Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kent Johnson’s “Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century”

Frances Sargent Osgood, c. 1850

Ah, the “brain-scattering” ejaculatory O!’s of the nineteenth century. Ah, the thrice-named titans of humor, the gloaming belle-lettrists of the pitiable conceit, the dashing ornery grammarians! Augustus Baldwin Longstreet! Roderick Impey Murchison! Letitia Elizabeth Landon! Anna Peyre Dinnies! Sumner Lincoln Fairfield! Ah, the poets, all driveling their revelatory abrupts across the deathless page, all with all the sticky ubiquity of the common arachnidae (the amblypygids, the schizomids, the acarinae)—isn’t it precisely there that the nineteenth century meets “our” “own”? There in the “nonpareil” (meaning, I suppose, “candy-assed”) shamelessness of the endless mercurial “through-put”? What the bent sigillum of Alexander Pope hurled forth in the eighteenth century mounts up in cruel accrual and sigmoid glut, alarum of “things to come”:
Who shames a scribbler? Break one cobweb through,
He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew:
Destroy his fib, or sophistry: in vain!
The creature’s at his dirty work again,
Throned in the centre of his thin designs,
Proud of a vast extent of flimsy lines . . .
(A twenty-first century version reads: “You have plenty of time is what everybody says, the stupidest / Thing I’ve ever heard // I don’t even fucking / Have time to write this right now.”) Hellbent toward the unaccoutered morass of the oubliette, that hole where memory goeth “off” so prettily only to droop in the remove, evanesce in the wash . . .

We shall, O! I trust it is not too impetuous (or impolitic) to say, all die and thereat be forgot, scrubbed “out” by the nonchalant commandoes of the new, the rankest of our ranks made dumb by the honest temporal sludge of the incipient. And just as something like Ariana Reines’s lines (out of Mercury)—
I don’t know what I need
Until you have given it to me
To make me know I needed it

O stone of all I’m not. O gem of all things
Making me lick your gorgon eye
& touch myself eternally
—just may refer the contemporary hypocrite lecteur back to the sinuous insinuatory overtures of something like Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood’s “The Dying Rosebud’s Lament”—I quote—
Ah me! ah! wo is me!
      That I should perish now,
With the dear sunlight just let in,
      Upon my balmy brow!

My leaves, instinct with glowing life,
      Were quivering to unclose!
My happy heart with love was rife;—
      I was almost a rose!
—that reader, too, is certain of the ever-contingent expungement of such vanity, casual, unappeased, unredressed. Such a dire irremediable outlook (death, disappearance) is, one suspects, fons et origo of those impetuous O!’s, and may, too, provide a way of reckoning with those moot trinitarian monikers, a leading of names gabbling up for clout against ruin, time’s genial reprisal . . .

That—full-throated spuriousness and all—by way of making a pact (“Nineteenth century— / I have detested you long enough”)—now that one is beyond the officious, throttling reach of the “pig-headed father” of the twentieth century—and admitting how the nineteenth century is like our “brain-scattering” own. The line of thinking is all Kent Johnson’s fault and honor: for he, in a fit of approbatory kindness, sent along an undunned copy, fresh out of the Johnson scrivenery, of “Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century,” a piece of excavatory goodwill, nigh pious in its delight, scintillose in its wit, partial to its supposed principals. For these are our brethren—and Pound’s lines (out of Canto LXXIV) waft up like dimity—
To study with the white wings of time passing
                        is not that our delight
to have friends come from far countries
                        is not that pleasure
nor to care that we are untrumpeted?
                        filial, fraternal affection is the root of humaneness
                        the root of the process . . .
“Where memory liveth” is precisely where we be.

Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century

                                            —for John Bradley, in the 21st

Absalom William Moore is a poet who thought poetry was an anchor in the drift of the world.

Adelaide Mary Brown is a poet who inspired strong feelings among the bachelors of her town.

Bartholomew Derrick Taylor is a poet who spoke to us intimately, from an almost suffocating nearness.

Obedience Sophie Walker is a poet who believed there’s another world where we will read to each other high on a mountain in the wind.

Cuthbert Eli Morgan is a poet who always seemed to connect with the choir.

Abiah Charlotte Sanders is a poet who spun her gold down through the moving deep laurel shade all day.

Chauncey Thaddeus Powell is a poet who believed that there are no grounds for belief.

Lucretia Florence Jenkins is a poet who believed they will have to believe it as we believed it.

