
A gravel deathbed for the king of fish.
Nuncle, the mad Kingfisher had you hooked
From birthrise, hauled and schooled, and heaved
From saltsea silver up brown rapids run
To rest your milt-white crown upon these stones.
Hear how the windy guts of gulls
Rejoice above your ghost beginning now.
They grow for so much Godspent majesty.
Huff occasionally mixed the pastoral with the mechanical. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, for readers were not yet used to having machines and bombers described in lyrical fashion. His best poems had to do with mood and nature, an assertion that might best be illustrated by quoting the whole of "Although I Remember the Sound," which I admired:
Although I remember the sound
The young snag made when I felled it,
It was not noise or music mattered then.
Briefly, the tree was silent on the ground.
Of what it was that mattered I recall
Simply, among the chips and dust
And keener near the center of the cut,
The sweet, new smell which rose after the fall.
The natural world was far and away Huff’s best subject, although he tried satire, moral objection to war and portraits with good success.
The ideas that Huff was attempting to embody, however, were somewhat unclear in my opinion. He might give us a scene and a mood, the characters, the plot, and then he would not draw his conclusion, though he might hint at it. Depending on the degree of empathy between the reader and what went on early in the poem, we might or might not understand what he was talking about. I, for one, was uncertain how to react when, in "The Smoker," the poet described a blind man blowing smoke rings with (perhaps) "his hearing aid turned off" so that not only could he not see the poet, he wouldn’t be able to hear the poet's conversation either, but he might later appear in the bard’s dreams, "A slow smile smoking, circled to the thighs / And screws both of his thumbs into my eyes / And will not stop to listen to my screams." In general, however, the total image of one of his poems was pleasing, if a bit too careful. All in all, though, I liked Huff’s work well enough to remember him as standing out from many of the books I was considering for Mr. Vinal.
This turned out to be a good thing because at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, during the last two weeks of August the next year, 1961, Robert Huff, Miller Williams, Richard Emil Braun and I were poetry Fellows, A. R. Ammons, was a Scholar, and Richard Frost was attending on a Danforth grant. Frost, Huff and I shared one of the little cottages near Treman Hall.
One night we were sitting around in the cottage reciting limericks to one another and, of course, laughing and carrying on after each recitation. We made enough noise to arouse the ire of some women who lived in another cottage close by, and they complained to John Ciardi, director of the conference, that we were making too much noise. John came by — it must have been after ten p.m. — to do his duty and tell us to quiet down. He asked us what we were doing, and after he had fulfilled his function as policeman he sat down with us and began to recite limericks himself from his prodigious memory, most if not all of them original. All those present became, over the course of the next several hours, hysterical to the point that our sides ached. We were making much more noise with John present than we had been making before he arrived. I have no idea what the women did, or how they managed to get any sleep at all that night.
The recently deceased Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was one of the fabled people of our generation, and Bob Huff and I used to have Dylan Thomas sound-alike contests — of course, we had listened to his recordings. Huff was good, but I had the advantage of reading original material, for the year before, in my First Poems, I had published my
DIRGE A LA DYLAN
When I was a curled boy, short and long-
shadowed beneath an apple moon,
I peeled my dreams out of cider skies
and toasted them crisp each fiery noon.
When I was a birch young man I pruned
my dreams until they grew green and tall.
I plunged brown seed upon mossy days,
urged them to lunge and be done with the fall.
Then, when I was a hairy man,
I grasped my past by both its ears
to feed it on cabbages and grass
until it turned pink-eyed with the years.
Ah! curled small lad; O birch young man,
hairy elder: apple hours
are lying, prune-dry, upon cellar shelves,
choking black seed within vinegar cores.
I had been teaching by that time for a year at Fenn College in Cleveland, what is now Cleveland State University, and the following year, 1962, I founded the Poetry Center of Cleveland there. Of course, among the first to be invited to give programs there were some of my Bread Loaf confreres. Dick Frost read his work on August 24th, and Bob Huff come to read on October fifth: as I recall we had all of twenty people in the audience. Both Dick and Bob stayed with my wife, Jean, our daughter, Melora, and me in the four-room apartment that we had recently moved into in Euclid, a Cleveland suburb. Jean was shocked to discover what a hard drinker Bob was. The first thing he did when he woke up in the morning was light a cigarette and take a pull out of a bottle he took from his briefcase. “He did it right in front of me,” Jean said, “and made a wry comment about it!” (I trust there was no pun intended on my wife’s part.)
