I had the honor of introducing Simon Schuchat at a poetry reading he did last night at The St. Mark's Poetry Project. Jess Mynes read before him (the most deadpan poetry reading I may have ever seen) and after the break I went to the podium to read some prepared remarks about how Simon and I had met when he was fifteen and I was twenty-seven in DC where I was teaching college and so was his mother.
I pointed out how at fifteen Simon was already bigger than most grown men and a better poet than many grown poets. And how he reminded me then of the poet and friend Ted Berrigan whose work I turned Simon on to. (I should have also pointed out that he was smarter than most as well.) And how Simon made his way to New York to meet Ted and other poets from the St. Mark's downtown scene and became an integral and vital part of it.
I forgot to mention that he went on to the University of Chicago (at 16) and the Chicago branch of the downtown New York poets world (in which Ted B. was the maestro) while putting out a magazine (Buffalo Stamps) but I did remember to mention the two small poetry books: SVELTE and BLUE SKIES (the former published by Richard Hell's Genesis grasp Press before he was calling himself Richard Hell, and the latter by Some Of Us Press a collectively run poetry publishing venture I started and ran with some DC poet friends) and all while he was still a teen.
I mentioned a few more books published over the years, including LIGHT AND SHADOW (from Annabel Lee's Vehicle Editions) and AT BASHOAN (from Coffee House Press) but not that they continued to display his "American idiom" poetic chops or that at thirty he seemed to pull a Rimbaud and disappear but actually went to work for the U.S. government overseas. Nor that not long after that the rise of the Internet had him connected to the poetry world even if it was from China or some other distant land.
Unfortunately, I was tired, my eyes were bothering me and I couldn't quite read my own introduction so tried to remember the main points but fumbled a few times and threw out my brain operation and then my cataracts as excuses (getting some heckling for it from Ron Padgett and Bob Holman, friendly heckling, I think). I know I reach for the brain op thing sometimes too readily to explain moments in which I get a little confused or forgetful or anxious but the reality is before the operation I didn't do that in those situations.
Bob Holman has been the master of introductions off the cuff for decades, as have many others, like Terence Winch. And many may be better at written ones than me. But though I almost always lacked the quick wit for repartee or rapid response in small situations, one on one or only a few, in front of live audiences that have numbered in the thousands a few times and in the hundreds many times, I always felt most at home and on top of my game being spontaneous.
That has changed. The good news is I think I was kind to everyone I encountered in person last night, something I've been trying to do all my life and am finally getting closer to. But I wish I had talked more about Simon's poetic gifts including as a translator (he read a few translations last night that were fine examples).
One of the things I like best about Simon's poetry is the variety of ways he approaches the poem, which I can't illustrate here because instead I want to share one of his early poems written when he was still a teenager (and included in an anthology I edited in the mid'70s called NONE OF THE ABOVE) and a more recent follow up to that poem:
THE MIRACLE OF SIMON SCHUCHAT
Howdy my names Simon
I'm almost twenty years old
I go to the University of Chicago
I take no shit from no one
Whatever that means
I'm trying out something new
When I was fourteen I won a poetry prize
Given by scholastic Magazine
Honorable Mention Junior Division
I been writing ever since
My favorite poet is John Ashbery
Do you think I write as good as him?
RETURN TO THE MIRACLE OF SIMON SCHUCHAT
hi my name's Simon
getting close to sixty
recently retired from Federal service
I swim 2K most mornings
I began as a teenage prodigy
I'm pleased to think I have no style
my Mandarin is much better than my Russian
but I translate poetry from both
[PS: For another taste of Simon's work try Tom Clark's blog Beyond The Pale here and The East Village Poetry Web here.]
[PPS: And for those who can't see what I referred to in a comment on Beyond The Pale as "Incredibly nuanced subtleties" and "beautifully constructed" just look at the sixth line in each of these poems which work as the fulcrum that changes the poem from some kind of naive or un-self aware bravado to in-on-the-joke-self-aware-and-self-controlled humble and intelligent observation of reality, see his other poetry for more of that.]