edited by James Metzee
and Simon Pettet
Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 218 pp., $26
The Velvet Underground, it has been said, did not sell many records, but everyone who bought one went out and started his or her own band. James Schuyler was, perhaps, the Velvet Underground of verse: Almost unknown outside the poetry world, he was massively influential within it. To read Schuyler is, almost inevitably, to be struck with the desire to be a poet.
FOR THE RECORD:
'Other Flowers': A March 14 review of the book "Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems" by James Schuyler misspelled co-editor James Meetze's last name as Metzee. —
Schuyler's powerful and frequently moving descriptions of nature, of the weather, of domestic engagements -- limpid descriptions that lay upon the sensory world like a pellucid dew -- have often seemed to constitute the heart of his poetic accomplishment.
"Mediocrity in painting is often merely an ability to leave things as they are," he once wrote in a review of Jane Freilicher's artwork, and he adhered to a similar view with respect to poetry. There is something almost religious about his devotion to the things of this world, perceived and appreciated in all of their directness and simplicity:
Between lilac storm clouds
we briefly see the dandelion sun
and the clouds sway shut
as lilacs heavy with rain curve
over the drive, each weighing drop
as it falls a sublime moment.
At his most memorable, Schuyler combines this sort of careful, attentive perception with the unpredictable but not random musings of a charmingly playful mind. His best books -- "Hymn to Life" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Morning of the Poem" -- are profoundly, sometimes astonishingly intimate, not in the way of the confessional poets (Schuyler almost wholly eschewed their brand of theatrical self-dramatization) but in their commitment to openness, to the artful yet non-artificial depiction of one man's roving consciousness.
Such a skill is best showcased by his longer poems, and if the new collection, "Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems," feels somewhat slight, it is partly because the recently discovered works gathered here are all short lyrics.