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Defining an Aesthetics for Crosby

Harry Crosby
What to Expect from the Surrealist Text

[Crosby regularly wrote to his mother, sharing with her his plans for publishing books, his own ideas about poetry – even speaking openly about extramarital relationships. They shared projects, including an exhaustive reading of books in the Bible (Crosby has over one hundred pages of notes on passages from Old Trestament books). And from time to time, Crosby offered some explanation as what he was attempting in his own writing. This passage is from a letter dated August 7, 1928.]

I send you in another envelope seventeen poems Poems for the Sun Goddess but I do not think you will like them unless it be the Poem called Poem. But for me they show a real development forward – I suppose they come under the head of surréalisme You remember what Imber [?] said in the Saturday Review about the surrealist poet "when his poem is written he is not concerned if it ‘means’ anything or not. Certainly the surréaliste poems ‘mean’ nothing in the vulgar sense of the word but they arer nevertheless existent, vivid, and beautiful and is that not all that matters?"

from Harry Crosby, "To Mrs. Stephen Crosby" letter of 7 August 1928, courtesy of the Special Collections, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

D. H. Lawrence on Crosby

[Lawrence wrote an Introduction to Chariot of the Sun at the invitation of Crosby. Virtually all the poems in this early collection figuratively deploy the sun, and Lawrence’s response is designed to acknowledge this peculiarity.]

The essential quality of poetry is that it makes a new effort of attention, and "discovers" a new world within the known world. Man, and the animals, and the flowers, all live within a strange and forever surging chaos. The chaos which we have got used to we call a cosmos. The unspeakable inner chaos of which we are composed we call consciousness, and mind, and even civilization. But it is, ultimately, chaos, lit up by visions or not lit up by visions. …

[Crosby’s poetry] is a glimpse of chaos not reduced to order. But the chaos alive, not the chaos of matter. A glimpse of the living, untamed chaos. For the grand chaos is all alive and ever-lasting. From it we draw our breath of life. If we shut ourselves off from it, we stifle. …

It is poetry of suns which are the core of chaos, suns which are fountains of shadow and pools of light and centers of thought and lions of passion. Since chaos has a core which is itself quintessentially chaotic and fierce with incongruities. That such a sun should have a chariot makes it only more chaotic. … 

from D. H. Lawrence, Preface to Chariot of the Sun, in Edward McDonald, Ed. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers (1936), (New York: Viking, 1968), 255, 258, 259. Copyright 1964, estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli.

Ezra Pound on Crosby

[After Crosby’s death, Caresse republished four volumes of his poetry in a uniform boxed edition. To match the volume with an introduction by Lawrence, Caresse solicited afterwords for the three other volumes, and obtained results from Stuart Gilbert, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Pound’s comments were entitled "Notes" and appeared at the close of the latest of the four volumes, Torchbearer.]

… I am not sure that anyone will understand Crosby, in fact I think they will probably misunderstand him completely if they read his pages as promise of work unfulfilled.

There is an antithesis between artist and illuminatus. Perhaps only craftsmen and gens de lettres will boggle and stumble over a matter that the plain man will take as a matter of course. The poet is there to tell him, the plain man, of countries unknown.

These points can be discussed in classrooms and amid the foetor of American literary weeklies. Anybody but a blighted pedagogue subsidized to collect washlists and obstruct the onrush of letters will feel an ass in trying to concoct a preface to the magnificent finale. …

Crosby’s disgust seems to me valuable. I have never seen why one should be expected to register pathos instead of disgust in the presence of certain phenomena. Doubtless all temperaments can not be expected to register the same sensation. When a social order ceases to satisfy even those who are most privileged by it, that order is very possibly ready for upset or alteration.

Perhaps the best indication one can give of Crosby’s capacity as a writer is to say that his work gains by being read all together. I do not eman this as a slight compliment. It is true of a small minority only.

From Ezra Pound, "Notes," in Harry Crosby, Torchbearer (Paris: Black Sun, 1931), v-vi, vii-viii.

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