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This is poetry and the American a series of broadcasts on American poets and poetry produced and recorded by a radio station KPFA in Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This program is an anthology of readings with commentary of several poems by poets belonging to the middle generation of American poets writing now the two participants are Mr. Anthony Ostroff of the University of California at Berkeley and Miss Eleanor McKinney of the staff of station KPFA here is Mr. Ostrov. Today we are going to read a number of poems by poets what we might call the middle generation of American poets writing now. These are people like Robert Lowell or Karl Shapiro or Theodore Recchi whose reputations are secure whose work seems certain to survive but who have for the most part achieved their main work thus far only within the last
10 or 15 years. Needless to say since their ages range from thirty five to forty nine they may be viewed in spite of their accomplishment as now only in mid career. In keeping with the form we've established for these four or five little anthologies of poetry which will conclude this series of broadcasts we will forgo the luxury of much commentary in order to include as many poems as we can. The first poem we're going to read is by dome or Schwartz and is entitled The heavy bare. I wonder do you think there is anything we should say as preface to reading this poem. Well I don't think very much is necessary. It's a poem on the old dichotomy of flesh and spirit. The interesting thing about it is the figure the poem uses for the body that of a heavy bear we see the clumsy brutish inescapable appetites of the flesh vividly. But we also see them as essentially innocent. The overwhelming grasping and blundering is of the body as mindless natural functions of the play in the
essential innocence of the body. The poem conveys the struggle of the spirit to communicate also. Yes it's in that innocence that both the appetites of the bear and the man's spirit take on their poignancy in the poem isn't it. I think so. But still that very first line of the poem the heavy bear that goes with me suggests me and the body as there are still separate. Don't you think that's right the paradox is caught in the term quoted from Whitehead which prefaces the poem that with newness of the body to be with something used to be part yet not to be the same thing. And so with body and soul or body and heart in this poem. Well would you care to read this one. Yes. The heavy bear by d'Amour Schwartz. The heavy bear who goes with me. A manifold honey to smear his face clumsy and lumbering here and there. The
central tun of every place. The hungry between brutish one in love with candy anger and sickly crazy factotum dishevelled ing all climbs the building kicks the football boxes his brother in the hate ridden city breathing at my side that heavy animal that heavy bare who sleeps with me housed in his sleep for a world of sugar a sweetness into him and as the waters clasp Howe's in his sleep because the tight rope trembles and shows the darkness beat me. The strutting show off is terrified. Dressed in his dress suit bulging his pants trembles to think that his quivering meat must finally went to nothing at all that inescapable animal walks with me has followed me since the
black womb hailed moves where I move distorting my gesture a caricature or a swollen shadow. A stupid clown of the spirits motive perplexes and affronts with his own darkness. The Secret Life of belly and bone opaque to near my private yet unknown stretches to embrace the very dear with whom I would talk without him he. Touches her grossly. Although a word would bare my heart and make me clear stumbles flounders and strives to be fed dragging me with him and his mouthing care amid the hundred million of his. The scrimmage of appetite everywhere. That's a memorable last line isn't it. The scrimmage of appetites everywhere. Yes you know this is a poem peculiar to the Western culture. You don't find this
painful division in other traditions where the joy and oneness of body and spirit are expressed. You know it may seem a fantastic stretch but in a way that that one seems to me a suitable preparation for this next poem the Holy Innocents by Robert Lowell. Well I'm not sure I fully understand this poem Bailo much as I admire it but it seems to me certainly it's in part a poem about oxen or at least oxen are its central metaphor and oxen. Well I don't know whether we should say they have been freed from already pride the most consuming passion of the flesh that the worst of the heavy bear that is they are meek mild creatures as Hardy says in that lovely lyric of his about the myth of the ox and kneeling on Christmas Eve as the Nativity. And we see them beautifully drawn as Holy Innocents themselves in the local Poland here. What is it that puzzles you about the book. Well it's the relation of the oxen to Christ. The last lines of the poem are if
