Posting Kosovel’s ‘Poem No. 1’, with its purchase of ‘four Zeta’ allows me to jump to Frank O’Hara also visiting the tobacconist, in this this poem which I just love. (The ‘Lady’ of the title is Billy Holiday.)


It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
————————————–I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing


(If you’ll allow me a tangent, and an out of context comparison, consider Kosovel’s ‘four Zeta’, and his sense of Europe absolutely being at an end in the early ’20s (which we’ll get on to some time), and then O’Hara’s ‘casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton / of Picayunes’ in 1959. This isn’t fair to O’Hara – it’s perfectly reasonable to pick up a couple of packets of cigarettes (even fancy foreign ones) – and it’s a crude contrast, but since we’re here… Its nicely suggestive of the place and period that J.M Ledgard’s describes as ‘the high-water mark of abundance on the planet, the maximum moment, of consumption without a sense of an ending.’ Ledgard is writing specifically about Princeton in 1949, but I think New York in the period between the end of the Second World War and the Cuban Missile Crisis can fall into the same bracket.)

[First published in Lunch Poems (Pocket Poets Series #19) by City Lights Books. Ripped from The photo of the Five Spot is taken from here:]


Directly following on from ‘Kludsky Circus‘:


The sun shines.
I woke up.
Still thinking of the circus
and of Colombine.

The sun on the street,
it accompanies me.
I buy four Zeta
from the tobacco shop.
How small
the tobacco shop
compared to the sun.
Man is like a lizard
that loves the sun.
And yet.
The sun follows me.


Previously I wondered if Ted Hughes was the poet fondest of the full stop. Kosovel certainly challenges for the title.

[Read in Look Back, Look Ahead: The Selected Poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated from the Slovenian by Ana Jelnikar and Barbara Siegel Carlson.]

On a flaked ridge of the desert

Outriders have found foul water. They say nothing;
With the cactus and the petrified tree
Crouch numbed by a wind howling all
Visible horizons equally empty.

The wind brings dust and nothing
Of the wives, the children, the grandmothers
With the ancestral bones, who months ago
Left the last river,

Coming at the pace of oxen.


This is a rare poem, in that the title does all the work. Hughes exercises considerable restraint: the title situates the narrator, watching a television – so tempting to say otherwise ignored, but we have no clue –  in the corner of a bar peopled by drinkers. They and all the surroundings – the smoke, the gloom, the voices – are made up entirely of the reader’s own imaginings. The body of the poem is resolutely desolate, which may or may not be your thing; the versification is fairly orthodoxly phrased, though there are things to disentangle: the inclusion of ‘all’ up at the end of the fourth line, where there should be a line break, or at least a comma, is a device  that scatters the sense out of the poem a bit, making the reader pay attention to having to fit all the images together again … Well, maybe the body of the poem grabs you, maybe it doesn’t. But the restraint, the choice to make pure, unadorned juxtaposition rather than really rub in the contrast in the text – that’s what makes the poem, for me.

[Read in Poems selected by Simon ArmitageFaber & Faber.]

To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.

Seattle, June 1956

[Read in Reality Sandwiches, City Lights Books Pocket Poets Series #18. Ripped from:]

Horatio, the mysterious neighbourhood vagabond who cannot be still, has come in through the window to say hello, and is trying to rub at my wrists and claw at my jeans as I type. Thus:


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
—It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
——His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.


Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats also happens to consistently give the most entertaining and humbling lessons in the central role that rhythm can play in a poem.

[Ripped from]