The New York Times, Independence and Me

Today, the New York Times published a letter to the editor I wrote.  My letter was triggered by an editorial the Times wrote on May 6th about the Independence Party.

My letter and their article is below–Hope you will give both a read and I would love to hear your thoughts.

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages | LETTER

The New York State Independence Party

MAY 14, 2014

To the Editor:

Re “Independent of the Independence Party” (editorial, May 7), calling on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to reject the party’s endorsement:

I disagree about how the state Independence Party survives. It’s not because of “confusion” among voters. It’s because of complicity by the two major parties.

The Democratic and Republican Parties — each in its own way — supported, enticed and rewarded the corruption of state Independence Party leaders. The only resistance to that corruption came from the pro-reform New York City branch of the party, which had helped to elect Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and pursued nonpartisan reform at every turn.

Oh, well. If the point is that parties breed corruption, maybe it’s time to get rid of parties, period.

CATHY L. STEWART
New York, May 7, 2014

The writer is chairwoman of the New York County Independence Party.

 

The New York Times

New York’s Independence Party survives on confusion. Many who sign up with the party think they are registering as independent voters, unaffiliated with any party. Instead they are unwittingly contributing their names to a bizarre and fractious political group that endorses candidates from the two major parties. The Independence Party should lose its prime place on the state ballot, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo could make that happen by rejecting its endorsement this year.

Rob Astorino, a Westchester County Republican running in the governor’s race this year, has said he will not seek or accept the Independence Party nod. Mr. Cuomo should now do the same. Any party needs 50,000 votes or more in a governor’s race to stay on state ballots for the next four years. The Independence Party would certainly reach that critical number if the Cuomo or Astorino name is on its line.

Mr. Astorino, who once courted Independence Party leaders to help him win as county executive in Westchester, has finally decided the party is “part of a very corrupt system. They don’t stand for a thing other than jobs and for themselves.” The party has been very good at getting candidates like former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to donate money and run under the Independence Party banner. But its ideals are confused, at best.

The Daily News in 2012 interviewed 200 New Yorkers who signed up as Independence Party voters and found that 169 of them thought they were not joining any party at all. Mr. Cuomo could end this charade. If he refuses to allow his name on the Independence Party line, the party could disappear.

New York’s voting system, which allows a candidate’s name to appear on several party lines on the ballot, is archaic and confusing. Last year, Mr. Cuomo proposed repealing the 1947 law that allows minor parties to give their ballot lines to nonparty members — usually candidates running in the two major parties.

At the time, he said the system encourages “corruption and the appearance of corruption.” He was right, but he did not champion reform aggressively. He could help end this bad practice by saying no to the Independence Party line this year.

Let America Be America Again

To bring our celebration of National Poetry Month to a close, we have a special treat from Jessie Fields.  She recorded her final selection.

Jessie says,  “Let America Be America Again” is one of my favorite poems. I had the great pleasure of reading this poem aloud for a community organizing event on independent politics in Chicago many years ago. The first poem I ever read was a Langston Hughes poem and I remember the immediate connection and joy I felt at discovering this art form.

So, click on this gorgeous recording of Jessie reading “Let America Be America Again”.  The music is Blue in Green (Miles Davis, Bill Evans) from the album Kind of Blue.  A special thanks to David Belmont and Michael Walsh for producing this recording for us.

 

Langston Hughes on the front steps of his home in Harlem, 1958. Photograph by Robert W. Kelley

 

Let America Be America Again

  by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

 

Here is a brief note on the life of the great American poet, Langston Hughes.

 

Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967)

Langston Hughes grew up in Lawrence, Kansas with a grandmother, Mary Langston, whose first husband, Sheridan Leary, had died in 1859 in the raid led by John Brown that attempted to overtake the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and start a slave insurrection. As a young man Hughes read a great deal including Walt Whitman, W.E.B. Dubois, and Carl Sandburg. From 1921 when his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was printed in Dubois Crisis magazine to the time of his death in 1967 LangstonHughes wrote poetry, short stories, novels, plays, essays, autobiographies and more. He traveled widely including to the Soviet Union and in America in the 1930’s he was hounded because of his radical political views. In the postwar years he settled in Harlem and lived there for the rest of his life.

