Poetry: The Book of my Enemy — From Robert Lowell’s Notebook | clivejames.com
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

From Robert Lowell’s Notebook

Notes for a Sonnet

Stalled before my metal shaving mirror
With a locked razor in my hand I think of Tantalus
Whose lake retreats below the fractured lower lip
Of my will. Splinter the groined eyeballs of our sin,
Ford Madox Ford: you on the Quaker golf course
In Nantucket double-dealt your practised lies
Flattering the others and me we’d be great poets.
How wrong you were in their case. And now Nixon,
Nixon rolls in the harpoon ropes and smashes with his flukes
The frail gunwales of our beleaguered art. What
Else remains now but your England, Ford? There’s not
Much Lowell-praise left in Mailer but could be Alvarez
Might still write that book. In the skunk-hour
My mind’s not right. But there will be
Fifty-six new sonnets by tomorrow night.

Revised Notes for a Sonnet

On the steps of the Pentagon I tucked my skull
Well down between my knees, thinking of Cordell Hull
Cabot Lodge Van du Plessis Stuyvesant, our gardener,
Who’d stop me playing speedway in the red-and-rust
Model A Ford that got clapped out on Cape Cod
And wound up as a seed shed. Oh my God, my God,
How this administration bleeds but will not die,
Hacking at the ribcage of our art. You were wrong, R. P.
Blackmur. Some of the others had our insight, too:
Though I suppose I had endurance, toughness, faith,
Sensitivity, intelligence and talent. My mind’s not right.
With groined, sinning eyeballs I write sonnets until dawn
Is published over London like a row of books by Faber —
Then shave myself with Uncle’s full-dress sabre.

Notes for a Revised Sonnet

Slicing my head off shaving I think of Charles I
Bowing to the groined eyeball of Cromwell’s sinning will.
Think too of Orpheus, whose disembodied head
Dumped by the Bacchants floated singing in the river,
His love for Eurydice surviving her dumb move
By many sonnets. Decapitation wouldn’t slow me down
By more than a hundred lines a day. R. P. and F. M. F.
Play eighteen holes together in my troubled mind,
Ford faking his card, Blackmur explicating his,
And what is love? John Berryman, if you’d had what it took
We could have both blown England open. Now, alone,
With a plush new set-up to move into and shake down,
I snow-job Stephen Spender while the liquor flows like lava
In the parlour of the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava.