Poetry Magazine gets a little rock 'n' roll with Lou Reed
Poetry Magazine, which makes a good portion of its content available online, has gotten a little rock 'n' roll in its June issue with a prose poem from Lou Reed. Reed, of course, was a member of the seminal band the Velvet Underground and his music, hits and experimental both, have made him an essential singer and guitar player.
But before all that, in the early 1960s, Reed was a college student at Syracuse University, where he studied under Delmore Schwartz. And it's Schwartz to whom Reed is writing in the poem, "O Delmore how I miss you."
Delmore -- Lewis MacAdams writes, "no one ever called him anything but Delmore," so I'll follow along -- was a great writer who was undone by his addictions. His story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," published in 1937, and the collection that followed, gave him strong, stellar footing on the literary map. He taught at Kenyon and Harvard; he wrote poetry, fiction and critical essays. And increasingly, he drank and took pills.
Reed has written obliquely about Delmore before, in a fashion: the Velvet Underground song "European Son" was dedicated to him, but there aren't many lyrics. In the poem "O Delmore how I miss you," there are quite a few more. Here's a portion:
The mad stories. O Delmore I was so young. I believed so much. We gathered around you as you read Finnegans Wake. So hilarious but impenetrable without you. You said there were few things better in life than to devote oneself to Joyce. You’d annotated every word in the novels you kept from the library. Every word.
And you said you were writing “The Pig’s Valise.” O Delmore no such thing. They looked, after your final delusion led you to a heart attack in the Hotel Dixie. Unclaimed for three days. You — one of the greatest writers of our era. No valise.
The June issue of Poetry Magazine includes works of writers who set diligently to work on their own valises: W.S. Di Pierro, Stuart Dybek, Kim Addonizio, Adrienne Rich, Rita Dove and another musician, Will Oldham.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Lou Reed reads "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe at Royce Hall in Westwood on Halloween in 2002. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times