Poetics: The charms of Samuel Greenberg

Tags

, , , ,

“Under the heavens of moon like shapes
Mine eyelids shut, I fell into unfelt realms”
“Enigmas”, from Greenberg’s Sonnets of Apology

Searching for inspiration for this Poetics prompt, I first fell upon Rimbaud which led me to Hart Crane who  surreptitiously resurrected an “impoverished, proto-surrealist poet, who never published a word in his life“.1  That was Samuel Greenberg (1893-1917), to whom Crane gave the epithet ‘the embryo Rimbaud’ and from whom he plagiarised/ lifted/ rewrapped a large number of lines and imagery from Greenberg’s writings.

“By a peninsula the painter sat and
Sketched the uneven valley groves.
The apostle gave alms to the
Meek. The volcano burst
In fusive sulphur and hurled
Rocks and ore into the air—…”
Greenberg ‘Conduct’

By a peninsula the wanderer sat and sketched
The uneven valley graves. While the apostle gave
Alms to the meek the volcano burst
With sulphur and aureate rocks…”
Crane: ‘Emblem of Conduct’

Greenberg, dying young and tubercular, bears the hallmarks of a Romantic poet except that he was an Austrian Jewish émigré living in poverty in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Mostly untutored but imbued with European culture and a fervent desire to write (as well as draw, paint and play music) he emulated the sonnet style (but without its constraints of rhyme or meter) and immersed himself in the English Romantics including Keats, Shelley, Blake, Coleridge whilst making their language his own in writings (though it was his 3rd). Here is “Secrecy

“The apparent gale, vaned in winding storms
Has filled the air with hail and mystic frost
The peaceful alley through bowing elms revealed
Pregnant buds, where spring has failed the lewd heart
Darkness over the ocean’s deep was offering moonlight
Movable, silver, vanishing waves that enrolled
The wild summer blossom that in sanguine
Peace bared the ray of gold; until bronze
Shades of autumn quietly lowered a
Humble veil upon the ground in preservation…

Greenberg was also influenced by Emerson and wrote often in odes and a somewhat antiquated grandiloquent style. However, with a little maturity and strong desire to hear his own voice the poems evolved with less constraint and mannerism, as in “Poets”:

“He sat as an extricable prisoner bound
To essence, that he sought to emancipate
Kept pounding an envil [anvil] of generation core
And exchanged his soul a thousand ways
At the rate of centuries unfelt round
As though cloud repeats cloud through days
Or nocturnal heavens beaten lights
That mock the day . . .

In ‘Serenade of Grey’ we clearly hear his impending certainty of mortality

“Folding eyelid of the dew doth set,
The cover remains in the air;
And it rains the street, one color set,
Like a huge grey cat held bare.
The shadows of light, shadows in shade,
Are evenly felt, though parted thus;
Mine eyes feel dim and scorched from grey,
The neighboring lamps throw grey stained gold–
Houses in the distance like mountains seem,
The bridge lost in the mist–
The essence of life remains a screen;
Life itself in many grey spots
That trickle the blood until it rots . .
.”

Impelled by the music of words but without an educated recourse to grammar and spelling, he often invented vocabulary “balzomized, aptonized, stally, irragulate, abcedarian, prominento, woob.“(Neil Arditi). This coupled with feverish tubercular episodes gave him a verbal recklessness that lent itself to surrealism and which by 1915 when he wrote “The Pale Impromptu” Greenberg had come into contact with:

There sat the minstrel, bent in leagues of Frozen charm
Though lightly, fettered, as perfect calm Thawing melancholy
Into
       Early psalms
           river Rhodes
               tale of lamps
                    Satyres burial
                          Paradise sHrine
                                 Noble realms
                                     Mirror’s envil
                                             Clover’s muse
O soul!  enlivened from dire perfume, …“

“His favorite word for what he sought in poetry was “charm,” and this poem reads like a charm bracelet on which Greenberg has dangled some tantalising ‘duologues’. Here are some others from that poem:-

Dim Accuracy; Candle salve; Consumed moon;
Eyes jealousy; Fouls deviation; Grey life;  
Hearts brow; Lucid farrows; Nulling marrows;
Painted mirth; Pale heat; Palmed rose;
Pearls from tissue; Pellucid quest; Royal flesh;
Skulls of saints; Slime pigments; Spiritual songs;
Solitudes wish; Times chant; Yellow dreams;

Your challenge is to take FIVE (no more or less) from these 21 ‘charms’ and string them together in a poem with style and word length of your choosing.
You should read the whole poem “
The pale Impromptu” and cite it in your post. Try to emulate it too if you wish.

Once you have published your poem, add it to the Linky widget and leave a comment (see below). Then go visiting, reading and sharing your thoughts with other contributors which is half the fun of our dVerse gatherings.


1. “Greenberg left more than six hundred poems, prose, plays, scribbled on the backs of calendar sheets, envelopes, postcards…the whole mass was given to a friend, William Murrell Fisher…, by chance, the young Hart Crane saw some of these poems at Fisher’s.. took them back and condescended to plagiarize them…Milton Klonsky

Further Reading:
Samuel Greenberg: American Poet (see his timeline; bio & selection of poems & prose)
Orpheus on the Lower East Side’. Neil Arditi
‘Rimbaud in Embryo’. Jacob Silverman

Publications:
Poems from the Greenberg Manuscripts: Ed James Laughlin First Published 1939 New edition with additional poems edited by Garrett Caples 2019