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Overview

Like an underground river, the astonishing poems of Joseph Ceravolo have nurtured American poetry for fifty years, a presence deeply felt but largely invisible. Collected Poems offers the first full portrait of Ceravolo's aesthetic trajectory, bringing to light the highly original voice that was operating at an increasing remove from the currents of the time. From a poetics associated with Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery to an ever more contemplative, deeply visionary poetics similar in sensibility to Zen and Dante, William Blake and St. John of the Cross, this collection shows how Ceravolo's poetry takes on a direct, quiet lyricism: intensely dedicated to the natural and spiritual life of the individual. As Ron Silliman notes, Ceravolo's later work reveals him to be "one of the most emotionally open, vulnerable and self-knowing poets of his generation." Many new pieces, including the masterful long poem "The Hellgate," are published here for the first time. This volume is a landmark edition for American poetry, and includes an introduction by David Lehman.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819575265
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 04/08/2015
Series: Wesleyan Poetry
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 596
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

JOSEPH CERAVOLO (1934–1988) was a poet and civil engineer who was born in Astoria, Queens, and lived in New Jersey. He was the author of six books of poetry and won the first Frank O'Hara Award. ROSEMARY CERAVOLO is an artist, novelist, and art critic. She lives in Bloomfield, New Jersey. PARKER SMATHERS is a poet and editor at Wesleyan University Press. DAVID LEHMAN is a poet and the series editor for The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School.

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

DAVID LEHMAN

In 2002, when two Pleiades editors solicited work for Dark Horses, an anthology of unjustly neglected poets, I was not the only contributor who put in for Joseph Ceravolo, but my hand went up first, and I got to praise this overlooked genius of American poetry.1 A master of lyric concision, Ceravolo enjoyed a stronger connection to childhood and the child's perception of the universe than any poet since Theodore Roethke. In the 1960s and early 1970s, which appears to have been his Abstract Expressionist period, he used simple words and phrases but linked them unusually or leaped elliptically to achieve a sublime innocence. A six-line poem begins: "O moon / How ghost you are." A liberal use of exclamation points and a crafty sureness in the line-breaks contribute to the effect, as in the close of an early poem: "How are / you growing? / No better to in a stranger. / Shack, village, / brother, / wild provoke of the endurance sky!" All the pathos of childhood informs the moment in "Ho Ho Ho Caribou" when the speaker says, "Like a flower, little light, you open / and we make believe / we die." In short, Ceravolo was a homegrown original, possessing an utterly distinctive style.

The claims I would make for Ceravolo today are as great, and now there is twice as much evidence to back them up. Until now, only a limited portion of his work — the mostly small-press editions that appeared between 1965 and 1982 — has seen the light of day. Edited by Rosemary Ceravolo, the poet's widow, and Parker Smathers, the Collected Poems gathers the far-flung fugitives and adds the crown upon the his lifetime's effort. During the last twelve years of his life, Ceravolo accumulated several hundred pages of poetry, some titled, some not, almost all dated, and under the working title Mad Angels: 1976–1988. It is the appearance of these poems that makes this a particularly momentous occasion. We will, in the light of the Collected, need to revise upwards, not only our estimate of Ceravolo's achievement, but also our understanding of his singular place in modern American poetry.

Born in the Astoria section of Queens, New York, in 1934, the first son of immigrant parents from Calabria, Italy, Ceravolo graduated from City College in 1954 and began writing poetry while serving in the U. S. Army in Germany three years later. He wrote poems while on all-night guard duty in a stockade tower. A civil engineer by trade, he took Kenneth Koch's writing class at the New School in New York City in 1959. Koch's teaching had a strong and lasting influence on him. Frank O'Hara called him "one of the most important poets around," and it was fitting that Ceravolo's debut collection, Spring in This World of Poor Mutts, won the first Frank O'Hara Award in 1968.2 (Koch and John Ashbery judged the award named after their late friend.) It is a book I have long loved, and it would suffice to establish Ceravolo's reputation even if, in his clandestine way, he hadn't added to it substantially in subsequent years. The publicity-shy poet lived quietly with his wife and three children in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He had a powerful dislike of the "phony." He was fifty-four when he died of an inoperable tumor on September 4, 1988.