they die meaning the oxen as Jesus in the harness who will more lamb of the shepherds child how Still you lie. I take it that the oxen that like Christ are innocent that their lives like his are of service and suffering. But is that last line referring to Christ the Lamb of the shepherds child how Still you lie intended simply to recall vividly the scene of the Nativity reminding us of the presence there of the oxen or is it also ironic in intention. Do you mean well. Is it intended to express the world's real indifference to innocence and to service and suffering. Oh I don't know exactly how to put this I mean is Christ motionless is Christ still now at the present time because no sufficient belief exists now to move him. Of course it comes the other way around in the poem nobody we imagine will mourn the oxen except such men as Lowell who will we know from the poem. But it seems to me there is a like suggestion regarding the mourning of Christ and a telling one indeed as we look around our
so-called Christian Western civilization. Well if the poem makes you think it's certainly working as a poet I do think it's a fine one. Most important perhaps is what it makes you feel. Anyway here is the poem. The Holy Innocents by Robert Lowell. Listen the hay bells tinkle as the cart wavers on rubber tires along the tar and Cinder Alewife run the oxen drool and start in wonder at the fenders of a car and blunder hugely up St. Peters Hill. These are the undefiled by woman. Their sorrow is not the sorrow of this world. King Herod shrieking vengeance at the curled up knees of Jesus choking in the air. A king of
speechless clouds. An infant. Still the world out Herods Herrod and the year the nineteen hundred forty fifth of grace lumbers with losses up the clinker hill of our purgation and the oxen near the worn foundations of their resting place. The holy manger where their bed is corn and Holly torn for Christmas. If they die as jesus in the heart of this who will mourn Lamb of this chapter of child. How still do you live. That's a superb polit you know I'm surprised you didn't mention the year 1945 before reading it. You're right I should have. We know the significance of that year as the closing year of the most fantastic vicious and violent war of all human
history. Say nothing of all Christendom and of course the way the poem mentions it the year the nine thousand nine hundred forty fifth of grace is tormenting in its irony. Several of the poets we're reading here first came into their own as poets during the war years and some of them like Purell and Shapiro were first well known as war poets. Suppose we move now to the war poems we've chosen to include here. All right. I think two of these the one by John Barrowman and the one By Karl Shapiro complement one another interesting Lee. We might take these first. Very good. Would you take up the bear and pawn first. Yes I think it's a beginning of the war poem a sort of setting out for the Holocaust whereas Shapiro's is an end of the war poem me returning home from hell and that's an order I think. All right. Shall I read the fine. This poem by John Berryman is called conversation. And it's about a conversation about war about the approach to world war 2 again. And it shows in its way that
tragic insanity have all such involvements as so much American war poetry seems to do. The interesting thing here is that the conversation takes place before actual engagement in the conflict. One imagines the speakers are sitting comfortably in a club room drawing room talking about the horror ahead which they see and comprehend clearly enough but they try to rationalize it away saying These are conclusions of the night and taking another drink. The rationalization however failed. They know as mankind has always no conversation. By John Berryman. Whether the moorings are invisible or gone we said we could not tell but argument held one thing sure that none of us that night could well endure the ship is locked with fog. No man aboard can see what he is moving
toward. There is little food less love. No sleep. The sea is dark and we are towed. It's deep. Where is an officer who knows this coast. If all such men long since have faced downward one someone who knows how. With what fidelity his voice heard now could shout directions from the ocean's floor. Traditional characters no more their learned simple parts rehearse but bed them down at last from the Times careers. A broken log fell out upon the heart the flaming Harbinger come forth of Holocaust that night and day shrivel from the mind its sovereignty. We watched the embers cool those embers brought to one and there the failing thought of cities stripped of knowledge.
