Two New England Poets

Now in my seventies, I spent most of my twenties in New England. I made friends with older poets – Charles Olson, Robert Lowell, Robert Creeley and John Wieners – and some of my own generation.

Frank Bidart and I met as fellow members of Robert Lowell’s writing class at Harvard. Frank became Lowell’s collaborator, in effect, for the poems written between 1970 and his death in September 1977. Lowell liked endlessly to revise (Elizabeth Bishop’s elegy teases him, posthumously, about this) and Frank was his sounding board, his amanuensis. Later, with David Gewanter, he edited Lowell’s Collected Poems, the completed work. Lowell was succeeded at Harvard by Elizabeth Bishop. Frank befriended her also (a great woman but a nervous and alcoholic one who needed much looking after) and he is the subject of a charming poetic sketch by her. His own poetry is among the most admired of his generation, certainly by me. It is all the more impressive for being written in an accent more contemporaneously ‘American’ than Bishop’s or Lowell’s. As a result, these two are more widely read in Britain. Bidart won the Bollingen Prize in 2007. In spite of the contemporary accent, he reminds me of three nineteenth century masters: Whitman, Browning and Meredith. His poems are revelatory, self-dramatising, unflinching.

William Corbett and his wife Beverly were for forty years the most celebrated salonistes of modern Boston. They lived in ‘Southie’, traditionally the Irish quarter. Every writer of consequence visited them. This fame has slightly obscured Corbett’s own affectionate and laconic poems. I find their beat wholly musical, with the immediacy of the best modern jazz. No point, in your seventies, dodging the elegiac.

Elegies for Michael Gizzi



After Gottfried Benn

Not being alive
When you know a new
Lee Child is about to appear.

Seeing your grandson
Run nakedly down the beach
But you can’t open your arms to him.

Having one word speak to another
But you are silent.

Very bad: listening to various parties
Argue why you didn’t have to die
And you can’t send them to time out.

And worst of all
Dying in late September
When days grow short
And earth begins to resist the spade.


“Don’t worry honey, I’m just taking out the improvements.”

Joseph Mitchell

When was the last food tasted,
The last music heard,
Last line read, last line written?
We can only guess.
The last laugh?
Punch line chewing gum
Holding back Clark Gable’s ears?
That’s a wild guess.
You gave up the ghost –
What a phrase! And its meaning is? –
In sleep, drifting away as we all will.
All fall down or on the cockhorse
To Banbury Cross. There’s no time
To prepare for this and now there’s no
Stone on which your name is spelled.
You must have had a middle name.
Anthony, like the boy who ran
Through the North End answering
His mother’s call to dinner.
Michael Anthony…Ahh, yes
Mike Anthony John Beresford Tipton’s factotum.
Don’t worry about death.
We are never prepared
But nature will write a check
For a million years of peace.
If you’re sending a message
This is the one I’ve received.


“Bad” and poem opposite from ELEGIES FOR MICHAEL GIZZI by William Corbett, First published by Kat Ran Press. Copyright © 2012 by William Corbett.


Passersby in Spring

Oh, Louis Kesselman it’s not you
walking, walking round Caspian Lake
lone tubercular Jew and not you
mad Cathleen of the wide brimmed hat
not Danielson in high topped shoes
who pass but ghosts newly housed
and strung round by lilac
overtopped with lavender lilac flowers.


“Passersby in Spring” from DON’T THINK: LOOK by William Corbett, First published by Zoland Books. Copyright © 1995 by William Corbett

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