Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review on Spiritual Neccessity by Ian Brinton, Spring 2006

Spiritual Necessity, Selected Poems of Frank Samperi edited by John Martone,
Barrytown/Station Hill Press 2004

The overwhelming impression one gets from a first glance at this long overdue selection of the New York poet, Frank Samperi, is one of whiteness and space:

you talk

of failure;

even this



—ah, oak,



my work


It is almost as if the words were like bird-tracks in snow or as if they were yearning upwards to get to a rarefied world beyond the page. Robert Kelly’s Preface to the volume suggests that ‘Frank Samperi was legendary for the purity of his poetry. His language was clear the way glass is, demanding only attention to its lustre, and to the world it lets through. His poems are statements, clean as rock crystal, rhythmically minimal, intellectually ardent.’ The word ‘crystal’ is interesting not only on account of the volume’s inclusion of a prose piece from Samperi’s 1967 volume, Crystals, but also because it points towards the clarity of edges, the sharp definition which words have in these hauntingly cut poems. Cid Corman, whose series of Origin, A Quarterly for the Creative, was central as a platform for new poets in the quarter-century from 1951 onwards, wrote a review of Samperi’s The Prefiguration in May 1971:
The shortest poems often suggest an opening, a love of the page’s white space—and Samperi is extremely careful in his layout (and the publisher has followed it precisely).
Movement is backwards, the past, or sorrel horses galloping along a dirt road that is itself moving—to a standstill? Or a train, magician, covering distances, exposing a sudden vision of continuity.
Always in a room, looking out a window, or from a train, or even on the street, eyes peering out of the flesh, the stranger within, trying to compose, discompose or recompose, the scene. The seen.

Samperi was in good company in Origin. The first issue, Spring 1951, contained the first of Charles Olson’s Maximus poems, the sixth in the Summer of 1952 William Carlos Williams’s ‘The Desert Music’. Looking through the subsequent issues of this journal one comes to recognise the names of many of those who would feature in Donald Allen’s seminal anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-60. Each series of Origin consisted of twenty issues, four a year, according to the seasons, for five years and, as Corman announced at the back of the issues in Series 3, ‘Origin…intends to clarify the editor’s sense of art as the central relation of all human being, the realization of man’s relation, affectionately, to each other and himself and thru himself to all that is met in circumstance.’ The poem quoted above was published in Second Series, issue 12 (January 1964), alongside work by Louis Zukofsky, Clayton Eshleman, Gary Snyder and Eugenio Montale. On the front cover, in bold type, it announced


Corman went on to publish much of Samperi’s work over the following issues highlighting him as the main contributor in Third Series, issue 19 (October 1970) and Fourth Series, issue 1 (October 1977).

When The Prefiguration was published as a Mushinsha Book by Grossman Publishers in 1971, Samperi wrote to Corman to express his delight with the exact presentation of the text:

I must confess that I was overwhelmed by the book. E’s (the publisher’s) fine sense of structure establishes the proportions of the book beyond a doubt—the malleability of the prose in harmony with the longest poems, plus the ease of the last 6 poems surprisingly resolving the totality of vertical direction. Purity is an element throughout, and that does me a world of good.

In the margins of the letter he wrote ‘I mean, the whole book seems to be drawn to the top of the page—so in a truly profound sense So Close is the finest aspect of the vertical.’ Martone’s selection of the poems keeps this visual delight and in the pages of So Close, the lines do seem drawn upwards. For instance the two lines ‘in the midst of the collapse our room dark our/speech our love the background’ sit delicately four-fifths of the way up a completely blank page.

In 1965, Will Petersen published Samperi’s short collection Of Light in Kyoto containing the following page-length piece:

going out
the backyard
to shovel snow

away from
cellar door
an old man

looked up
a shadeless

the sun

behind the
the freight yard

It is worth comparing the contemplative tone of this word-painting with Samperi’s own comments on the act of contemplation, published here in the extract from Crystals 1967:

It is wrong to think of contemplation as the opposite of activity: that is, contemplation is a prefiguration of the very activity that pertains to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the State that fosters the idea that contemplation is passive, therefore, more in keeping with the man who doesn’t work, or better who won’t contribute to the give and take that is the market. From this it is just to ask: what is the meaning of the word activity when the State is Unity. It’s obvious: exploitation.