Man our continent a wilderness and gave these our conclusions of the night. We sit and drink. And we're not satisfied. The fire died down. Smoke in the air took the alarming postures of our fear. The overhead tore in the padded room the man who cannot tell his name. The guns and in the maze that face into this delicate and dangerous place. Let's move on to the Shapiro police. All right. This poem is called Homecoming and it pictures the soldier returning from war. In this case the war in the Pacific the southern hemisphere the bloody islands have faded behind the transport carrying these troops back home
and the ship is nearing. And finally enters the territorial waters of the United States. I think that little background is sufficient for the poem but there is one thing I would like to mention before reading it. I've heard Shapiro criticized for this poem and the essence of the criticism is this that in the poem The poet or soldier speaker is somewhat detached from the rest of the men. He stands apart and speaks of the millions and of me himself that is. The imprisoned SOS of soldiers and of me and this has been taken as overly egocentric if not egotistical and I don't really need that complete. Yes I've heard it a number of times I think it always proceeds from a failure to give the poem the attention it or any point for that matter deserves it greed. Anyway the point of the point in this regard is simply and precisely that the speaker does stand alone as does every soldier at the same
time he is part of the great helpless mass of the military or all mankind for that matter. Responsibility salvation as experience itself is personal Finally if these things exist at all. We're all in this thing alone so to speak at the same time we're all in it together and I take the lines in question in the poem to be humble not assertive. Homecoming By Karl Shapiro. Lost in the vastness of the void Pacific my thousand days of exile pain bid me farewell. Gone is the Southern Cross to our own sky fall in a continent under the waves dissolve the bitterest Isles in their salt element. And here upon the deck the mist and closes my smile that would
light up all darkness and ask forgiveness of the things that thrust shame and all death on million and on me we bring no raw materials from the east but green skinned men in blue lit holes and lunatics impounded between decks the mighty Google ship that we ride exhales the sickly sweet stench of humiliation and even the majority untouched by steel or psycho neurosis stare with eyes in rapt their hands a rebel to snatch the riches of glittering shops and girl. Because I am angry at this kindness which is both habitual and contradictory to the life of armies. Now I stand alone and hate the swarms of khaki men that crawl like lice upon the wrinkled hide of Earth infesting ships as well. Not otherwise could I lean upward piercing
fog to find our sacred bridge of exile and return. My tears are psychological not poems to the United States. My smile is a prayer. Knowing the thins slops of anxiety escorted by the groundswell and by Gollum's in silence and with mystery we enter the territorial waters. Not till then does that convulsive terrible joy a more sudden and brilliant than the explosion of a ship shatter the tensions of the heaven and sea to CRUSH ON hundred thousand skulls and liberate. In that high burst of love the imprisoned lives of soldiers and of me.
Let's move away to more poetry for a while shall we. Well we got a very different kind of thing in theater or recreation we turn to him. He certainly must be included here. I don't think we've had any of the series so far Hadley. No we haven't. I think we might in fact include a couple of his poems here to catch up. I have no doubt that referee is as fine a lyric poet as we have writing nowadays. Let's take this longer poem of his first. Would you care to read it. No you go ahead. I want to read the waking. All right well this poem by Theodore Recchi is called Frau Schmidt and Frau Schwartz. It is a recollection by the protagonist of the poem of three old ladies he knew in his childhood. They were gardeners they raised and tended flowers. And incidentally for a moment a boy. And we see in the singularity and purity of their devotion to growing beautiful and natural things a symbol of our richness
consoling to us all. Prob Aman Schmidt and Schwartz by Theodore Recchi. Gone. The three ancient ladies who creeped on the greenhouse letters reaching up quite strings to wind to wind the sweet pea tendrils. The smile acts nasturtiums the climbing roses to straighten carnations red chrysanthemums the stiff stands jointed like corn they tied in time. These nurses of nobody of quicker than birds they dipped up and sifted the dirt they sprinkled in shook. They stood astride pipes their skirts bellowing out wide into tense their hands twinkling with web like witches they flew along rows keeping creation at ease with a tendril for a needle. They sewed up the air with a stem.
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep all the coiled loops and whirled they trellis the sun. They plotted for more than themselves. I remember how they picked me up a spindly kid pinching and poking my thin ribs till I lay in their laps laughing. Weak as a whip it. Now when I'm alone and cold in my bed they still hover over me. Those ancient leathery crone with their bandanas stiffened with sweat and their thorn bitten wrists and their snuff laden breath blowing lightly over me in my first sleep. Oh that's a lovely poem is it. Yes very very nice indeed. Suppose we save this other Recchi point for the end I think it would be a good one on which to close.
