Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Morning Two Introductions (Edwin Denby and Patrick Hamilton)

Rudy Burckhardt, Portrait of Edwin Denby

        They say that You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover (marvelous link here) and I suspect the same should be said about its Introduction (if it has one).  

         It’s the actual text that you wanted, presumably, that you sought out and purchased, and damn other people’s thoughts.  You’d like to meet and spend time with the author, not his or her cousin or dear friend.

         I wanted to mention, however, that I recently read two introductions to books, which are both simply superb.

     T he first is Ron Padgett’s introduction to The Complete Poems by Edwin Denby.   The second is Sean French’s essay that begins his biography, Patrick Hamilton, A Life.

Rudy Burckhardt, Pedestrians in Manhattan, 1938 

     Padgett’s and French’s pieces are both fairly long, but utterly engrossing, reflecting each writers’ deep involvement with and knowledge of their material and the passion that resulted in their shepherding these works to press.   Not coincidentally, I think, both Denby and Hamilton, "city authors" who were hardly unknown in their respective literary spheres, are writers who these guides feel have been injudiciously overlooked and whose closer and more knowledgeable examination (in part by learning key facts about their lives) will profoundly reward readers.

        Since I happen to own both books, I obviously agree, but I wanted you to know also.

Unknown photographer, Patrick Hamilton

        As for “cover judgement,” the Edwin Denby portrait by his close friend Rudy Burkhardt, which adorns the cover of The Complete Poems and appears at the top of this post, is a remarkable image showing a handsome and distinguished man atop a city which no longer exists except in the memories of a declining number of people.  Teeming, densely populated Manhattan actually looks dignified and hopeful, like a place where work can be accomplished, pockets will not be picked, nor backs stabbed. The formal author portrait on the cover of Patrick Hamilton, A Life (shown immediately above -- photographer, date and location all unknown) is almost heartbreaking in conveying a sense of early accomplishment, future promise, clear vision and, I think, the acute hearing that Claud Cockburn so memorably described in his introduction to The Slaves Of Solitude.  Hamilton lived a fairly short, almost ungovernable life.   It may seem circular reasoning, but one is left with the feeling that his unique works couldn’t have emerged from any different set of circumstances. Still, one is left with a sad, slightly queasy feeling knowing that his autobiography (never completed) was to be called “Memoirs of a Heavy Drinking Man.”

1. Edwin Denby, The Complete Poems, Edited and with an introduction by Ron Padgett and with essays by Frank O'Hara and Lincoln Kirstein.  New York, Random House, 1986.

2. Sean French, Patrick Hamilton, A Life.  London, Faber and Faber, 1993.

3.  I was pleased to learn this morning that Faber & Faber will republish Patrick Hamilton's pioneering "graphic novel" Impromptu in Moribundia on November 17th, adding it to their previous release of Twopence Coloured in the Faber Finds series. 

4.  Sunday Morning -- Velvet Underground (link)

Piccadilly Circus, 1930 (c.f., Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky)


View from the top of the Parliament buildings, London 1958  

Rudy Burckhardt, Times Square, Manhattan, 1938


  1. Curtis, I believe Edwin was the coolest person I have ever had the good fortune to know. That top photo of Rudy's keeps him alive and young forever.

  2. I find that very easy to believe. When I read his poems, especially the very best of them, I'm reminded how good good can be and understand better why that is so. So elegant, so crystallized, but obviously a human (and humane) product. His mastery of dance art and writing is something I find quite remarkable. The other day I went to see Robert Rauschenberg's art collection, which is now being exhibited in Manhattan. It's a terrific show, filled with personality and amazing work. It contains some interesting examples of dance notation (Merce Cunningham's and Trisha Brown's) and some John Cage hand-written scores that look like Einstein-ian treasure maps. Anyway, walking through the galleries and noting the interaction between the painters, poets, dancers, etc., I was reminded of Denby. Curtis