Samperi’s attention to moments is an active engagement which, as with Gerard Manley Hopkins, is also a profoundly spiritual one and perhaps part of the alluring contemplative tone in Samperi’s lines can be expressed by going back to Hopkins’s Notebook entry for March 1871:

What you look hard at seems to look hard at you, hence the true and false instress of nature. One day early in March when long streamers were rising from over Kemble End one large flake loop-shaped, not a streamer but belonging to the string, moving too slowly to be seen, seemed to cap and fill the zenith with a white shire of cloud. I looked long up at it till the tall height and the beauty of the scaping—regularly curled knots springing if I remember from fine stems, like foliation in wood or stone—had strongly grown on me. It changed beautiful changes, growing more into ribs and one stretch of running into branching like coral. Unless you refresh the mind from time to time you cannot always remember or believe how deep the inscape in things is.

The detail involved in total engagement with something was what prompted Olson to write to Corman in March 1951 concerning the matter of proof-reading for that early Origin:

I shall be most grateful to you, if you can’t send proofs, if you will be this kind, and take the time I know it, hopingly, takes, to do this for me. For—as you yourself—I know I have a damn irritating style of punctuation & placements (I do it gravely, as a part of, my method, believing that, resistance must be a part of style if, it is a part of the feeling)—and if errors creep in, palpable errors, then, the whole careful structure comes down.

However, with the words ‘market’ and ‘State’ and ‘exploitation’ in Samperi’s prose we might also be inclined to look back to William Carlos Williams’s early poetry:

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel-staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best
of all colours.
No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.

(‘Pastoral’ from Al Que Quiere, 1917)

The word ‘this’ has ambiguous reference to the poem as a construct as well as to the poverty. The shack is pushed to the limits of the city so that it won’t draw too much attention to itself and the poem, written some five years before the publication of The Wasteland, won’t disturb literary society too much! If you are interested in ‘contemplation’ and politics then it would be worthwhile looking at Ed Dorn’s poem ‘Time Blonde’ from his 1964 volume, Hands Up!

John Martone’s introduction to this selected Samperi is clear and sympathetic:

Samperi was one of that vital generation for whom poetry and life were a single task. Along with Olson’s Maximus Poems, Larry Eigner’s countless books, and Corman’s Of, Samperi’s work belongs to that distinctively American genre of the life-poem. His work is a radical autobiography, structured upon image rather than narrative.

Martone sees Samperi as a visionary pilgrim who has Dante as his master: orphan and first-generation Italian-American, he discovered Dante in a Brooklyn institution, taught himself Aquinas in Latin, studied the Indian philosopher Sankara, non-Euclidean geometry, and astrology.

Editing Samperi’s work presents specific challenges. On the one hand, he wrote but one long poem with structural complexities reminiscent of Dante’s Commedia, complete with late-twentieth century versions of his predecessor’s canticles, cantos and episodes. Each of Samperi’s volumes is in fact a poetic sequence made up of subsequences, which are sometimes named, sometimes partitioned by blank pages. Conveying a sense of the individual lyric in its own right and in terms of its place in the opus is a difficult proposition in a volume of selected poems. The meditative and visual qualities of Samperi’s work also require abundant “white space” in any faithful edition.

The results of Martone’s editorship can be judged by the extracts he has chosen from Lumen Gloriae, Grossman 1973, where he has kept to the nine words to the page for

riding a train

looking at homes

desiring a home

or the simple junction of movement and stillness in

an old man leaning out of a window

knowing himself useless

the potted plant beside him

backing it up

When Samperi defines contemplation in terms of activity there is another interesting link to be made with Charles Olson’s immensely influential essay, Projective Verse where he sees movement as being essential to the poetic enterprise:

Now (3) the process of the thing, how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen.

This sort of relation was perhaps what was on Corman’s mind when he delivered his Aquila essay, ‘Projectile/Percussive/Prospective: The Making of a Voice’ in March 1982:

Though Olson, Creeley and I have worked out our own modes for ourselves and hopefully of use to others, our voices, I believe, utterly individuated, impossible to confuse us, we are also deeply related. Not only through the ear of Pound, the idiomatic quickening and flow of Williams, and for Creeley and myself at least the confirmation of exactitudes within the confines of language in Zukofsky, but through continuing attentions. There are others, of course, too, like Dorn and Sorrentino. Or Samperi.

Corman opens his review of The Prefiguration with a few lines from Hopkins’s ‘As kingfishers catch fire’ and goes on to say;

To read Hopkins or Samperi, for me at least, requires no suspension of either disbelief or belief. I hear what they say to the extent that I can and to that extent precisely my own words follow.
A man in the middle way, or an innocent, for he is an innocent. His eyes see beyond judgement, though the body’s needs brought to society bring him to critique.
The earlier poems are lonelier and even more imaginary, a man talking to himself always, trying to make sense, if only to himself, seeing himself dying, seeing himself dead, his body roped to a raft by vagrants and children, with lilies and seaweed,
the raft
In a sense he comes on like the Noh, from way back, posthumously in the guise of a native of New York, or Brooklyn, but clearly, transparently, a spirit.

