Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Louche Life: The Poetry of Frederick Seidel

"I spend most of my time not dying.
That's what living is for"
Frederick Seidel is a gnarled, cantankerous old fart of a man who absorbs sordid and unseemly themes the way a mushroom sucks out the nutrients from a turd. Like Charles Baudelaire he takes ugliness and gilds it with the transformative power of his writing.

A jaundiced, elegantly wasted vibe permeates his poetry and you can feel the weight of his headless stare:
Evening Man sits signing bills in the Oval Office headless -
Every poem I write starts or ends like this.
His hands have been chopped off. He signs bills with the mess.
The country is in good hands. It ends like this.

- from "Evening Man"
Of course he starts his poems without a head - it's all about heart and appetite. The image has such a grisly resonance in this age of beheadings and terror, but Seidel transforms it from a news-flash fear-bite into an absurd vision. He has become the US President, a kind of Ichabod Crane pursued by some headless muse.

Seidel has a passion for Ducati motorcycles and the type of glam luxury that easily succumbs to decadence. He captures the fizz of Los Angeles during the slow plunder of Charlie Manson's "Family" as only one who was there can:
A football spirals through the oyster glow
Of dawn dope and fog in L.A.'s
Bel Air, punted perfectly. The foot
That punted it is absolutely stoned.

-from "1968"
And from Ooga-Booga:
Anything is better than this
Nursing on a long-stemmed bubble made of crystal.
I’m sucking on the barrel of a crystal pistol
To get a bullet to my brain.
I’m gobbling a breast, drinking myself down the drain.

- from "Drinking in the Daytime"
If record albums were personalities, Sticky Fingers would be Seidel.

His poetry is caught in the sway of a demon life, laid out on the tiles with a needle and a spoon drifting down that moonlight mile....

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