Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TC: Edwin Denby: Sonnet: "Disorder, mental, strikes me"


Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Disorder, mental, strikes me; I
Slip from my pocket Dante to
Chance hit a word, a friend’s reply
In this bar; bare, dark avenue
The lunge of headlights, then bare dark
Cross on red, two blocks home, old Sixth
The alive, the dead, answer, ask
Miracle consciousness I’m with
At home cat chirps, Norwegian sweater
Slumped in the bar, I mind Dante
As dawn enters the sunk city
Answer a one can understand
Actual events are obscure
Though the observers appear clear

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Edwin Denby: "Disorder, mental, strikes me": from Later Sonnets in The Complete Poems, 1986

125th Street, Uptown New York City: photos by Walter Payton, April 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)


Curtis Roberts said...

I can't tell you how much I like this and the degree to which it elicits a strong identifying response and stirs memories (of me, of me in Manhattan in various places at various stages). And as effective as the Payton photos are, the poem does this on its own without naming the place. Edwin Denby has mainly been someone I've known about, rather than read. The previous poem you posted about the Subway was my first Denby poem and I loved that also. I spent part of the morning reading up on him, including a couple of very good old interviews. The fact that I should have been doing something else (that still needs doing) shows how strongly this pulled. It's all great, but the part about pulling out the Dante volume "to chance hit a word" is really striking and the final two lines ring. Thank you.

TC said...


So glad you are enjoying the nonpareil Edwin. Dante was his special companion. I think they were kindred spirits across time. And those final two lines, each time one comes back to this poem, seem to speak in new ways, again and again afresh, directly to the circumstances and contingencies and bewilderments and trials and terrors of all our lives. As the years pass I grow more and more convinced that in his gentleness, his modesty, his humility, his sensitivity as well as his writerly and observational gifts, Edwin was our "fair saint" (to wrench from context a phrase once used by Thomas Campion). It's a blessing simply to read and recall him.