Samperi’s spiritual quality is not a turning away from the world around him but rather an embracing, an understanding of its components. In Crystals he is very clear about the spiritual in the modern world:

To be drawn into the market only intensifies one’s sense of the ambience that impedes; therefore, any science that pretends to have discovered a means to a re-establishment of the natural has, in truth, simply proposed to the mind an end that places the whole populace in a position conducive toward complete service to the State.
The despair: to say the world is to give rhetorical definitiveness to your world.
It is obvious that the notions making it on your own and being responsible are there solely for the sake of stressing the eternity in the now.
Linguistics is the sole study of the logomachist.
Looking out only to refer back and then finally looking out significantly.
A doctrine is only valid ontologically, that is, nothing that one man or another can say can place the meaning unequivocally there rather than here. What is intended is a boundary that reduces each man’s movement to a movement essential in the sense that the ambience is but a projection of his inner state.
There is a seriousness of tone here that points back to Blake on the one hand and forward, perhaps, to the Kitchen Poems of J.H. Prynne on the other. In terms of the former there is the aphoristic sense which echoes the ‘Proverbs of Hell’ from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; in terms of the latter there is the italicised colloquialism which is inserted into the discursive text carrying with it a tone of anger at the State’s involvement with the life of the individual.
Samperi’s spiritual quality can be felt through the simplicity of lines such as

we stood on a bridge

the vantage point

a willow


Or, it can be read in the translation of Dante’s Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, which Corman published in Origin Fourth Series issue I, October 1977, where it appeared alongside William Bronk and Lorine Niedecker:

As is the geometer who wholly applies himself
to measure the circle, and doesn’t meet,
thinking, that principle whence he needs,
such was I to that new sight:
I wished to see how the image agreed
with the circle and how it places itself there;
but the proper wings were not for this:
except that my mind was struck
by a brightness in which its wish came.
To the high fantasy here power fell short;
but already was turning my desire and the velle,
like wheel that’s moved equally,
the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Ian Brinton, Spring 2006
Tears in the Fence, Literary Journal

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Intensional and Extensional Motion of Frank Samperi's The Triune, by Michele Mazzia

Feb 12 (not sure of the date) I think it might be 1975.

Dear Mr. Samperi,
Last semester I took a course in contemporary literature and Caterpillar Anthology was one of the course's texts. Reading 20 sections from The Triune was like following a path of discovery - the poem is pure energy to me. I've since read The Prefiguration and plan to order The Triune.
My professor, Peter Clothier, suggested I send a paper I wrote for the class to you. I hope you enjoy
seeing in what manner The Triune speaks to some of its readers.

Michele Mazzia
Senior philosophy major
Univ. of Southern California

The Triune is a journey: a man's walk through the country and the city, a soul's passage through time.
1) The motion is expressed in the flow of both concrete images and abstract concepts.
The extensional motion, the form of the lines and stanzas, is that each line is one unitary image or concept.
Each linear unit gives way to the next. The lines are equally spaced and positioned along the same margin;
thus each line is of equal weight and each image is as primary as the next.


The park quiet
I climbed rocks
came to paths to bridges
to grass trees beyond
turned down to a lake
few rowboats out
some boys their pants rolled up
fishing at the edge (p.152)

The poem is a first-person narration. The narrator, the subject of the  journey, is always present; and when reference to him is explicit, it is most often with the motion verbs "I walked," "I climbed," "I came," "I turned."
Thus the images are always the images he sees as he travels; the images are united and flow naturally. There is constant reference to paths and bridges-- connectives between sites.
The direction of the motion is "ambiance conchoidal": the curving paths and recurrent images--hill, rocks, trees, river--recurrent locations--weed, desert, city, valley. It is a journey round and round toward a center, also a unification. It is "circular movement squared." (p. 166)


The flow of concrete images is juxtaposed by the succession of abstract concepts.

sweet peas
the graveside
then water
space a reflection unity
light to river
the flowers planets
the universe a body
an obviation
horizon (p.158)

The movement of the body is accompanied by the movement of thought. But the abstractions of thought are not analytical or logical, but rather imaginative. Compare the above passage to the introduction to Blake's "Auguries Of Innocence:"