Bob had come to Cleveland from the University of Delaware where he was a member of the faculty. On May 1, 1964, Elizabeth Bishop wrote to her correspondent Robert Lowell, “I don’t know why I am giving advice. I have a hard time finding words, remembering faces, wiping the glaze from memory. The stay at Delaware was an empty time, except for the company of Peter Taylor: a stiff English department, a drunken poet, Robert Huff, an amiable cowed messy weak [Theodore] Roethke, boisterously carrying a dull weight of defeat, pen women, nice and not very nice, with their little poems and stories written for themselves, a dearth of students, many handed in work but never appeared.”1
In 1963. Bob was a MacDowell Colony Fellow in Peterborough, N.H. The following year I was given my walking papers from Fenn, and I began searching for jobs. Two that I was offered were at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and at Bellingham State College in Washington. I had spent five years in the Midwest, and both Jean and I were yearning to return to points farther east. I was also offered two other positions, one at the State University of New York College at Oswego, and the other at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. I preferred the Oswego job, but they were taking too much time to decide, and I was becoming fretful waiting for them, so I opted for Hillsdale — a vast mistake — and turned down the other three.
Hilo was hit by a tsunami in 1965, but Hillsdale was also a disaster, a John Birch Society undertaking cloned from Parsons College. I wrote Oswego to ask if that job were still available; it was, and I took it the following year, in 1965 — this time I waited until the middle of the summer when it was confirmed. I stayed there thirty-one years.
At the same time that I was firing myself from Hillsdale Bob Huff, it turned out, was looking to get out of Delaware, so he took the Bellingham position I’d been offered. Bob stayed at Bellingham for many years as well, and he wrote three other collections along the way, The Course in 1966, The Ventriloquist in 1977, and a bird chapbook, Shore Guide to Flocking Names, published in a limited edition in 1985. I reviewed the last of these sometimes rueful, usually descriptive, always light-verse pieces. They were enjoyable to read, but perhaps the audience for which they seemed to be intended — older children — had little chance to see them in this package.
Bob Huff retired from Bellingham in 1989. He died in a fire at his home there in 1993 at the age of sixty-nine the victim, apparently, of his last cigarette and the final toast he drank to his Muse. His passing was sad, but he was a great boon companion, Richard Frost has a tale to tell of just how boon he could be:
Some Memories of Robert Huff
Bread Loaf 1961 was my introduction to the social mysteries of the poetry world, and Bob Huff seemed the perfect poet hero. I had published in Poetry and in Harper’s Magazine and some other good places, which gave me some authenticity as a poet, but really I had been nowhere to witness how poets behaved. Bread Loaf was my baptism. Hard-drinking big-voiced Huff looked to be my best chance to hang out with a figure resembling Dylan Thomas, but the infatuation proved hard to sustain.
Bob Huff was a sweet, generous, gregarious guy with a big resonant voice. He read aloud beautifully, his own poems and all the others he liked. He and Lew Turco and sometimes Miller Williams and I would sit on the front porch of Bridgeman and read and recite and criticize and praise and drink vodka-&-tomato juice for hours. I’ll never forget Bob’s big affirmative infectious smile when he liked something. We all consumed bushels and gallons of poetry. This was, for my money, the way it was supposed to work.
In the year after Bread Loaf, Bob and I exchanged a few letters and once or twice talked on the phone. During the summer of 1964, when I was visiting my parents in California, with my first wife and our young son and daughter I drove to Bellingham, Washington, to see Bob, there in that big old house, the one he later set afire. It was a pleasant enough visit but sort of flat — with our two wives there, we didn’t talk freely, and Bob was drinking heavily. We stayed up most of the night. Bob had promised my son that he would take him fishing in the morning, and I doubted that it would happen. But early the next day, long before I was out of bed, Huff arose and took my son fishing. He was hung over, but he wasn’t going to disappoint the kid.
The next, and last, time I saw Bob was in the fall of 1972. I invited Bob to read at my college, SUNY Oneonta, and it was altogether a mistake. He was drunk the whole time. Carol and I drove to meet him at the Binghamton airport but had to wait there several hours because he had missed his flight — had been removed from the plane, he told us, because he fit the profile for a terrorist. He had been to see James Dickey, who had sent him away with a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, which he still was carrying, half-full. He frightened us both, twice threatening to leave the car as we drove up Interstate 88.
The next day Bob was scheduled to visit my poetry workshop. He had gotten up on time, and Carol made him breakfast, which he supplemented with the rest of the bourbon. I drove him to the College for the class, which we met on time. I introduced Huff to the class, reminded them that I had told them about him, and turned the class over. Huff addressed himself to the blackboard. He drew a horizontal line with chalk, turned to the class, and spoke to a young woman at a front desk: “Do you love your father?” he said. Not waiting for an answer, he turned and wrote “Robert Lowell” on the board. He then asked for questions. I don’t remember the rest.
