Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hugh Seidman: Somebody Stand Up and Sing

The post brings something to stand up and sing about: Hugh Seidman's latest collection, Somebody Stand Up and Sing (New Issues, 2005). I will admit that my initial interest in Seidman stemmed from the fact that he was probably the only one of Louis Zukofsky's students at Brooklyn Polytech who went on to become a poet (and he's written wonderfully of the experience of knowing LZ as teacher). But I've become a great admirer of Seidman's writing over the past few years. By no means a prolific poet: his first book, Collecting Evidence, came out in the Yale Younger Poets series in 1970, and has been followed by only four others (including a selected) up to this point. But every one of those books is marked by an keen eye for detail and narrative and an extraordinary ear.

To my own ear, the poems of Somebody Stand Up and Sing are barer and more minimal than Seidman's earlier work. These are clean poems, strong and unadorned, dispensing with any unnecessary scaffolding of detail or connective. The longish poems towards the end of the book which confront the extremities of the history through which we are living – in particular "12 Views of Freetown, 1 View of Bumbuna" and "2001" (perhaps the best post-September 11 poem I've read) – are moving indeed. I'm particularly fond of "I Could Not Say," a poem which earlier appeared in the journal Shofar, a meditation on Jewishness and the poet's childhood. The last two lines are incredible, where the repetitive, accretive, almost Biblical rhetoric of the earlier stanzas tightens into a choking simile:

I Could Not Say

I could not say I had averted Brooklyn:
envy, cruelty, treachery, rage, hatred.

I could not say I had forsworn vengeance:
broken nose, tooth – for broken nose, tooth.

I could not say I had avowed the good:
remorse, empathy, loyalty, mercy, love.

I could not say I had quit the stoop:
Jew Ganz, my hero, wrestling bully Joey.

I could not say I had settled truth:
scraped knee, filthy hand, football, punchball.

In spring my father took me to the field
where batters smacked the balls.

At camp: trapped Cassiopeia; belted Orion;
Venus the false star, even then.

As there God oversaw the cohorts
tightening the tefillin like tourniquets.