In 1994, The Green Lake Is Awake, a volume of his selected poems, was published with an admiring foreword by Kenneth Koch. According to Koch, a Ceravolo poem was a sort of "amazing perceptual archeology," its effect almost mystical. "It faded like the mirage of a gorgeous building: then, as soon as I reread it, it was there again," Koch wrote. He singled out some of the linguistic "oddnesses" in Ceravolo's poems: disjointed phrases and incomplete statements, which occur often in a "context of simplicity, quietness, and directness." Koch pointed to the materiality of the language in such a poem as "Drunken Winter," quoted here in full from Spring in This World of Poor Mutts:

Oak oak! like like it then cold some wild paddle so sky then;
flea you say
"geese geese" the boy June of winter of again Oak sky

In these and other poems of that period, the words seem as physical as objects and as strange. It's as if the poet were practicing, naturally and without calculation, a sophisticated poetics of substitution, erasure, and merger, suggestive of meanings beyond the powers of paraphrase.

If Ceravolo remains a secret ardor, it is in part because he resisted calling attention to himself and in part because the New York School, with which his name is associated, has not yet received its full due from academic critics. I love his simplicity — his apparent simplicity, I should say. In reality Ceravolo is, as he writes in his poem "Happiness in the Trees," "no more / simple than a cedar tree / whose children change / the interesting earth / and promise to shake her / before the wind blows / away from you / in the velocity of rest." The full complexity of his personality is on display in the writing he did — sometimes with an air of improvisation — in "Mad Angels."

A spiritual journey in verse, an unedited transcript of a poet's embrace of all things, from nature in its glory to his own mortality, "Mad Angels" will astonish even devoted admirers. It turns out this poet of laconic grace was also a secretly prolific practitioner of daily writing in the approved New York School manner, except that he sounds like no other member of the tribe, even when he writes an elegy for Ted Berrigan ("there are no special worlds / for a poet when / he dies or when you die / he goes where you go"), when he relates a boyhood memory ("When I was a child / I thought a handgun in a holster / and the lead-colored bullets on the belt / was one of the most beautiful things / made by man"), when he initiates a self-styled serenade with an exclamatory "Ah shit!" or when a garbage truck collides with the blinding sun on a city street, yielding an unexpected epiphany. Here is the whole of "Sun." Note the strategic use of blank space in the third line:

A garbage truck across the road turns into the traffic, the avenue a burst of solar blindness.
It is the birthday of the universe.

Ceravolo is unusual among contemporary poets in the depth of his spirituality. "The Holy Ghost is in my nerves," he writes. Transgressions rhyme with confessions, "holy lightning in the forest" with "mea culpa on the chest." The liturgy of morning includes "ecstasy," "eternity," and "benediction," but also a fair amount of "dirt," as in the poem of that title from July 1982:

Dirt on shoes The simple life When fears come like a trembling of rocks the earthquake is my bride

The sought-for ecstasy is as real as it is crude in "Body Jet," where the poet is watching a bird in its flight:

Weeping at the crude greatness ready to take off on the wetness all alone

I burn at the take off so invisible a god, off the ground into air I moan

It's the most crude thing of fears I have ever seen in life this emulation of strife of a bird

Although it scares the shit out of me it is close to ecstasy

Ceravolo's poems are greater than the sum of his influences, which in his case would seem to embrace the Gospels and the Catholic liturgy, William Blake's prophetic poems ("A vestal virgin melts the sword of communism / a large spider / dissolves the temptation of capitalism / both drowned by a sunbeam"), Shelley ("as if I finally / understand you / creator, destroyer, preserver"), William Carlos Williams ("A frog is kissing / surface of the water / from underneath"), Gerard Manly Hopkins ("Be uncovered! / Hoe with look life!"), Zen ("Without god there is no god. / Forget everything!"), and the poets of the New York School ("This morning Walt Whitman / walked past me / Ed Poe sat next to me with a coffee / Emmy Dickinson watched / TV with me in amazement").