All right what about the Wilbur poem then. Well that would fit here as well as anyplace else and it's a fine point would you care to read this one. Yes this is called eight years and I don't think much need be said about it it's simply a beautiful poem about well not the shortness of time exactly but the inexorability of its movement and of course it implies an old truth we all know about doing today. This is the poet at year's end by Richard Wilbur. Now winter down as the dying of the year and night is all a settlement of snow from the saw street the rooms of houses show up gathered light a shape and atmosphere like frozen over lakes whose ice is thin and still allow some stirring down within. I've known the wind by water banks to shake the late leaves down which frozen where they fell
and held in ice as dancers in a spell flooded all winter long into a lake grave down in the dark in gestures of dissent they seemed their own most perfect monument. There was perfection in the death of ferns which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone. A million years. Great mammoths overthrown composedly have made their long sojourns like palaces of patients in the gray and changeless lands of ice. And that pump a little dog curled and did not rise but slept the deeper as the Ashes rose and found the people in complete and froze the random hymns the loose and ready eyes of men expecting yet another sound to do the shapely thing they had
not done. These sudden ends of time must give us pause. We fray into the future rarely rock save in the tapestries of afterthought more time more time. Barrages of applause come muffled from a buried radio. The New Year bells are wrangling with the snow. More time is indeed what we all need and what our world seems most desperately need right now. What particular dark reference are you making. Well I've been thinking of our other war poem. This one by Randall Jarell the apocalyptic image of the sea burning with blood that ends the poem is more than just a horrifying reconstruction of the last World War II.
I think I follow you well. This is the poem from World War 2 by Randall Tarell and it is called The Metamorphosis. Where I spat in the harbor the oranges were bobbing all salted and sodden with eyes in their Ryans the sky was all black where the coffee was burning and the rest of the freighters had reddened the tide. But soon all the chimneys were burning with contracts the tankers rode low in the oil black made the wharves were a maze of the crated bombers and they gave me a job and I worked all day and the orders are filled and I float in the harbor. All tare and swollen with gills in my sides the sky is all black where the carrier is burning and the
blood of the transport is red on the tide. Tony lets us make the cure in the world keeps trying to make from war to love. You're thinking of this ambiguously title poem by Howard Moss I think. Well fine. Do you want to say anything about it before you read it. Nope. OK. Could the lie by Howard minus some bloodied sea birds hovering decay assails us where we lie and lie to make that symbol go away. To mock the true north of the lie to me lie next to me. The world is an infirmity too much of Sun's been said too much of sea and of the lovers touch
whole volumes that older man they botch. But we at the sea's edge curled hurled back their bloody world. Lie to me lie next to me. For there is nothing here to see but the mirror of ourselves that day clear with the odors of the sea. Lie to me and lie to me. I believe now it's time for you to read the waking this by my rescue makes getting clued into all this. You know I've been thinking since you talked earlier about needing more time. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that we have all the time there is every moment of it. And perhaps that's what he says in this book called The waking.
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. I feel my faith in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go. We think by feeling what is there to know. I hear my being dance from ear to ear. I wake to sleep and take my waking slow of those so close beside me which are you. God bless the ground I shall walk softly there and learn by going where I have to go like takes the tree but who can tell us how the lowly worm climbs up a winding stair. I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. Great Nature has another thing to do to you and me. So take the lively air
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Poetry and the American
Middle generation poets
Producing Organization
pacifica radio
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
An anthology, read by Anthony Ostroff and Eleanor McKinney.
Other Description
Twenty half-hour programs designed to further the enjoyment of poetry.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Performer: McKinney, Eleanor
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Ostroff, Anthony, 1923-
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-12-19 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:54
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Chicago: “Poetry and the American; Middle generation poets,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 24, 2022,
MLA: “Poetry and the American; Middle generation poets.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 24, 2022. <>.
APA: Poetry and the American; Middle generation poets. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from