Tag Archives: frederick seidel

April 7, 2014


When I met a guy this weekend who actually owns a Ducati motorcycle, I knew it was time for more Frederick Seidel on Monday’s Verse. Seidel (b. 1936) is that well-educated New Yorker (by way of St. Louis) who writes about sex, wine, women, motorcycles, and sex. Here’s a pretty, rhymed lyric about none of those things. I think buried inside the is a fleeting thought about about working a limestone quarry on Robben Island for 27 years did to Nelson Mandela’s eyesight. -ed.
So the sun is shining blindingly but I can sort of see.
It’s like looking at Mandela’s moral beauty.
The dying leaves are sizzling on the trees
In a shirtsleeves summer breeze.

But daylight saving is over.
And gaveling the courtroom to order with a four-leaf clover
Is over. And it’s altogether November.
And the Pellegrino bubbles rise to the surface and dismember.

Feb 4, 2013 “February”

Dear readers,

In his book of poems called “Area Code 212,” Frederick Seidel alternates page-length poems on a specific topic (Ducati motorcycles, Easter, Roman goddess names) with page-length poems describing a month. I was pleased by his ode to February, bitter and cynical as it is. February is the worst! And thus we see that Frederick Seidel (b. Feb. 19, 1936) is wiser than T.S. Eliot, who said some mishmashy balls about April being crueler. No way. Strangely enough both men are from St. Louis, and both attended Harvard, as high-achieving men of a certain class from St. Louis are wont to do. We’ve described the “Pauls” (Muldoon and Durcan) in this forum as “wise-asses” of contemporary poetry, and one is tempted to place Seidel in this category as well. But whereas Muldoon and Durcan are the kind of guys who are smartasses because they can already do what’s going on in class better than every other student, Seidel is the kind of smartass where the teacher goes home at night and wonders, Hm, is that child SERIOUSLY DISTURBED?
Frederick Seidel’s poems have been offending people since before his first publication, in the early 1960s. A jew, he’s been called anti-Semitic. A rich and refined man, he’s been called tasteless. But recently he’s also been called the finest poet writing in English.
Nothing like a tight chain of quatrains to hammer home a theme, I say. And the theme here is, I think, all in the title. Hey note how this poem seems tailor-made for us: mentions of February, Monday, even a MV reference, as if we’d put away discussion of Virgil, Ovid, and Horace for the winter… -ed.
The best way not to kill yourself
Is to ride a motorcycle very fast.
How to avoid suicide?
Get on and really ride.
Then comes Valentine’s Day.
It is February, but very mild.
But the MV Agusta is in storage for the winter.
The Ducati racer is deeply asleep and not dreaming.
But the pills back in the vial.
Put the gun back in the drawer.
Ventilate the carbon monoxide.
Back away from the railing.
You can’t budge from the edge?
You can meet her in front of the museum.
It is closed today–every Monday.
If you are alive, happy Valentine’s Day!
All you brave failed suicides, it is a leap year.
Every day is an extra day
To jump. It is February 29th
Deep in the red heart of February 14th.
On the steps in front of the museum,
The wind was blowing hard.
Something was coming.
Winter had been warm and weird.
Hide not thy face from me.
For I have eaten ashes like bread,
And mingled my drink with weeping,
While my motorcycles slept.
She arrives out of breath,
Without a coat, blazing health,
But actually it is a high fever that gives her glory.
Life is death.

March 5, 2012 At a Factory in Italy

Dear membranes,
I’m running out of smartasses, so if you have suggestions send them to me. Frederick Seidel (b. 1936) is more sardonic than smartass, but I think he qualifies for our purposes. This poem says so. It’s serious, but it’s devastatingly funny. I think so, anyway! He has a line in here that “poetry has power.” For proof of that statement we need look no further than the line above, which reads in its entirety: “A descendant of Samuel Taylor Coleridge speaks Italian to the rhinoceros.” Tha’ts my favorite line I’ve read in a while. It’s so ridiculous! But it reveals poetry’s power insofar as, somehow, in the context he’s created, it makes perfect sense. He’s made us accept something we should, really, never accept. He’s fooled us. What a smartass. -ed.
The Man of La Mamma is a tenor as brave as a lion.
Everything is also its towering opposite.
Butch heterosexuals in Italy spend lavishly on fragrances.
The in thing was to shave your head, the skinhead look.
Guys spend more on beauty products here
Than in any other country in the world.
Everyone is also a boss.
The English executive assistant to the Italian CEO stays blondly exuberant
When sales to America plummet, when the dollar is weak.
Her name is Alice Coleridge. Her phone rings nonstop. Pronto, sono Aleecheh!
The world at the other end of the phone is a charging rhinoceros.
A descendant of Samuel Taylor Coleridge speaks Italian to the rhinoceros.
Poetry has power, as against the men and women actually making things
On the assembly line on the ground floor.
Someone had the brilliant idea of using
Factory workers in the ads,
And using a fashion photogrpaher to add elegance and surprise.
They found an incredible face on the ground floor
With a nose to die for, and paid her to straddle
A motorcycle her assembly line had made and pose in profile.
So what did the Italian nose do? She ran with the money to get a nose job.