A "Street Wise Romantic," as he puts it in the title of a late poem, Ceravolo is alone with a universe of death and mystery, unreported miracles and unobserved raptures. He attends alone and unobserved when, for example, a "hero" is buried —"a county policeman / shot on interstate 280 while / stopping a car"— in as affecting and unorthodox an elegy as I have encountered in many years ("Libera Me"). There is the love of "Amor & Psyche" where "there still remains the kiss / like the fires of a candle, / or a forest in seclusion, / or a migration lost for ages." But in the land of unlikeness it is the life of the spirit that is chronicled. The poet alone hears "songs that even nightingales / didn't know / or even the gods learned / for their created." The "you" in his poems is vast, divine, and worthy of prayer. "Deliver me in the pure waters / of sudden joy / when for no reason / it be OK to die / and never return."

Ceravolo's poems are lean, full of working nouns and verbs stripped of modifiers. He is unafraid to end a poem abruptly. He can move from whimsy to high tension in a line. He favors the vernacular yet speaks of the gods as Hölderlin might. He is on intimate terms with the wind and the sun and is able to "rejoice / in [his] deximil / of time." Yet none of this finally explains the magic of these poems — how they transform the commonplace into the extraordinary or why they make this reader feel he is in the presence of a natural poet, for whom poetry came as freely as leaves to the tree. His last poems are heartbreakingly beautiful.

No one sees me. I am just here,
my foot a decoy for compassion my sympathies and despairs for another generation to find.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Collected Poems"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Estate of Joseph Ceravolo.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

TRANSMITIGATION SOLO (1960 – 1965)
Preface
Lost Words
Life of Freedom
Sleep in Park
Descending the Slope
Feast of Visions
Floating Gardens
The Women
Lights of Childhood
Romance of Awakening
Invisible Autumn
Metaphorical Desert
Celebration
O Heart Uncovered
His Universe Eyes
Pain Songs
Migratory Noon
Contrast
Dinosaurs of Pain
Frozen Lookout
Stolen Away
Starting Up Again
White Sky
Chains of Mountains
Resting
Pastoral
Transmigration Solo
In Full View of Sappho
Spell of Eternity
Note from St. Francis
"WATER: HOW WEATHER FEELS THE COTTON HOTELS"
FITS OF DAWN (1965)
Introduction
BOOK I
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
BOOK II
Part 1
Part 2
BOOK III
"The green lake is awake . . ."
The Crocus turn of the gods
A story from the Bushmen
"SEA LEVEL"
WILD FLOWERS OUT OF GAS (1967)
Rain
White Fish in Reeds
In the Desert
The Wind Is Blowing West
Indian Suffering
Warmth
A Song of Autumn
Funny Day
Spring of Work Storm
Autumn-Time, Wind and the Planet Pluto
A Story in Winter
The Plant Is Growing
End
Drunken Winter
Skies
Is It Impossible to Know Where the Impulse Has Originated?
Not a Baby
Wild Provoke of the Endurance Sky
Dangers of the Journey to the Happy Land
In My Crib
Don't Break It
Spring
Happiness in the Trees
The Book of Wild Flowers
SPRING IN THIS WORLD OF POOR MUTTS (1968)
It Is Morning
Caught in the Swamp
After the Rain
Dusk
Heart Feels the Water
Lighthouse
May
Cool Breeze
Ocean
In the Grass
Ho Ho Ho Caribou
Red Sun
Fill and Illumined
Noise Outside
Winter Song
When the First Tree Blossoms
Passivation
Doubts
Before It Is Destroyed
Nothing
Floods
Sculpture
Passion for the Sky
Road of Trials
Pregnant, I Come
Both Close by Me, Both
Spring in This World of Poor Mutts
Data
Autumn Break
Lonely in the Park
Football
Tripod
I Like to Collapse
Down
Soul in Migration
Polar Flower
Orchard
Struggling
Grow
Risk
Fly
Mountains
The Green Lake Is Awake
THE HELLGATE (1969 – 1975)
Part I—Testament
Part II—Departure
Part III—The Bridge of the Dead
Part VI—Purification
"INTERIOR OF THE POEM" (1979)
INRI (1979)
O Moon
Alone Swollen
Another World
Question Haunting
Birth Day
Vision
Live Today
Perched
Promontory
Bloodsucker
Rampant God
Earth
Trouble
Experience
Hotel
Space Out
Mistake
Apology
No Help
Freedom
Within
Dangerous Journey
Worse Enemy
Not One
Fable
Bad Ass
Mixture
Broken
Layout
Reborn
Futura
Internal Rays
Apocalypse
Awareness
Macro
Rising Sound
Hard or Soft
Lighting Up
Job
The Car
Beyond Phony
Inside
Unable to Move
Pass Me By
Hard Energy
Motion
Stupor
Cuando Amenecer El Sol
Spring Breeze
Sleeping One
Hunting
This Land
Old Friend Hung
The Gods in Me
Future Landscape
Imaginary Styx
Disasters
End of the World
Reality Printed
Marginal Existence
Footing
Continuum
If I Can't
River Flooded
The Forest Wetness
Non-spacial
Runs Me Over
Flight
But
To Seed
Manure
A Cave Man's Dream
Ritual
Basic Heart
The Winds of the Comet
Negative Mountain Peak
Infinite Thunder
Ghost of Spring
MILLENIUM DUST (1982)
WINDS OF THE COMET• Volcano Tears
Bright Sun
Wet Sand
Cross Fire
Savage Nocturne
A Last Song
Spiral
Geological Hymn
Barbaric
The Catskills
Today's Night
Sleeping by the Rocks
Drunk on the Brain
The Spirit Mercury
Rhythm
White Dwarf
Inside Story
Escape to Atlantis
Winds of the Comet
Survival
Fire of Myself
Body of Earth
Not Afraid of the Dark
Generations of Clouds
Waves Apart
Cooling Galaxy
The Rocket
APOLLO IN THE NIGHT
Storm Breaking Over
Hills
Night Wander
Cold Night Alone
Morning Insults
Conception
Milky Ways
Time on Earth
Instantaneous Takes Time
That's Where It Is
Projection
Star Song
Earthquake
Voice on My Birthday
Inland
Illuminant before Dawn
Late Birds
Summer Lightning
Perpetual Life
Apollo in the Night
Great Plains
A Railway Stop
Night Birds
MILLENIUM DUST
Longer Trip
Dawn Hunt
Cardinal Conjunction
Sacred and Profane
Ignition of Dawn
Body Weight
Hymn to Earth
Kyrie Eleison
Can't Sleep
