Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I was going to post a few poems etc... but I started reading a brief treatise on Brooklyn by James Agee, Brooklyn Is, and could not put it down. I found this perusing the new book shelf at the library and it caught my eye because the introduction was by the writer Jonathan Lethem of Motherless Brooklyn fame. I have never read anything by James Agee as far as I can recall. He is one of those writers whose name I recognize but could not put a book to. I am suspicous of little volumes published of late as it seems a design by the publisher to grab a quick buck. (This fifty page hardcover retails for $16.95). But as I thumbed through introduction I was hooked. Lethem starts thusly:
"I want to try and sing back James Agee's astonishing song of Brooklyn, this astonishing secret text which like the heart of the borough itself throbs in raw shambolic splendor, never completely discovered, impossible to mistake... He writes as though drunk on matters of space and geometry and distance, always seeing the life of the city whole and in microscopic miniature at once, and persistently smashing together architechure and emotion, conveying in the grain of 'scornful cornice' or a 'blasted mansion' or a 'half-made park with the odd pubescent nudity of all new public efforts' or 'drawn breathing shades' or an 'asphaltic shingle' (his neologism suggesting 'asthmatic,' 'exalted,' 'sephardic.' and who knows what else) his sense that the archipelago of islands settled by the mad invaders of this continent and the refugees who followed, and the nature of the buildings, and the streets, and the signs the arrivistes constructed everywhere upon these New York islands, are in evert way implicated in the experience of any given life lived even temporarily within their bounds, including his own."
Hagiography, idolatry, and Lethem's own strong prose aside it still does not prepare one for the seductive power of Agee's own words. I felt as if I should be reading this book aloud, singing like Brooklynite Walt Whitman, but I have been warned about doing that in public before. This slim tome encompasses a semester of instruction in prose in less than fifty pages. As has been said before there may not be prose in poetry but there will be those whose prose is poetic.