Monday’s Verse, July 19, 2010

Remember last summer when I fell in love with Frederick Seidel, the
glowering New Yorker with the perverted mind, dark mood, and graceful
line? Well friends, I’m still in love, and not just because his name
spells “sick leer freed id” when the letters are all jumbled up. No,
it’s more that I found this poem in the New Yorker, published July
5th, which suggests to me that if it is meant to be historically
accurate, it must really be about LAST year’s fireworks, which I
watched from Hoboken with members of this forum. Also, he points of
the reason for the change (from East River to Hudson), and LAST year
was the change of venue; if I understand correctly this year the show
just stayed on the left hand side.

In any case, this poem raises many questions, such as what do you
really think of the grand finale at a fireworks show? Cliched?
Awesome? Worth the wait? Overwrought? Also, it reads like a sonnet but
it’s not, really. Who else writing today could fit the line “What a
joy to eat the unborn” neatly into a lyric about fireworks? -ed.


July 4th fireworks exhale over the Hudson sadly.
It is beautiful that they have to disappear.
It’s like the time you said I love you madly.
That was an hour ago. It’s been a fervent year.
I don’t really love fireworks, not really, the flavorful floating shroud
In the nighttime sky above the river and the crowd.
This time, because of the distance upriver perhaps, they’re not loud,
Even the colors aren’t, the patterns getting pregnant and popping.
They get bigger and louder when they start stopping.
They try to rally
At the finale.
It’s the four-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery—
Which is why the fireworks happen on this side of the island this year.
Shad are back, and we celebrate the Hudson’s Clean Water Act recovery.
What a joy to eat the unborn. We’re monsters, I fear. What monsters we’re.
We’ll binge on shad roe next spring in the delicious few minutes it’s here.


June 2, 2009 Racer

Greetings, earthlings.

Forgive my 2-week absence. Things happened; mistakes were made.

Listen, if I said we were going to read a poet whom critic Adam Kirsch has called “the best American poet writing today,” who is a winner of the LA Times Book Prize, who counts among his admirers Billy Collins and Paul Muldoon, who has been a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and who just celebrated the publication of hisCollected Poems, 1959-2009, you’d probably think, “Oh, goody, a familiar name!”, right? Well, you tell me: Frederick Seidel.


As you all know I treat myself to one new book  of poetry a year (sad, in its way, but true). Not having the $40 for the collected poems in cloth, I went with 2006’s Ooga Booga, the title of which jokingly refers to his reputation as scary, dark, menacing, a sophisticated poet of our emotional underbellies. Or really, his emotional underbelly. Oh and literal underbellies, too. The man likes his sex. The tone of the poems I’ve read so far is invitingly personal and astringently ironic. His other choices–diction (pretty erudite), rhythm, form, length, rhyme–are all pretty “normal” for a dude writing essentially realist, lyric poetry in the second half of the American 20th Century. And something about my mindset draws me to his ouevre, which I’m glad to have just discovered. Watch (listen) how a strange lack of punctuation–coupled perhaps with the time-bending properties of mid-day alcohol consumption–here maintains his illusion of zealous, reckless speed. -ed.


for Paolo Ciabatti

I spend most of my time not dying.
That’s what living is for.
I climb on a motorcycle.
I climb on a cloud and rain.
I climb on a woman I love.
I repeat my themes.

Here I am in Bologna again.
Here I go again.
Here I go again, getting happier and happier.
I climb on a log
Torpedoing toward the falls.
Basically, it sticks out of me.

The F-16s take off in a deafening flock,
Shattering the runway at the airbase at Cervia.
They roar across horizontally
And suddenly go straight up,
And then they lean backwards and level off
And are gone till lunchtime and surprisingly wine.