Robert Mazzocco is an American poet and critic.

Milking an Elk

A master of both insult and befuddlement, he was agreeably both a scamp and a dupe. And he rose to the fore of his eminence as an entertainer at a time in the history of popular culture, during the Twenties and Thirties in America, when it was still possible for …

Heading for the Last Roundup

When the plays of Sam Shepard began appearing in the Sixties at underground theaters like La Mama or the Caffe Cino he was often thought to be a surrealist dramatist. That’s true enough of much of his atmospheric detail, early or late: Angel City and its phantasmal green slime, Operation …

The Right Stuff

With the publication now of From the First Nine and The Changing Light at Sandover, one can better trace James Merrill’s development over the last thirty years, from the voyages and tours of the “international theme” in his earlier poems through the supernatural forays of the trilogy—always bearing in mind …

The Supply-Side Star

In a less complex age, the Thirties, say, when opinion polls first began, “free spirit” and “rugged individualist” could, on occasion, blend in the “little people” heroes of Frank Capra—a Mr. Deeds or a Mr. Smith. By the end of the Second World War, with the constant acceleration of events, …

Embracing Adversity

Derek Walcott has both a seafarer’s resourcefulness, appropriate to a West Indian, and a moralist’s eye for character and commitment. In this powerful new book he mediates again the “ancient war between obsession and responsibility” or reflects on the current of history as it afflicts the forfeited beauty of his …

Ceremony

They’ll only get the future wrong The arrangement will never fit The jug of lemonade the animals In the field the eternity of fog But walking along past the tennis court Abel suddenly turns and Cain sees that he’s dead That among yesterday’s …

Victory

They’ll set out To the small uninhabited island They’ll get there at noon To last a week a few days Gathering the pink leaves Swimming catching fish sleeping Beneath the palm trees A night sky full of stars They’ll dream of …

Slippery Fish

Conversations with Willie is an intermittently entertaining memoir, but its details can be careless (at one point Robin Maugham speaks of Arnold Toynbee when it is obvious he means Philip), and parts of the reminiscences are now and again so chatty or unreflective, the dialogue so studied (even for literary …

On Apollinaire

Apollinaire seems to me the best of the “poets of the future” in this century. His entire Oeuvre should really be called A la recherche de l’avenir. Although he was born in 1880 and died in 1918 and thus spent less than two decades in the century with which he’s …

Letter from Las Vegas

I just took a Scenic Airlines flight over the Grand Canyon. A small passenger plane that went skimming high and low about the rims and gorges and buttes, the airy pinnacles and steeples of this granite wilderness—the afternoon partly misty, partly cerulean, perhaps not the right weather to show off …

Brothers

Now are you silent and sitting at a dive    You have buried your head between your arms You are hoping to swim away after a foul meal I am still young and studying at school    I am dreaming of a siesta open at the throat …

Gigolo

for Jean-Paul, Taormina 1960 I’ll bless my shirt That wears like iron And my belly That’s always flat I’ll bless the swift Smile of my mouth And the perfect Girth of my chest I’ll bless the women Full …

In Chekhov’s Spell

One of the odd aspects of Chekhov’s career is that he began as a writer of stories that were fluent “as a lark’s song,” then later he became famous for creating characters who have trouble completing even a simple sentence. And this—no less—on the stage. A typical moment in one …

Letter from Nashville

Dear——, I’m afraid I’m not the man for Nashville. Maybe it’s because Robert Altman isn’t really my kind of director. Of course he’s very appealing right now—sort of the Woody Allen of drama—but I think that’s so only because he represents a certain failure of nerve. He has a feeling …

Between Thunder and Lightning

Tolstoy says that art commences with “that certain little something” and then grows larger and deeper, never losing its initial vibration. In a translation, I suppose, the most one can hope for is but an echo of that certain little something, but I’m afraid that’s not always what one gets …

Matters of Life and Death

Over the last few years Philip Levine has become so striking a poet that I’m surprised he’s not more highly valued than he is. Of course he always wrote forceful poems, but were they always so original? An early admired one, “That Distant Winter,” seems now, in retrospect, not to …

American Graffito

Sinatra, who arrived on the scene at the end of one depression, seems to have triumphantly returned at the start of another. Caveat emptor, perhaps the sign at the Garden should have read. But a few Sundays ago on the night of “the main event” there was no apprehension that …

The Charm of Insolence

It is Gore Vidal’s fancy that in every Myron a Myra is struggling to be born. That is an old fancy. Jehovah had it too. Only Vidal, though, seems to have pursued it, in novels and essays and plays, with such civilized abandon and amiable malice, either as a sly …

That’s Entertainment

Hugo says that forty is the old age of youth and that fifty is the youth of old age. These summer and autumn moods where perhaps one is most aware of the poignancy of what has been or what is to come, these seasons of accommodation where one plants and …

The Ghost of Gatsby

I don’t know what David Merrick will be sprinkling over himself to atone for Jack Clayton’s spiritless direction of The Great Gatsby, but I suspect it won’t be gold dust. For though the film’s probably the most elegant recreation of the Twenties since The Razor’s Edge, the most sumptuous clothes-opera …

Dancing on the Titanic

It’s always been difficult coming to terms with whatever is happening in America. If Goethe could herald us as “eternally new,” a century later Gertrude Stein would call her country “the oldest in the world.” And of course we seem fated to be a little bit—or a whole lot—of both.

Very Different Cats

About a year and a half ago in The New Yorker, Howard Moss published what is, I think, probably the best poem he has ever written. The poem is called “Chekhov.” It has all the characteristic virtues of Moss’s other poems—and then surpasses those, transmutes them. It has the poet’s …

Beautiful and Damned

Even supposing that you have sufficient perspicacity and science to know everything, suppose that you are familiar with every language, the course of the stars and all else, what is there in all this to boast of? One single demon knows more about any of them than all mortal men …

Undercurrents

Uncommon is the word for Chester Kallman—uncommonly attractive and uncommonly odd. Probably no other poet of Chester Kallman’s generation, the generation of “the nineteen-twenties-born,” the generation which, as he mordantly remarks, “had no name,” seems so singular, so dryly or vividly himself. And yet, for all that, no other poet, …

A Kick Out of Cole

Cole Porter was the purest of the pop composers. He never had the zest of Gershwin, the melting melodies of Kern, the everyday energy of Richard Rodgers or Irving Berlin. The lofty “You Are Love” was beyond his ear, the calescent “Fascinating Rhythm” beyond his beat. Yet of his many …

The Family Man

We all know Hegel’s famous saying, “When turning our gaze to the past, the first thing we observe is ruins.” That gaze, of course, is philosophic and Prussian. How many, though, would be perverse enough to observe clouds of dust settling not over the past, but over the present and …