His voice still reverberates across America calling attention to the ongoing chasm between American democratic ideals and American reality.

The poem “Let America Be America Again” was published in the magazine Esquire and in the International Worker Order Pamphlet, A New Song, in 1938.

In a 1943 speech, during World War ll,Hughes said, “…America is a land of transition. And we know it is within our power to help in its further change toward a finer and better democracy than any citizen has known before. The American Negro believes in democracy. We want it real, complete, workable, not only for ourselves – the fifteen million dark ones –but for all Americans all over the land.”

Sarah Lyons brings us a poem by John Trudell

* * *
I met John Trudell in Portland in 1993 at the Clinton St. theater. He was mingling with the audience after one of his spoken word concerts and we started talking. We ended up going outside to get some fresh air and taking a walk. I was kind of surprised but it happened very easily. I found myself on a quiet sidewalk with an artist who had just performed. I asked him about the lyrics of one of the poems he had recited (“Tina Smiled”). They were intense, evocative and political. I wanted to know more. He told me matter-of-factly the poem was about his wife, kids and mother-in-law, all of whom died in a suspicious fire after he received a threat from FBI agents. I felt time stop when he told me that. John Trudell had been a leader of the American Indian Movement — one of the organizations COINTELPRO targeted. They destroyed AIM and many people in the process. In the aftermath, John became a spoken word poet. He performed with musicians and developed a unique sound. We stayed connected after that first meeting and visited several times when he was to Portland. He has a way of shocking people with his intensity and his gentleness in equal measure. He’s also crazy as a loon and embraces the madness of life. This is one of his gentle poems.
* * *
John Trudell. Photograph by Ken Ige
John Trudell. Photograph by Ken Ige
Here is a video of Trudell performing poem in studio
* * *
 
See the Woman
by John Trudell
She has a young face
An old face
She carries herself well
In all ages
She survives all man has done

In some tribes she is free
In some religions
She is under man
In some societies
She’s worth what she consumes

In some nations
She is delicate strength
In some states
She is told she is weak
In some classes
She is property owned

In all instances
She is sister to earth
In all conditions
She is life bringer
In all life she is our necessity

See the woman eyes
Flowers swaying
On scattered hills
Sun dancing calling in the bees

See the woman heart
Lavender butterflies
Fronting blue sky
Misty rain falling
On soft wild roses

See the woman beauty
Lightning streaking
Dark summer nights
Forests of pines mating
With new winter snow

See the woman spirit
Daily serving courage
With laughter
Her breath a dream
And a prayer

Neruda

Neruda was born in Chile in 1904 and died in 1973.  He became politicized during the Spanish Civil War and continued to be active in the revolutionary movement in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America.  He was close to progressive leaders in Brazil and Chile and read his poetry before audiences in the tens of thousands.  He was hospitalized with cancer shortly after the military coup that overthrew the socialist Allende regime in Chile and died shortly thereafter.

Cathy Stewart introduced me to Neruda and through him I came to appreciate Cathy’s love of physical objects – paper, tea cups, toys, pens, arts and crafts, photographs.  This poem expresses Neruda’s love for the workers, ordinary and extraordinary, who produce them.

–Harry Kresky

 

Pablo Neruda

 

Canto XII from The Heights of Macchu Picchu

Arise to birth with me, my brother.

Give me your hand out of the depths

sown by your sorrows.

You will not return from these stone fastnesses.

You will not emerge from subterranean time.

Your rasping voice will not come back,

nor your pierced eyes rise from their sockets.

Look at me from the depths of the earth,

tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,

groom of totemic guanacos,

mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,

iceman of Andean tears,

jeweler with crushed fingers,

farmer anxious among his seedlings,

potter wasted among his clays–

bring to the cup of this new life

your ancient buried sorrows.

Show me your blood and your furrow;

say to me: here I was scourged

because a gem was dull or because the earth

failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.

Point out to me the rock on which you stumbled,

the wood they used to crucify your body.

Strike the old flints

to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips

glued to your wounds throughout the centuries

and light the axes gleaming with your blood.