Cornelius August Parker is a poet who thought he was lit up like morning glories and was showered by the rain of his symbols.

Cyrus Wiley Butler is a poet who believed long poems are “much closer to a whole reality” than shorter poems, but too late.

Fredonia Anna Ross is a poet who believed she had spent the afternoon blowing soap bubbles.

Obediah Virgil Foster is a poet who believed the day was gloves.

Hester Wilma Campbell is a poet who was suddenly covered at the party by the wasps of the doorsill.

Ebenezer Charles Freeman is a poet whose last words were “The pool is covered in slime.”

Permelia Margaret Holmes is a poet who believed that when a screen door banged in the wind it made one of her hinges come loose.

Epaphroditus Benjamin Warren is a poet who didn’t and doesn’t really care where poetry is now.

Prudence Alice Grant is a poet who rode a mule until the mule had to be carried.

Phineas Derrick Knight is a poet who thought of himself highly, believing the nature of what is personal imitates oblivion.

Temperance Clarissa Hamilton is a poet who wrote poems in French with the design that they be translated into the English of the Queen.

Hiram Josiah Hunt is a poet who dragged a rotten log from the bottom of a stagnant pond.

Jedediah Louis Mason is a poet who nested at the end of a tunnel, where he was discovered beneath a bank.

Elijah Aquilla Burns is a poet who loved Rochester, and who flows northward like two joined sewers.

Zachariah Thomas Hayes is a poet who believed we go back to poems as to a wife, leaving the boyfriend we desire.

Malvina Penelope Smith is a poet who shouted primitive slogans and shot symbolic smoke out her gills.

Olive Martha Weaver is a poet who believed she could simply choose to “wander away” from an optional apocalypse.

Nathaniel Edward East is a poet who wondered how the singing of the housefinch rings in finchskull, which wondering made him mad.

Electa Joan McCoy is a poet who believed it was a misunderstanding, mud sliding from the side where the thing was let in.

Mabel Ellen Greene is a poet who believed the whole brilliant mass comes spattering down.

Hezekiah Zander Fox is a poet whose two stalks pushed from the brain, through a series of miraculous infoldings to form optic cups.

Kesiah Relief Riley is a poet whose hair was black, and whose eyes were black, and from whose long fingers the spirits were conjured.

Newton Duncan Stone is a poet who believed Orpheus liked the glad personal quality of the things beneath the sky, which on that strange day began to rain frogs.

Isaac Davis Gibson is a poet who had a cow’s head on his shoulders and candles sprouting from his back.

Abigail Isabel Hicks is a poet who has disappeared into libraries, into microfilm.

Jeremiah Cross Shaw is a poet who went mad and had relations with Longfellow, his steed.

Tryphosia Sybrina Chapman is a poet who believed our jousting ends in music, like saplings do, after a typhoon.

Loretta Judith Porter is a poet who liked it when it was snowing in Paris, a city which does not exist.

Priscilla Elinamifia Woods is a poet who wrapped you in the burnoose of memories against the dark temptations of the flesh.

Francis Quiet Bryant is a poet who entered the forest, followed a path, and was eaten by The Bear, or The Witch.

Judah Robert Daniels is a poet who discovered a way to translate Eastern texts so that Western men could read Orientally, down at the beach of agates.

Lafayette Blessed Strongly is a poet who thought he was ahead of his time, but now he is regarded as apocryphal.

Pleasant Reunion Washington is a poet whose last line was “I don’t think the leeches are sucking anymore.”

Jackson Auction Black is a poet whose classical meters were all blasted to ruins in defense of Charleston.

Henrietta Troy Mills is a poet who was stolen by the Apache and became an Apache, it is rumored.

Edward Azariah Cole is a poet who knew he would show them, those who had laughed and mocked him, but alas.

Anne Liza Bishop is a poet who insisted on signing Anonymous and so forever does.

Martha Damaris Tucker is a poet who did not doubt that her hands or her whole body were hers, as the grain of sand to the haboob or the shrimp to the tsunami.

Winifred Fullest Hart is a poet who, like Thomas Jefferson, saw grass enough for myriads of oxen to grind between their teeth.

Kenward Linwood Johnson is a poet who at one end of his line had a knot, and at the other end a hook, and he sat fishing for a camel until he was called to come back.

Experience April Weaver is a poet whose sorrow was so wide you couldn’t see across it, if sorrow could be seen.