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:
Some exceptional work by Samperi has also been appearing in Cid Corman's journal Origin
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
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,
hitherto have grown.
Drawn to love by love,
March 17, '78.
Editor: Ken Edwards