That afternoon we visited a bar, and that evening there was dinner at the home of one of my English department colleagues. We were not terribly late for Bob’s reading; the small auditorium was almost full. My poet friend and colleague Don Petersen introduced Huff, who then set his briefcase on the table and began looking for his manuscript. He searched for ten minutes, pulled out the papers he had previously rejected, and read. Not in his mellifluous Dylan Thomas manner I remembered, but with a hoarse tipsy mumble.
That was the last time. The next day my colleague Paul Lilly drove Bob to the airport. Then—how many years later? — I learned that he had fallen asleep in his chair with a lighted cigarette and had set his house on fire and had died, and his wife had died in the fire too. I have a Kodachrome print — Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 1961: Archie Ammons, Bob Huff, Lew Turco, myself, shoulder-to-shoulder in brilliant August sunshine on the front lawn of Bridgeman. We’re all young, brighteyed, and all set for the future.
— Richard Frost
Considering everything, it’s amazing that Bob lived to be sixty-nine years of age. Archie Ammons managed to make seventy-five, I’m seventy-seven, Miller Williams is eighty-one, and Dick Frost is eighty-two. Most of us are still hanging in there.
1Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Thomas Travisano, Editor, New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2010,
Besides Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson, there was a fourth nineteenth-century American poet who had a great effect on Modernist and post-Modernist American, and even British poetry, though that effect was indirect and more difficult to trace. Edgar Allan Poe influenced poetry and all of fiction as well, both Continental and New World, for it was he who invented the genre of the detective story. His first important influence, however, was on the French Symbolists of the nineteenth century, Paul Verlaine (i844-96), Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91), and Stephane Mallarmé (1842-98), leader of the group. These were the people who invented the term "vers libre" or "free verse" which, even in French versification which was syllabic, was incomprehensible, for if it wasn’t verse it had to be prose. It was through T. S. Eliot, the American-born British Symbolist poet, that Poe worked his influence upon twentieth-century American poetry, and upon the American and British New Criticism as well.
Poe began to publish his books of poetry in 1827, when he was eighteen years of age, thus equaling the feat of William Cullen Bryant who published his most famous poem, "Thanatopsis," when he too was eighteen. On January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe published his poem “The Raven” in a newspaper, The New York Evening Mirror, Newspapers in those days were a standard venue for the publication of poetry because everyone read newspapers, and sometimes newspapers needed fillers to take up unused space between stories. Not only that, but people actually read poetry for pleasure in the nineteenth century, as they did in the case of “The Raven.”
In very short order the poem was being reprinted everywhere, as is still the case. Ordinary folks just loved it, and so did people who were not so ordinary, like Abraham Lincoln who committed it to memory. Lovers of lyric verse have been memorizing it ever since. It is one of the most popular poems ever written in the English language. Mallarmé published a French translation of it, Le Corbeau, in 1875, with illustrations by the Impressionist painter, Edouard Manet.
In 1848 Poe published Eureka, a Prose Poem, thus anticipating by seven years Whitman's issuance of Leaves of Grass, a fact that is generally overlooked by those who are determined to believe that Whitman was the first American prose poet. A great deal about Poe is overlooked by literary scholars, some of whom have said that Poe's idea of poetry appears to be a sort of monstrous distortion of Emersonian Transcendentalism. Poe believed, as he wrote in "The Poetic Principle" in 1850, that the poet's function was to achieve a moment, a glimpse of "Supernal Beauty," but that term is Poe's closest approach to Emerson, for supernal beauty could only be achieved by considering melancholy subjects, in particular the death of a beautiful woman. Poe was the first American decadent, which is no doubt why the nineteenth century held him at arm's length, even though he was ubiquitous in the literature of his period.
In his theories of writing, too, Poe was at the opposite pole from Emerson, after whom Poe was perhaps the second most important American literary critic of the 19th century; certainly, Poe's literary opinions and views of writing have outlasted those of most of his contemporaries. Edgar Allan Poe discussed how he wrote “The Raven” in a treatise, “The Philosophy of Composition,” which appeared in Graham’s Magazine in April of 1846, a bit over a year after the poem was published. In it he set out an Aristotelian — indeed, an extremely craftsmanly and technical — view of how poets ought to go about writing their poems. It is, in fact, a rationale for the kind of literary approach to writing that Emerson specifically identified in his essay “The Poet,” as being un-American. Ever since then critics have been casting doubt on the rational system Poe said he used to pen “The Raven.” I have never understood why, because it is certainly very similar to the system I used as an adolescent in high school to analyze Poe’s most famous poem and to write a poem like it that I titled “The Veil of Yearning.”
