FSG Publisher Jonathan Galassi On Frederick Seidel
This year for National Poetry Month, FSG Publisher Jonathan Galassi has agreed to say a few words about our upcoming poetry collections. You can expect his comments here every Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of the month.
It’s such a pleasure to have the chance to talk about some of the poets we’re publishing on the FSG list this year. Poetry has always been intrinsic to the company’s sense of itself, and that was one of the reasons I immediately felt at home when I came here over twenty years ago. I didn’t ever have to explain to anyone why publishing poetry was important. And not only important: vital. I’ve often said that fiction and poetry are two sides of the same coin, the coin being imaginative literature. I really don’t think you can have one without the other. That’s fundamental to our understanding of what we’re doing here, and it helps make the publishing of poetry a great joy and a great deal of fun.
When I was a college student in the late sixties and early seventies, I had two FSG poets, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, as teachers, and I remember vividly the absolute reverence I had for their work. Their books seemed like sacred objects somehow, and the FSG colophon, style of print, and jackets were all part of their seductive mystique. Forty years later that mystique lives on for me and, I hope, for others. WORDS IN AIR, the complete correspondence between Bishop and Lowell, published last year, is a distillation of the close artistic and personal relationship of these great poets who are two of the pillars of our list. This year we’re reissuing Lowell’s NOTEBOOK 1967-68, one of the books I remember being amazed by as a student. There are a number of Bishop books in the pipeline, too, including her correspondence with the New Yorker, and her journals.
One of our new books that I find most exciting this season is Frederick Seidel’s POEMS 1959-2009, nearly five hundred pages of supple, savage, witty, emotionally gripping terror and delight. Calvin Bedient has called Seidel “the most frightening American poet ever.” Michael Robbins calls him “a ghoul,” while James Lasdun defined his work as "an oasis…in the desert of contemporary American poetry.” I think he is dazzling, memorable, scathing, uncomfortably honest, and monumentally tender, New York’s and America’s and the Western World’s twenty-first-century Baudelaire. Seidel’s collected poems represents a high water mark in the poetic achievement of his generation. This, I think, is his moment.
Here are the first two stanzas of “Evening Man”:
The sort of same-sex marriage New York State allows.
Both men believe in infidelity.
Both wish they could annul their marriage vows.
This afternoon I will become the Evening Man,
Who does the things most people only dream about.
He swims around his women like a swan, he spreads his fan.
You can’t drink that much port and not have gout.
You can’t read Seidel without having an utterly changed sense of what life in our moment is truly like. Seidel is a reporter, a scourge, a secret sharer, and above all a lyric master. Read him and be amazed.