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

It is a move of the imagination from the particulars of sense to the totality of space; it is the imagination that likens the universe to a body.
2) There is a tension between the concrete and the abstract that heightens the energy level of the poem.
In general terms, the tension between the concrete and the abstract is the disparity of the particularity of sense-perceptions and the unity of the imagination. An expression of a more specific form of tension between abstract and concrete in The Triune is the polarity of geography and geometry.
The motion is at once geographical motion--from rivers to valleys to hills to cities--and geometrical motion--"conchoidal" and "circular movement squared." The motion is both between two particular places and an instance of a universal geometrical form. The higher energy level of the poem is the result of this representation of the same phenomenon is alternative descriptions. It is like two different motions.
3) But the distinction between geographic particular and geometrical universal breaks down, for they both pre-suppose each other.
There is a contradiction in taking the geographic location as only a particular:

left and right rivers
the geographical false
stressing a position

For position is only a position within the whole, in relation to the totality of locations along the conchoidal path. Similarly, the conchoidal form of the motion presupposes a particular point as center:

Circle whose center was no where visible except as
circumference presupposed itself as center to a
circumference no where visible

Thus, the particular geographic locale moves into the totality, and the universal geometrical form moves into
the particular. This motion between universal and particular is continuous, and analogous to the endless
conchoidal path whose point-center is never reached.
4) The motion in The Triune is thus shown to have a dialectical character: the movement of qualities into their opposites.
The kinetics of The Triune are attained in the passage from a concrete image or a concept to its opposite.


a) "the right reflects the left"
b) the rising and setting of the sun
c) the path from the river to the desert
d) "sleep the awakening"
e) love/hate:
"a man and a woman lying amidst grass"
"men and woman shot among the trees to the right of a waterfall
a girl raped left naked"
the architecture positions
the people individually met belying the peace"
f) "fire below by the river"
g) from the country to the city


a) "straight line
one the other
--reflection is between opposites, the uniting of opposites in the reflection.

b) "the unitary unjustified
line spectral
point zero unresolved
unit net zero
however no negative no positive
--negativity contained in the meaning of positive, so there can be no positive without the negative. The point zero, neither positive nor negative, is an enigma--the unitary is not zero, so it must pass directly from the negative to the positive, with no intermediary zero state.

The life process itself is dialectical:

identity a person

The activity of life is a movement toward death: living is dying.
The dialectic is described:

the god involution evolution
resolution deceptive
induction deduction
therefore equilibrations
then opposite
circular movement squared

The spiral development: deceptive, for though traveling along the same course, every step taken has its opposite.

The Triune presents dialectical motion at a multiplicity of levels, and thus is itself a spiral staircase. The first level is within the concrete and abstract realms themselves: the movement from images concepts to their opposites. The second level is the dialectic of the course traveled: the endless conchoidal path. The third level is the inter-action of the abstract and the concrete: the particular geography and universal geometry moving into each other. The next level is the general description of the dialectic within the poem. The last level is
The Triune as a whole containing the other levels. Each stage contains the dialectic of the previous stages.

The only overtly dialectical motion of the extension of the poem is the last line of the Caterpillar excerpt: the line extensionally reads in a downward direction, but the intension is climbing, transcending.

Dialectics achieves a unity higher than that of the totality of the imagination, for it unites that totality with its opposite particularity. But of course, the vision of the totality afforded by the imagination is necessary to the dialectical consciousness. The place of dialectics in the journey of the spirit may be as a source of partial light on the true course, analogous to Dante's flame symbolic of the light philosophy can give to the

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reality Studios, May 1978

Two American Poets: Frank Samperi and Cid Corman
By David Miller

         Frank Samperi is one of the few really outstanding poets of the present time. His work is not really
comparable to that of any other living poet (and in fact I think Samperi would find any such comparison
irksome): as he stands against so many of the current tags chosen by critics and poets alike,
including "modernism" and "the contemporary", it is happily impossible to fit him into any "group" or
"movement" or "general direction" - however, because of this Samperi's work has not found the acclaim,
except in certain outlying quarters, which it deserves. His is a poetry of profound lyricism and of
spiritual depth. Even comparatively "trivial" or minor things by Samperi add something to the total depth of
his work. (The same is true, I believe, of another outstanding poet, Cid Corman.) Frank Samperi's major published work to date is the trilogy comprising The Prefiguration, Quadrifariam and Lumen Gloriae
(all: Mushinsha/Grossman, Toky/N.Y.). I have written about Samperi's work - especially concentration on
the triolgy - in an essay which appears as an Afterword to his volume The Kingdom (Arc Publications,
Lancs.). Samperi's most recent book to appear in the states in sanza messo (Elisabeth Press, N.Y.), a
small collection which, like the earlier The Fourth (Elizabeth Press) is "to the side" of his major projects, yet,
also like the earlier volume, containing a number of excellent poems. sanza mezzo will not reveal Samperi
at the depth of the trilogy, but it does show the insistent beauty and incisiveness of his poems:

the birds
the flowers

then continue
their flight

the trees

at first

Some exceptional work by Samperi has also been appearing in Cid Corman's journal Origin
(Fourth Series).