I come to speak for your dead mouths.

Throughout the earth

let dead lips congregate,

out of the depths spin this long night to me

as if I rode at anchor here with you.

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,

and link by link, and step by step;

sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,

thrust them into my breast, into my hands,

like a torrent of sunbursts,

an Amazon of buried jaguars,

and leave me cry: hours, days and years,

blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

Pablo Neruda

Joe Pickering shares a song

Joe Pickering, an independent activist in Maine sent us a video of a song he wrote entitled “This Flag is Mine, This Flag is Yours”.  It is performed by Roger Eydenberg.

ENJOY

 

Gwen Mandell and Jacqueline Salit from IndependentVoting.org;  Barbara McDade, Director, Bangor Public Library and Joe Pickering. October 2013
Gwen Mandell and Jacqueline Salit from IndependentVoting.org with Barbara McDade, Director of Bangor Public Library and Joe Pickering. October 2013

 

THIS FLAG IS MINE THIS FLAG IS YOURS

CHORUS

THIS FLAG IS MINE THIS FLAG IS YOURS NEVER HOSTAGE TO ANY ONE CAUSE WE ARE MANY YET WE ARE ONE AMERICA SHINES BEST SHINING FOR EVERYONE

LET’S SPEAK WITH MANY MINDS; SHARE WITH ONE HEART LET’S NEVER LET POLITICS TEAR US APART AMERICA WILL ENDURE SHE WILL NOT BE UNDONE IF WE HONOR WHAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS HAVE DONE

REMEMBER WE HAVE A REPUBLIC IF WE CAN KEEP IT YES, WE HAVE A REPUBLIC IF WE CAN KEEP IT WE MAY WIN EVERY BATTLE AND WAR THAT WE FIGHT IN YET LOSE OUR CHERISHED FREEDOMS FROM WITHIN

REPEAT CHORUS

WHAT FREEDOMS DO OUR BRAVE TROOPS FIGHT FOR, WHEN LIBERTY’S VOTED AND SIGNED AWAY BY LAW? SURRENDERING TO FEAR IS NOT OUR AMERICAN TRADITION WE THE PEOPLE STAND BE ABOUT OUR CONSTITUTION

REPEAT CHORUS

A Poem by Ramon Pena

Ramon Pena is a member of the NYC Independence Party Executive Committee.  He is a leader, a builder of the independent movement here in NYC and across the country.  He is a man of courage, commitment and compassion.  Recently, Ramon and his mother lost their East Harlem home of 20 years.  Ramon is now temporarily living in a shelter on Randall’s Island.

He wrote this poem after his first week at the shelter.

 

30 BEDS OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT

One Huge room

30 Beds

30 Men

30 men forgotten

30 men who have given up

Politics and politicians

Gave them 30 beds

Sleeping and hopeless

Underdeveloped

30 Men who need development

Partisanship–

They don’t know what that is

It has affected them in every way possible

30 Plates of cold food

30 men yelling and clamoring for development

Not knowing that is what they are yelling for

1 man

#31

I know what growth and development is

Share it with the 30

The 30 men

30 men who feel that 30 beds is all they need

I am #31

we need more

I bring development

 it is hope

 

Ed Brady and Ramon Pena (r) outside the shelter on Randall's Island
Ed Brady and Ramon Pena (r) outside the shelter on Randall’s Island

 

Memories, East Harlem Photo by Cathy Stewart

 

Photo by Ramon Pena, 2012
Photo by Ramon Pena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roque Dalton

Jessie has chosen a poem by Roque Dalton for today’s selection.

Roque Dalton

Like You

By Roque Dalton (Translated by Jack Hirschman)

 

Like you I love love, life, the sweet smell of things, the sky- blue landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears. I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life, love, little things, landscape and bread, the poetry of everyone.

 

blue sky 2012, photo by Cathy Stewart
blue sky 2012, photo by Cathy Stewart

 

Roque Dalton (1935-1975)– poet and revolutionary– was the major writer and an important political organizer of the revolutionary movement in El Salvador. He is considered one of Latin America’s greatest poets.

