Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Finally, an acceptance; David Schubert, neglected poet?--toxic narcissist

I am happy to announce that my long string of rejections has been broken by a paying magazine, Byline.

It should be out in July. I first sent five poems which the editor found "too edgy," but she took the time to say some nice things, even suggesting another venue (that's the kind of editor I sought to be at Melic). So I immediately re-read the guidelines and examples from the magazine, tuned my voice down to some milder pieces, and she took one.

In other words, if you get your foot in the door, try to keep it propped open.

Does this give me hope? Enough to go on for now.

The other day I bought an old issue of QLR devoted to David Schubert, a man who did little but write poetry, succumbing to insanity and institutionalization by age 30, and subsequently dying of TB at 32. What's interesting about the issue is how many prominent literary lights praise him, and how many personal reminiscences paint him as an extreme narcissist. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, I suspect he was rather bipolar, but he also may have had a narcissistic personality order. BTW, his later poetry ain't bad. Here's a sample, the opening stanza from "Predicament":

"Their love is exhausted in
Family," you told me. It is true
to my experience; what can one do?
To be left with the cinders of recrimination
For what cannot be returned. No,
To live without expectation of
Love. That is like a toothache,
Chronic and infectious. To mock
Your feelings, as someone I know,
Laughing at us all as sexual
Maniacs, is but self-mockery.

In googling "David Schubert" + poetry I found no less than 817 references listed, which surprised me.

Here's a comment from John Ashbery: "I don't think it's demeaning to call Schubert a "poet's poet"--a poet whom poets in particular treasure for the knowledge of the craft of poetry he can give to a practitioner of it, but also one whose work is open and available to everyone."

David Ignatow strongly identified with him. James Wright called him "A Master of Silence" and "inadvertently neglected." Schubert's one slim volume of poems was published in 1960, 15 years after his death. As a transitional poet between the suprarationalism of Eliot and the rationalism of Auden to the stark confessionalism of the 60s, he is an interesting writer, but one I consider more a historical footnote than a major voice. What's interesting about him is his inability to express what he wants to express, how he elliptically misses it and acknowledges the frustration in the same way. His later poems are more direct. His most ambitious, and one of his most successful poems, is "The Voyage."

Many influential literary friends strove to have his only volume, Initial A, published during his lifetime, but failed. Some of them sought this purely out of friendship and pity, truly--which gives us an insight into what may go on at the top tier of editorial discussion. Remember Eliot went to great lengths to have his mother's undeserving poems published and succeeded. (Don't forget Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Stewart, Hugh Prather, Jewel, and Leonard Nimoy.)

As for his private life, Schubert had a bizarre marriage in which he was supported by his wife and which included physical and verbal abuse on his part, though his wife remained inexplicably devoted to him.

Most telling of Schubert's inner life is a quote by his good friend, Theodore Weiss, in a letter to Renee Karol dated April 29, 1941: "It's amazing, the proportions of David's ego. Sitting alone with him, he busy carrying the burden of his 'greatness,' I realise how terribly much the image of his 'genius' has taken hold of him. Thus he's walking me to the subway and suddenly asks me, 'How is it Ted, I feel, I am! such a genius?'"

In reading the verse and life of this relatively (and deservedly so) obscure poet, there is perhaps hope for all poets striving for some sort of recognition in their lifetimes. More important is that we not be deceived or swallowed up by our own narcissism at the cost of reality. It is a good thing this man never became a father, for instance. Then serious poets rarely make good fathers; their egos leave little development for the individuation of their children, unless an understanding spouse ameliorates their toxic self-absorption. (I realize this claim is an exaggeration, but I could cite many examples, such as Stevens and Frost.)

Enough for today. To the tomb of the the unknown poet!



  1. Congrats on the Byline pub! It does seem to be rare to get that kind of feedback: I did get some from The Lyric recently and I'm probably going to rework and resubmit at least one of the pieces I sent them.

    I wonder if Schubert's popularity is at least partly due to the fact that his life story so typically fits the stereotype of a poet's life? And to what extent was his life shaped by his self-identification as a poet, and embrace of that stereotype? We are so easily trapped in our own mirrors.

  2. Yes, as in the case of Shelley, Byron, Keats, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Delmore Schwartz, even Marlowe--best to die young--good also to be gay or communist in an era where either is feared or despised--even better to be associated with a school, like Black Mountain or New York or the Beats. Being named as a movement nearly insures your immortality. Have you ever heard of the Logopoets? Hee hee.

  3. just to add my congratulations, it must be a great confidence booster - well done.

  4. Anonymous4:53 PM PDT

    "What's interesting about him is his inability to express what he wants to express..."

    This is a psychological disorder I swear, a desire to be not fully apprehended, a weird reticence or withholding like a defense.

  5. Anonymous2:49 PM PDT

    "A Short Essay On Poetry" by David Schubert

    A poet who observes his own poetry ends up, in spite of it, by finding nothing to observe, just as a man who pays too much attention to the way he walks, finds his legs walking off from under him. Nevertheless, poets must sometimes look at themselves in order to remember what they are risking. What I see as poetry is a sample of the human scene, its incurably acute melancholia redeemed only by affection. This sample of endurance is innocent and gay: the music of vowel and consonant is the happy-go-lucky echo of time itself. Without this music there is simply no poem. It borrows further gaiety by contrast with the burden it carries -- for this exquisite lilt, this dance of sound, must be married to a responsible intelligence before there can occur the poem. Naturally, they are one: meanings and music, metaphor and thought. In the course of poetry's career, perhaps new awarenesses discovered, really new awarenesses and not verbal combinations brought together in any old way. This rather unimportant novelty is sometimes a play of possibility and sometimes a genuinely new insight: like Tristram Shandy, they add something to this Fragment of Life.

  6. Interesting desideratum from a poet who in my estimation is not terribly lyrical. He is right about poetry and the self. Too bad such knowledge did not generalize into his life. Wisdom is hard to obtain in life chips.

  7. Anonymous12:02 PM PDT

    Could you please post the rest of that poem?

  8. I'm sorry but I have since lost the volume of the journal.

  9. Anonymous3:19 AM PDT

    No worries. Thanks for the reply.


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