New Realism
Good Friday
Mood
Birth in the Dunes
Shifting Lives
Fever
Tensions
Meadowlands
Gravity Awakening
To Open Regions
Reversals
Unemployment
Full Bloom
Not Really Punishment
Nude Madness
Crazy Death
Park Thoughts
Concealed Wound
Ocean Body
Glass and Steel Structures
The New World
No More People
Brook
Millenium Dust
Montauk
Unfinished Sonnet
Dirty Snow
Tidelands
Final Dimensions
After Image
MAD ANGELS (1976 – 1988)
1976 – 1982
Body Jet
Love Eyes
What It's Like
Espacio
Haunting Ghosts
Rte 3 into N.Y.
Just at the Beginning of Summer
Scope
Words from a Young Father (Leaving Body)
Requiem
April Already
Assimilation in the Streets of This City
Night Ride
"In one day everything's green . . ."
Holy
Railway Box (Deo Te Salve)
Tongues
"The night gets lonely . . ."
Crazy in the Night
Mayhem
"Taking me away . . ."
Sub-Scape
Signals
Apology
"Tie one on, tie it on . . ."
Supplication
Positive Disintegration
Aurora
Lament #1
Lament #2
Asia
Middle of Winter (off the Hudson)
Dirt
Sunset
"It only takes a machine . . ."
Verses of the Soul Suffering to See God
1983
Rain Forest Ode
Earth So Beautiful
Dominica
Forest Dreams
Over Music
"Hold me light, hold me tight . . ."
To the Death of a Poet
Long Sonnet
"Where have I got time . . ."
City Scape
Double Blind Concerto
Guitar Ode
"The first August day is over . . ."
Sunburn
Linear Ballad
The Amphibian
"Rain cycle, hold my brains . . ."
"I hear the music from below . . ."
It's Only Glue
Builders or Large Moon Rise
"Here's a traveler in the womb . . ."
Spirit Matter
Tones
"All winter the . . ."
Night Flash
"Do a little job . . ."
1984
"The squirrel leaping frightens . . ."
"Sunny day with ice . . ."
Fault
Planet Sonnet
Lament No. 3
Forgive
City
Spring Rise
Grand Jury
Indian Song
Release
Jet Resurrection
Mother Land
Above Clouds Above
Legacy
"The pains of children . . ."
"Where am I now? . . ."
Serenade No. 1
Why God Should Know the Gods
War
Silent
"Floating emotions . . ."
"O ancient Rivers . . ."
Pre-Christian
Simple Creation I
"Minor eruptions in the air . . ."
Dead Sea Scrolls
"If I left . . ."
"The migration flaps . . ."
Hermit Gambler
Alive
Woods
Dirty Benediction
Elegy
Toxic Wastes
Autumn Torches
Libera Me
"I lean on my bus . . ."
"How can I disconnect . . ."
Sonnet
Stay
Thanksgiving Day
"O world without light . . ."
Street Wise Romantic
Lament #4
A Piece of Glass
"Happy heart that sows the breeze . . ."
1985
"My intellect seems to breathe . . ."
If You Loved Me
Love Song
"Seagulls are in from the sea . . ."
Pages of Storms
Hungry
"Tile floor, open glass . . ."
Street Journal
"Dried up and dogged . . ."
Unfinished
Century Sonnet
"I'm not weeping and weeping . . ."
Freedom
Hospital
"This is not the place I want to be . . ."
Incantation
Pumping Iron
"'Du bist in meinen Blut' . . ."
Reggae-Mine
Courage
Morning Vespers
"9:01 . . ."
Notoriety
"The streets against their stomachs . . ."
Night Strokes
BMX
Forecast
Ignorance Strong
Narrative Night
"On a night in a distant country . . ."
"I am not able to move . . ."
Sonnet
Hidden Bird
Lament #5
Lethal Sonnet
"Closer and closer to the ground . . ."
Rain & Wolves Inhabit Me
All at Once
Life Sentence
"There is no way . . ."
Dragons and Dungeons
Ode Song
Mad Angels
One
The City
Ode
Dream Ode
"Dry leaves, light trees . . ."
Travelin' Blue Highway
People's Republic
"Volcano mud covering exquisite bodies . . ."
REAL #1
Marketeers Entwined
The Comet Returns
Litanical
The Muscles of Animals
First Snow
Hymn
1986
New Year
"Where are we headed? . . ."
Melody for Food
Morning Touched
Mid Ocean
Lyric
"Lazy bodies with hidden knives . . ."
Rifle Shot
Winter
Amor & Psyche
Portrait Painter Realistic
Stampeding Visualizations
"Calm me! . . ."
"The Great Lakes are rising . . ."
Darkness Ode
Thoughts
Modern Sorrows
"I walked out. It was raining . . ."
Now
"Turn me around in your hands, O wind! . . ."