His father was a Mexican American who lived in Tuscan, Arizona and emigrated to El Salvador where Roque Dalton was born. His mother was a registered nurse whose salary supported the family.
Roque Dalton and Otto Rene Castillo met while Castillo was in exile in El Salvador and together in 1955 they founded Círculo Literario Universitario, which published some of Central America’s most influential writers.

Last year the government of El Salvador declared May 14, 2013, “National Poetry Day” in honor of Roque Dalton. In Latin America Dalton has long been recognized as one of the finest poets of the 20th century.

 

From the article: GRINGO IRACUNDO Roque Dalton and His Father  

by Roger Atwood

“The poet Roque Dalton was a key figure in the cultural avant-garde

that developed in El Salvador in the late 1950s around a loose circle of

writers and artists that become known as the generación comprometida. The group’s political leanings ranged from center-left to Marxist, but its members shared a critical view of El Salvador’s established order and a desire to modernize its modes of cultural and social expression and to break with its repressive traditions. …Although trained as a lawyer in Chile and El Salvador, Dalton worked as a news reporter and editor in San Salvador until the early 1960s. He was arrested no fewer than four times for left-wing political activity.Waves of antileftist political repression forced him into exile in Mexico and Cuba from 1961 to 1964, in Czechoslovakia from 1965 to 1968, and finally in Cuba from 1968 until 1973. He began publishing poetry in his late teens. Early poems showed the influence of Pablo Neruda, but later work achieved an extraordinary clarity and originality of language that incorporated common speech and urban slang and left a deep mark on Salvadoran literature (Vásquez Olivera 2005). A continual innovator, he was never content to pen poetry alone and wrote one of the seminal texts of the Latin American testimonial, Miguel Marmol, and two popular histories of El Salvador in a “collage” style that was influenced by his friend Eduardo Galeano. Although a dedicated communist, he grew deeply disenchanted with the bureaucratic inertia and cynicism that he had seen in Soviet-bloc countries while, like many Salvadoran intellectuals of his generation, giving up on the possibility of peaceful change in his own country (Alas 1999; Arias Gómez 1999). He returned to El Salvador to join its nascent guerrilla struggle in December 1973 and died eighteen months later at the hands of his own comrades in a vicious power struggle inside an urban guerrilla group.”

Here is an epigram poem on his life—

“Poetic Art” (1974) by Roque Dalton

Poetry

Forgive me for helping you understand

That you’re not made of words alone.

 

 

 

Alice Rydel’s selections

Alice Rydel sent in two poems —a wonderful combination.  She writes, “I have two below. The first, is another Otto Rene Castillo poem, Satisfaction. The second, is by an old dear friend, Lew Steinhardt, Dying.”

Satisfaction
— By Otto Rene Castillo
The most beautiful thing
for those who have fought a whole life
is to come to the end and say
we believed in people and life,
and life and the people
never let us down.
*
Only in this way do men become men,
women become women,
fighting day and night
for people and for life.
*
And when these lives come to an end
the people open their deepest rivers
and they enter those waters forever.
And so they become, distant fires, living,
creating the heart of example
*
The most beautiful thing
for those who have fought a whole life
is to come to the end and say;
we believed in people and life,
and life and the people
never let us down.
**********
DYING
— By Lew Steinhart
“Dying”, an old word, yet new
“Dying” enters from stage left,
ready to exact revenge
 For years of not being taken seriously
For years of denial of mortality
For years of being disparaged
For years of villanization.
“Dying” approaches me with sexy night attire and sexy voice
attempting to be sexy with me,
hoping for my love and understanding
Hoping to be welcomed
as a partner
for the trip to The End.
We manage some awkward dialogue at first
I quickly reject you,
I shudder at the thought of
such finality.
Such finality is beyond me.
I fight you with all of me.
You find openings and pierce my armour
And you show me your strength in battle.
Yet you also offer the peace sign
Hoping for collaboration.
An old revolutionary I am
Schooled by Fred Newman in the skills of performance and improvisation.
I have learned to take offers
And I have learned that History is the Final Residing Place
and that History is created with revolutionary activity.
I find myself strangely open to this
And explore it with my health team, group and comrades
The old words take on new meaning in the process.
I am alive in new ways
And that will, as I grow, continue.
END

