Gerald Stern has been one of my favorites since I first tripped over him about 20 years ago. Not that I’ve read deeply into any of his books — I’ve probably read about 1/3 of a collected poems my dad gave me for Christmas maybe, hm, maybe 15 years ago. "This Time" is one in the stack of books that makes up the MV twitter icon. It’s funny that my dad, who is neither a poetry writer nor a poetry reader, would give me a book by non-best-selling Gerald Stern. Perhaps the man who was born in April, 1937, in Pittsburgh, feels some kinship with the man who was born in 1925, in Pittsburgh. Of his own youth, Mr. Stern has said, "My family’s only been here 100 years. Exactly 100 years. And I grew up in Pittsburgh, American-raised, whatever the hell that means–to be American. But I realize now I’m somewhat of a foreigner." What does he mean, a foreigner? Living as a Jew in Pittsburgh? From a Jewish family, being of majority age as the U.S. turned away boats of Jewish refugees during the height of WWII (sending literally hundreds back to their deaths in concentration camps, rather than let them disembark on U.S. soil)? Does he mean adopting an outsider perspective on social life, lending just a touch of the surreal to even his most prosaic poems? Identifying more with European, rather than Anglo-American, strains of poetic art?
He’s a great Pittsburgher, hence his name anagram "Grand Steel’r." And my dad, who celebrated his 80th birthday last weekend, is too, and so I’m dedicating this edition to him: brand new work from a nonagenarian. Have a good week, -ed.
The two nuns I saw I urged to convertto Luther or better yet to jointhe Unitarians, and the Jews Iencountered to think seriously aboutJesus, especially the Lubavitchers,and I interrupted the sewer workersdigging up dirt to ask themhow many spoonfuls of sugar theyput in their coffee and the runners intheir red silk to warn them aboutthe fake fruit in their yogurt sinceto begin with I was in such a goodmood this morning, I waited patientlyfor the two young poets driving over fromJersey City to talk about the late Fortiesand what they were to me when I was their age andwe turned to Chinese poetry and Kenneth Rexroth’s“Hundred Poems” and ended uptalking about the Bollingen and Pound’sstupid admiration of Mussoliniand how our main poets were on the rightpolitically—most of them—unlike the Europeanand South American, and we climbed some stepsinto a restaurant I knew to buy gelatoand since we were poets we went by the names,instead of the tastes and colors—and I stopped talkingand froze beside a small tree since I wasolder than Pound was when he went silentand kissed Ginsberg, a cousin to the Rothschilds,who had the key to the ghetto in his pocket,one box over and two rows up, he told me.