    Cid Corman has been publishing since the 50's, and has a long list of books and pamplets of
poetry, criticism and translations to his credit. 's is the 15th, and most recent, of his books to appear from
Elizabeth Press alone. Corman's poetry is sparsely exact without being "bloodless", indeed the
pressure in his lines (often considerable) is the pressure of a life which celebrates life: life without hope.
Life facing death. I am reminded of Andre du Bouchet's lines, from "The White Motor" "I found
myself/ free/ and without hope." In one poem Corman writes:

So little wanted
already too much.
Assume your breath as

what it is - your fate.
And in the name of
God - abandon hope.

So much of this poetry centres upon the two terms (realities), breath and death - appearance and
absence, being and nothing. In an earlier collection, significantly titled Livingdying (New Directions, N.Y.):

Mother, you will die.
In a few years, more
or less. I have the

doctor's word for it.
What is there to say
or see or do? Day

extends day. Body
bends to earth to drink
a dish of shadow

(The title of that volume, incidentally, derives from Corman's extraordinary version of a Chinese poem,
probably by Tu Fu, beginning "Ten years living dying alone...")
    The vision is bleak, but not so bleak as it may seem at first. Corman's concern for concrete detail is a
loving concern with the particular. His vision is also a humanitarian one, centering upon people in relation
and in their essential loneness. (Cf. "Making Love", in Livingdying.) Nor is the poetry divorced from "aura" -
the term breath is not only the actual physical act of breathing and existence of breath but also conveys
the spiritual principle. For Corman's is an interior poetry - not in the sense of being merely personal/
autobiographical nor in terms of narcissistic psychodrama - but in the sense of manifesting an interior
movement, where interior is not split from the physical world, not made to stand over against it as the
subjective in relation to a cold and spiritless objective world. (As the Gospel of Thomas has it: The Kingdom of Heaven is both within you and without you.)

As if a
name could by

being breathed
mean something
beyond the

breath. The ar-
of a flame.

   That pressure in Corman's lines is partly due to the actual insistence of what the poem says; partly
to Corman's skilful use of syllabics - which he uses strictly or freely, as it suits him. What the pressure
reveals is of the other side of hope/hopelessness; it does not depart from the actual, yet in this very
insistence Corman is drwan to reveal, existing at the heart of the poetic vision, what Dante called
"the love that moves the sun and the other stars":

Except we are loved.
we cannot love. Here
is the root then, the

love of a father,
and the tree, the worth
of the child. Except

there be fruit too, love
in us, again to
them, both root and tree

will wither in us,
howsoever they
hitherto have grown.

Drawn to love by love,
everlasting in
revolving splendor.

March 17, '78.
Editor: Ken Edwards

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

From Steven Toussaint's blog posted Nov 1, 2011

Two years ago, I was introduced to the beautiful, delicate poems of Frank Samperi by Elizabeth Robinson. I have spent the time since acquiring rare, out-of-print editions of his books and learning as much as I can about this poet whose work, though abundant and original, is largely unknown.

This seems to be changing due in large part to the work of his daughter, Claudia, who started a blog devoted to her father's life and work. There are also two wonderful essays on Samperi's work available online by Peter O'Leary and J. Townsend. This past week, PennSound launched Frank Samperi's author page featuring a recording of Samperi reading in 1987 and pdf versions of four of his out-of-print collections.
I find something incredibly beautiful, earnest and sustaining in efforts like these to rescue a singular voice from obscurity. Recoveries, rediscoveries of this kind make contemporary poetry the vibrant and diverse creature that it is, and I applaud and thank all those involved in bringing Frank Samperi back into the world.

Posted By Steven Toussaint

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! Let it be a bessed year.

From Lumen Gloriae

a whole garden of angels
each leaning upon each
light flowering heavenward
tho each flower heaven
animals under flame
key releasing ground
fire air earth water
outside the walls

Then the dwelling of the angel in the soul
or rather the odor
of the dwelling
habituating the man
to the daily
drawing out radiance
the surroundings
the universe
the aureole

existing no place
pilgrim no staff
entering no space

in light spirit to spirit
recalling deeper light
communicating deepest

universe closing behind
pilgrim beyond
one with point