W.H. Auden–a selection from Harry Kresky

This is one of my favorite poems, written by W.H. Auden on the outbreak of the Second World War. Some people dismiss it as cynical.  I am taken by its honesty.  After all, the second world war was starting less than 25 years after the first one ended.  And, to me, the last stanza is positive, that possibility exists even at a time of darkness.  It makes me think of the German playwright Heiner Mueller whose  powerful and beautiful words are themselves an affirmation even as the subject matter of his plays are defeat, despair and betrayal.

Auden was born in England in 1907 and died in 1973.  He moved to the U.S. in 1939.  Early in his career Auden was hailed as a voice of revolutionary change.  By 1939 he, like so many, was less confident that it could be achieved.  Auden scholar Edwards Mendelson wrote:

“W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.”

I like this about WH as well.

—Harry Kresky

W.H. Auden, The Paris Review

September 1, 1939

  by W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 

 

A selection from Nancy Hanks

Nancy Hanks,  the chair of the Queens County Independence Party and author of the popular blog THE HANKSTER has submitted a poem for us by Hart Crane.

Hart Crane, New York Times, 1930

 

By Hart Crane

We make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.
For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.
We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!
And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.
The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.
***
Hart Crane is a significant, some say pivotal, American poet. He was born in 1899 in Garrettsville, Ohio (the same year that Charlie Chaplin was born, in London) to middle class parents who, incidentally, were Christian Scientists. Crane moved to New York City in 1916 and spent some time in Paris. He lived a gay life from the time he was a teenager. (Also see Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text (1992) by Thomas Yingling. “Chaplinesque” was written in 1922 as a response to Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, released in 1921. (Charlie Chaplin was an internationally recognized filmmaker by 1921.) Hart Crane is probably best known for his epic “The Bridge”, an ambitious ode to his Romantic inheritance from Walt Whitman (b. 1819, Brooklyn NY) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 1803 in Boston – during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency), as well as a more “optimistic” view as a response to T.S. Eliot’s (b. 1888, St. Louis) “The Waste Land” (1922). Crane was not considered to be particularly successful during his life — “an imprecise and confused artist” as one critic put it; his major work “The Bridge” fell short of its task of exploring and giving poetic expression to the “whole American experience.” Crane was “schizophrenic” in a sense, constantly working to be optimistic in his poetry, but giving in to depression in his personal life. He committed suicide at age 32.From The Poetry Foundation: “Allen Tate, writing in his Essays of Four Decades, assessed Crane’s artistic achievement as an admirable, but unavoidable, failure. Tate noted that Crane, like the earlier Romantics, attempted the overwhelming imposition of his own will in his poetry, and in so doing reached the point at which his will, and thus his art, became self-reflexive, and thus self-destructive. “By attempting an extreme solution to the romantic problem,” Tate contended, “Crane proved that it cannot be solved.”
In that spirit, Hart Crane, for me, is the Kurt Gödel of (American) poetry. A game-changer, a fellow traveler of mine.
In his essay “General Aims and Theories” (which I cannot find online, but which is published in The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1966), Crane writes:
“I am concerned with the future of America, but not because I think that America has any so-called par value as a state or as a group of people… It is only because I feel persuaded that here are destined to be discovered certain as yet undefined spiritual quantities, perhaps a new hierarchy of faith not to be developed so completely elsewhere. And in this process I like to feel myself as a potential factor; certainly I must speak in its terms and what discoveries I may make are situated in its experience.”
I have always been touched by this passage. In the same essay, writing about “technical considerations” of his poetry, he talks about the “organic principle of a ‘logic of metaphor,’ and says, as a post-impressionist modernist:
“It is my hope to go through the combined materials of the poem, using our “real” world somewhat as a spring-board, and to give the poem as a whole an orbit or predetermined direction of its own… It is as though a poem gave the reader as he left it a single, new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate, but self-evident as an active principle in the reader’s consciousness henceforward.”

I like this poem because of its humanity.

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