Nice Weather, By Frederick Seidel. Faber & Faber, £14.99
Tuesday 05 March 2013
There is no contemporary poet writing in English as witty, as shrewd, as touching and as debonair as Frederick Seidel. That's a lot of praise, but he surely merits it. He writes, mostly, about urban matters, in a colloquial style that never seems forced. He is a man so rich that he used to have his Ducati motorbikes made to order in Bologna. He adores women, no matter how they may seem to the unfeeling world. It is possible to compare him to Cole Porter and Noël Coward, both of whom feature in his poetry, if only for the delicious casualness with which he constructs a joke.
And there are jokes, or gags, or one-liners in every collection he has had published for 50 years or more. He is 77 now and as youthfully energetic as ever, as the very last lines of "Track Bike", the final poem in Nice Weather testify: "And we have tickets for the Bach at Lincoln Center,/ And let's check out/ The Upper West Side Apple Store next door./ It's one more crystal-clear Apple cathedral/ For Saint Steve Jobs, who discovered America,/ Where the deer and the antelope play/ With the herds of touch screens on display,/ Not far from Columbus Circle and pancreatic cancer."
This is the best kind of flippancy, informed by melancholy, anger at the technological wizardry more potent than faith, and a sense – echoed throughout the collection – of the imminence of death. There are humorous elegies for dead friends such as Edward Said, Richard Poirier and Frank Kermode. He reveals, rather than conceals, his deep sorrow at their loss with the lightness of touch that has typified his work from the beginning of his long career.
If Seidel resembles anyone, it is Frank O'Hara, who died as a result of an absurd accident on the beach at Fire Island while still a young man. O'Hara was gay and Seidel is most decidedly not, but they both appear to be living in, and for, the moment as they explore the delights and horrors of New York City. I love the pair of them, especially for their refusal to indulge in vain pedantry or seriousness too solemn to account for the daily comedy of our lives.
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