Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Ode

On the train platform in the middle of a long and incredibly beautiful, spiritual day I thought of Wallace Stevens. A good friend of mine accused me once of being "a" Wallace Stevens (in regard to my poetry and my being as poet)--a hubristic, masculine energy. In high school I was a student of Cummings, though frequented brothels of Eliot and Stevens. The great white sharks of modernist American poetry. In the 12th grade Mr Milkman would explain to me, once and for all, the meaning of Stevens's "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" and I would come to believe then, as now, in Shelley as the greatest of the Romantics (discounting my own, superior-because-I-am-alive Romanticism with a capital Rrrrawr)

The Emperor of Ice-Cream (Harmonium, 1923)

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

And I could never forget his final conclusion, his ingenious interpretation having been deeply incorporated into my being. I know the emperor through an ombudsperson. And today finally I can be the emperor. I felt. I am the emperor of ephemera. It is likely that if you are reading this, you too are an emperor of delicious ephemera. The first stanza is so much an ode to man. The second stanza complicates the first in it's invocation of "her" and "she". Foil to "the muscular one" in the kitchen, cooking up the familial medicine. Ice cream. Contemplate Ice Cream. Let your imagination create the ice cream; the ice cream that should be as creamy and rich. Later, he will meet her in bed. Not the sort of bed one would sleep comfortably in. An incredible shift of mood and setting that stands as a testament to the genius of Stevens.

-Andrew E. Colarusso


  1. Whenever I read Stevens I feel like I am looking at everything through a giant glass pane that is very foggy except for this one little spot, just big enough for my eye, that I rubbed away. Every sound in his poetry rings in its place, enriching the the sense of the poem.

    The Emperor of Ice Cream always makes me sad.

    In regards to your first thought, let me quote something from a book that I don't know that a friend sent me once:

    "Hemingway studied, as models, the novels of Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev. Isaac Bashevis Singer, as it happened, also chose Hamsun and Turgenev as mmodels. Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E.M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a twenty-one-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, "Nobody's." In his youth, he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes the role, the thought of himself in a hat. Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gauguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The work's possibilities excited them; the field's complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks."

    -unknown to me

    Sorry, sort of a long quote, but I return to it often.
    Anyways, it seems like you were ahead of the game in high school, already a student of those you love. I assume that you go on writing (and making literary journals and blogs) because of your love for them. Wonderful place to be in, if you ask me.

    Also, I saw the Whitney Biennial, but I came during the day, not knowing they were open all night. I wish I had gone at night, it would have been more fun (although I'm not sure why...) but I loved the room where the second painting you put up was. All the work by that artists was phenomenal and I enjoyed the video playing in there as well.

  2. It is a sad poem in the sense that it evokes a sadness. But the quote you chose hit the unplaceable feeling right on the head. It's an exciting/arousing poem--Stevens arouses a sadness.

    That's a wonderful quote. I forgot what I was reading also--It might have been toward the end of Bloom's "Anxiety of Influence"..But Stevens was certainly one of those forever-21's who would not acknowledge his influences. Bloom--if it was Bloom--I should say "the author" attempted to trace Stevens' influences.

    As per Poetry. I wake up feeling rich everyday. On another plane. (not to sound cliche)

    (I went to the Biennial at 2 am with a couple of friends. Then we went to a diner. That video playing in the room was really funny and really brilliant because I remember feeling embarrassed by her didactic rant. Who was that artist?)