"I have a bad day today . . ."
"Looking at beetles and ants . . ."
"Smoke rises like claws that lock me in . . ."
Crescent Moon
Reprieve
"The purple plant, leaves thick . . ."
Hymn to Rain
Bad Thoughts
"I work in a dreamscape of reality . . ."
Characters
Come Clean
Complaint
Someone
Still Life
Morning
"The best time is when the body . . ."
"Song birds . . ."
Nuclear Disaster
"Does loneliness take over the body . . ."
World War II
"Route 3 and lonely . . ."
Mass
Discovery
Angelic Meditation
Week Day
Hand Gun
"Between a rock and a hard place . . ."
"Am I a fool in the temperate sun . . ."
Subway
"Old world, there are roads in front . . ."
"Grind away, trumpet, beat away . . ."
"How could the comet be . . ."
Breeze
Traffic Sonnet
"Under high tension towers . . ."
"Hardly a lightening flies overhead . . ."
Spirit
Blues
Der Wanderer
"My deepness away from you . . ."
"What is a year ending? . . ."
"Overpayment, underpayment, Florida lakes . . ."
Observation
"It is cold, it is cloudy . . ."
1987
"Consecrate the birds . . ."
Winter Sonnet
Hymn
A Child Story
"I saw a red tail hawk . . ."
Mother & Father (Simple)
Hotline for Youth
"As if snow could cleanse . . ."
Subway Walkman
Today's Benediction
"It's the quiet that we . . ."
"Tundra and deer, liberty and fear . . ."
Search
Bird
Sun
Notes on the 20th Century Scientist
"'Crazy nut,' the girls said . . ."
Sublimation
Unseen Sonnet
A Young Couple
"Morning breaks . . ."
OK
Cat of Eternity
Meditation
"The multitudes betray the fallen city . . ."
Irish Entry
A Call
"Slowly my love . . ."
An Old Testament
Rain Driven
Koyaanisqatsi
To a Dogwood Tree
Beginner Method
"The morning is warm . . ."
Kin Pain
Spark
"Dark inside me every day . . ."
"Take away the hours of creation . . ."
"Tunnels are closed . . ."
Perpetual
"Somewhere between a missile . . ."
"Million dreams, billion nights . . ."
"My arms are heavy and I feel . . ."
"Too many times there is . . ."
"Resurrect, reserve, resound . . ."
December
"Thank the gods for life . . ."
Starvation
"Hidden underground in a frame . . ."
1988
"All the stars will be gone . . ."
Irish Entry
"Swamps and people live in a lake . . ."
"Turn the screw, bang the nail . . ."
"8:27, have a language, that bundles . . ."
"When you can choke off the under- . . ."
"A man listens to music next to me . . ."
"Happy heart that sows the breeze . . ."
"Song birds enter the morning . . ."
"When I think of all the fuckin' hours . . ."
"When a spirit comes to me . . ."

What People are Saying About This

Donald Revell

“To read the poems of Joseph Ceravolo is to stride in radiance and through a coronal of colors, all of them tender. And yet his tenderness and the purity of his vision are not fragile, not ephemeral. Ceravolo is the strongest of American poets, the Villon of our apocalypse. His color is words, but his shape is the shape of action.”

From the Publisher

"Joseph Ceravolo's poetry, like the very best poetry, is at once timeless and contemporary, magical and truthful, visionary and real. One never ceases to be moved and astonished by his highly original poetics. His work is always revelatory. Always."—Peter Gizzi

"To read the poems of Joseph Ceravolo is to stride in radiance and through a coronal of colors, all of them tender. And yet his tenderness and the purity of his vision are not fragile, not ephemeral. Ceravolo is the strongest of American poets, the Villon of our apocalypse. His color is words, but his shape is the shape of action."—Donald Revell, author of Pennyweight Windows: New & Selected Poems

Peter Gizzi

“Joseph Ceravolo’s poetry, like the very best poetry, is at once timeless and contemporary, magical and truthful, visionary and real. One never ceases to be moved and astonished by his highly original poetics. His work is always revelatory. Always.”

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