Poe's poetry — all except Eureka — is written in verse mode, and it has been criticized for being too "jingly," too hypnotically metrical (though it is certainly not too metrically regular). His subjects are thought to be too abstract, too decadent, too overtly symbolic. It was all of these things that the French Symbolists admired. Likewise, it was all of these things that made Poe seem a sort of Old World weed in the Transcendentalist herb garden of America. His life-style, too, caused people to lift their noses (in this he was like Whitman), and when he died early of what appeared to be alcoholism or drug addiction, no one was surprised.
One might mention that Poe’s “The Bells” has been discussed in the twentieth century as a “jazz poem” written before jazz had been invented. I would very much like to know how this poem can be called “tinkly,” apart from Poe’s use of the word in the first stanza:
Hear the sledges with the bells-
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Hear the mellow wedding bells,
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And an in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
Hear the loud alarum bells-
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now- now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells-
Of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!
Hear the tolling of the bells-
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people- ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells-
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells-
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells-
Bells, bells, bells-
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
Any competent metrical analysis of “The Bells” will dispel the theory that Poe’s rhythms were too regular.
One of the best ways for young people to learn how to write verse is to imitate poems written in verse. That is certainly one of the ways I learned to write it. In an interview published in January 2010 on his blog “Poetry and Popular Culture,” Michael Chasar wanted to know how it happened that one of my early poems, “Excerpts from the Latter-Day Chronicle,” was published in what he considered to be a strange place, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in 1962 “while studying under Paul Engle and Donald Justice at Iowa. This struck the P&PC office interns as kind of odd, for when they think of poets trained at the Writers’ Workshop, they don’t at all imagine them wanting to publish in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So we caught up with Turco and asked him to explain himself.
“Can you explain yourself?”
“Sure,” I replied, “I wasn’t ‘trained’ at the Workshop. I was almost entirely self-taught. I was publishing poems in my home-town paper’s poetry column all through high school….” That poetry column, edited by Lydia B. Atkinson and titled “Pennons of Pegasus,” appeared every Wednesday in the Meriden, Connecticut, Morning Record.
In 1961 while I was a Poetry Fellow at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, the classical scholar and poet Dudley Fitts was assigned to me as the critic of my poetry. At one of our sessions he mentioned that when he was teaching at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut, not far from Meriden, he used to read The Morning Record.
I told him that was my home town paper and I’d first published my poems in Lydia’s column while I was a high school student. He guffawed and said, “My wife and I used to read that column aloud to each other every Wednesday morning and begin the day with a hearty laugh.”
I told him I had no idea I’d had such a distinguished audience so young, and I was pleased that he’d been familiar with my work for so long. One of those pieces of my juvenilia that Dudley Fitts must have read was my imitation of Poe’s “The Raven,”
Once, long ago, in a pretty town named Storrs where I was young and a student, I attended a basketball game and watched my team do this:
But now, tonight, many weeks after I had given up on another team fielded by my Alma Mater when they emerged from Big East Conference play with a 9-9 record, I am forced to my knees to beg their forgiveness, for I watched these young men and their ancient coach (though he is not as ancient as I) perform an absolutely incredible run of wins to become, first, Maui Invitational Tournament Champions, then Big East Tournament Champions, and at last National Champions, not having lost a single game, all season long, to any team outside the Big East! I’m glad I lived long enough to witness this feat and to deliver to the Huskies
A BELATED APOLOGY
Upon the Occasion of UConn’s Winning its Third National NCAA Basketball Men’s Championship
on April 5th, 2011.
There once was a coach named Calhoun
Who pricked an enormous balloon
When he turned poor old Butler
Back into a scuttler
And returned the team to its cocoon.
In fact, now that I think about it, I dedicate my original poem to the Butler basketball team who tonight managed to shoot the lowest percentage of baskets since 1950 when I was still a high school student in Meriden, Connecticut.
The Virginia Quarterly Review "The Mutable Past," a memoir collected in FANTASEERS, A BOOK OF MEMORIES by Lewis Turco of growing up in the 1950s in Meriden, Connecticut, (Scotsdale AZ: Star Cloud Press, 2005).
The Tower Journal Two short stories, "The Demon in the Tree" and "The Substitute Wife," in the spring 2009 issue of Tower Journal.
The Tower Journal Memoir, “Pookah, The Greatest Cat in the History of the World,” Spring-Summer 2010.
The Michigan Quarterly Review This is the first terzanelle ever published, in "The Michigan Quarterly Review" in 1965. It has been gathered in THE COLLECTED LYRICS OF LEWIS TURCO/WESLI COURT, 1953-2004 (www.StarCloudPress.com).
The Gawain Poet An essay on the putative medieval author of "Gawain and the Green Knight" in the summer 2010 issue of Per Contra.