Crosby's Shadows of the Sun: Staging the "Diary"
Crosby published his diaries, under the title Shadows of the Sun, in three volumes, each called a "series": 1922-1926 comprised the first series, 1927-1928 the second, and the entries for 1929 were a third, published posthumously. While Crosby rarely reworked his poetry, the same was not true for his diaries. Though their prose is designed to seem spontaneous it is casually punctuated and unfolds at a breathless pace in fact it has been carefully reconstructed from earlier notes by Crosby. Several examples of the process by which a "diary" entry was eventually constructed are on display at the Special Collections website under "Exhibit" in Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
In general, Crosby began by jotting observations in one or more working notebooks. When Crosby was visiting New York and Boston in 1928, for example, he kept two notebooks: a vest-pocket size notebook designed for addresses and a small-size (6" x 9.5") ruled notebooks with a three-hole punch. In these notebooks, Crosby recorded a potpourri of items: ideas for poems, phrases that intrigued him, possible ways of arranging poetic narratives, the names of racing-horses, addresses and friends, notable remarks, and (most often) events that served as a chronicle of the day. Crosby would return to this melange of material to find inspirations for creative work. But he also returned to it, on a regular basis, to construct from it various passages that were organized around dates and diary-like entries. After writing out these entries in longhand, Crosby then transferred them to a typescript in which he made minor corrections and adjustments before sending the work on to be printed. The entire process reveals the extent to which Crosby labored to give his published diary the air of a spontaneous occurrence. In many cases the original notes were expanded and even embellished.
These diaries, then, reveal some of the care with which Crosby went about constructing a distinct version of himself, of his friends, and of his times. The diaries eventually became a preoccupation no less important than his poetry possibly even more important. Though privately printed and limited to 44 copies, the diaries were offered by Crosby to the English publisher Jonathan Cape who expressed an interest in publishing them. Were it not for the objections of Harrys father, the arrangement for a posthumous publication of selections from the diaries by Cape would have succeeded; it would be nearly fifty years before they would be reprinted, in 1977 by the Black Sparrow Press.
A fine example of the way in which Crosbys working notebooks functioned as a seedbed for both his experimental poetry and his diary entries is this page from one of the notebooks kept on his 1928 journey to Boston and New York. At the top of the entry, Crosby has jotted down the information about the cost of the word "womb." This evidently recorded a problem at the U. S. customs when Crosby attempted to import copies of the Black Sun Press edition of "Sun" by D. H. Lawrence. But it would surface again as one of a series of mock-headlines in an unpublished poem entitled "Herald" a result of Crosby returning to the notebooks for ideas that would appear in his experimental poetry.
Crosby goes on, in this typical page from his working notebook, to jot down brief responses to the paintings of Georgia OKeefe. These jottings in turn will be further developed for publication in Shadows of the Sun in part of the diary entry for December 6, 1928. But these notes on OKeefe are not Crosbys first impressions. His first reactions to OKeefe can be found in hasty phrasings scrawled in the vest-pocket notebook that also dates from the 1928 American trip. What such a series of notes indicate is that Crosby regularly returned to various notebooks, each time upgrading the writings in them. Beginning with his vest-pocket scrawl, he then elaborated it into a series of observations in his ruled notebook, which he then transformed into a dated diary entry written in longhand that was written with an eye toward seeming as if it had been sketched at white-hot speed. In fact, that "sketch" must have been written several days later, and with decisions made about the proper style in which it should appear in order to seem spontaneous.
The painting by OKeefe whose photograph struck Crosbys eye may have been "East River from the Shelton" painted in 1926-1927.
A page from Crosby's working notebook, circa 1928. Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
The following is a transcription of this notebook page.
$50 for the use of the word womb
cool and white
singular and opposed to plural
single Rimbaud is single
flower young and strong
her [illegible] roses
white as a wind of diamonds
painting from within out
with all true trivialities
swept magnificently aside
with true simplicity of silence
with the strength of love
no petty schools
bear comparison with the
better flower from Redon
in a woman gives
herself re Stieglitz
A page from
Crosbys vest-pocket address notebook, circa winter 1928
The following is a transcription of the vest-pocket page.
the red fog
(on the side at an angle: Merry Christmas, Dear Miss Ludington. I love you. Harry)
Page 173 of
Crosbys longhand notebook in which he has reconstructed diary entries.
The following is a transcription of page 173 of Crosbys longhand diary notebook.
not care for the Marin watercolors
but just as we were leaving someone
came in the door and the draft
blew a photograph off the
table on the floor and I picked it
up. It was a photograph of a painting
representing a sun back of a
skyscraper and I asked where
the painting was and the next
thing I knew we were looking
ath the most miraculous
paintings ever painted by an
American not even Bellows
excepted these paintings
by Georgie OKeefe an Irish woman
from Texas comparatively unknown
but Christ what paintings
passionately chaste with cool
explosions into things cool
and white an almost hospital
white and there were great
vagina flowers color of
orchids and young roses
flowers young and strong
and magnificently physical
and rich in color and
as simple as silence The
body flower unfolding in
the soul A great painter
singular as opposed to plural
Excerpt from Crosbys diary entry
from December 6, 1928
(as printed in Shadows of the Sun, Second Series)
([The Black Sun Press edition of D. H. Lawrences] Sun had been held up at the Customs because of the use of the word "womb" but had been released by our bribing with two gold coins the low-down bastards)
and the next thing I knew we were looking at the most miraculous paintings ever painted by an American not even Bellows excepted these paintings by Georgie [sic] OKeefe an Irish woman from Texas comparatively unknown but Christ what paintings passionately chaste and cool explosions into things cool and white (almost hospital white) and there were great vagina flowers color of orchids and young roses, flowers young and strong and magnificently physical and rich in color and as simple as silence, the body flower unfolding in the soul. A painter singular as opposed to plural singular as the great poets are singular a painter with all the trivialities swept magnificently aside a painter with inner centrality painting from within out with the coolness of cool sheets with the cool flamboyance of flowers. No petty schools no littlenness but cool and white as a mind of diamonds. How Odilon Redon would have bowed before these flowers. But any description I might give would be overshadowed by the simple criticism of Stieglitz "a woman gives herself" (and here is the truth about Georgia OKeefe.)"
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