I post with no authority but with the enthusiasm of a person eager to know more. A certain someone lent me HOT AFTERNOONS HAVE BEEN IN MONTANA — Poems by Eli Siegel, complete with a letter by William Carlos Williams written November 3, 1951, which I quote from now:
“We are not up to Siegel, even yet. The basic criteria have not been laid bare. It’s a long had road to travel with only starvation fare for us on the way. Almost everyone wants to run back to the old practices. You can’t blame him. He wants assurance, security, the approval that comes to him from established practices. He wants to be united with his fellows. He wants the “beautiful,” that is to say … the past. It is a very simple and powerful urge. It puts the hardest burdens on the pioneer who while recognizing the virtues and glories of the past sees its restricting and malevolent fixations. Siegel knows this in his own person. He must be tough and supremely gifted.”
Williams also goes on to discuss the implications of Siegel’s founding “Aesthetic Realism”, which I don’t presume to speak about. But I will say there seem to be many adherents, including Ken Kimmelman, who made a film inspired by Siegel’s book and quotes Siegel on his site. If you’re interested in ordering the film, contact Kimmelman through his film company, Imagery Film, Ltd.
Alas, allow me to present a few poems from HOT AFTERNOONS HAVE BEEN IN MONTANA for your edification and pleasure:
HAIL, AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT
There is a city,
With white in its center,
And white in its edges.
Somewhere in the southwest,
Across several creeks, several hills, several valleys,
This city’s to be got to.
Seventy autumns this city’s had,
(Not counting this year).
At any one moment in the afternoon
Two women are walking south and north,
Two men north and east,
Two men west.
The river near it has been noticed.
And a warm boat is on it now;
Southwest, southwest of reposing tracks,
And houses near railroad stations.
Hail, American development.
So that you
DEAR BIRDS, TELL THIS TO MOTHERS
Education consists in instilling into them the universal mind.
–W.T. Stace after Hegel
Fly, birds, over all grieving mothers.
Tell them, if they know more,
They will grieve less.
Tell them that the children they grieve for
Are as mysterious as the God they pray to;
For God’s way is in them.
Tell them that the children who came from their bodies
Have come from so far away,
And from so much;
And that these children
Are going for so much
Of Hell and Heaven, dark and light—
That mothers can be as away from them
As lost lines in the early poetry of France.
Find the lost lines in
The writing that is your child, mothers
(Dear birds, tell them),
And you will not grieve;
You will stand up
In sweet universality.
You will be God’s mothers,
Not just your own.
ALFRED-SEEABLE PHILADELPHIA SKY
Seen by Jane,
Not by Alfred,
Will see you.
For, Philadelphia sky,
You are an Alfred-seeable sky.
All poems from HOT AFTERNOONS HAVE BEEN IN MONTANA — Poems by Eli Siegel. Order the book here.
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Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.