Last night I read a few pages of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a favorite book that captures the aura of a block of brownstones on the Upper East Side after rain. The time is October 1943, close to the day I was born in New York. Capote is a wonderful miniaturist and the book is spectacular page by page but doesn’t gather the way, for instance, Gatsby does. The pleasure of it is ephemeral, like Holly Golightly herself, blown hither and thither across the landscape, never failing to catch the light. And like Capote himself, a Southern child who couldn’t really set down roots in Manhattan. Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Really?
As a young poet of the 1960s, Ron Padgett did an absurdist recasting of the Stephen Crane poem “A Man Saw a Ball of Gold in the Sky.” In the Crane poem, the man climbs for it and eventually achieves it and discovers that it’s clay. Padgett reproduced the poem exactly as Crane had written it except that he changed the dramatic denoument by changing one word. In the Padgett version the man climbs for the ball of gold and eventually achieves it――and it’s gold. When the man goes back down to earth and looks again into the sky, Crane and Padgett both write: “This is the strange part / It was a ball of gold / Ay, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.” And so Padgett’s absurdist variation ends with the verbal equivalent of Buster Keaton’s stone face.
The Library of America recently published Crane’s collected poems, edited and introduced by Christopher Benfey, who wrote a biography of Crane. In his introduction to the new book, Benfey refers to another famous poem of Crane’s. He writes: “Standing in a ‘high place,’ Crane’s speaker sees devils below ‘carousing in sin.’” Benfey then quotes the poem’s last lines:
One looked up, grinning,
And I said, “Comrade! Brother!”
As an admirer of Crane’s poetry since high school, I sensed an error, like a clinker in a piano recital, but wasn’t sure. The complete poem is printed correctly on page 11, where the last two lines read:
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!”
The word “I” inserted in the last line as quoted incorrectly in the introduction renders the poem a kind of pas de deux of Victorian morality in place of Crane’s telegram.
ARAM SAROYAN is a novelist, biographer, memoirist and playwright. Among the collections of his poetry are ARAM SAROYAN and PAGES; DAY AND NIGHT:BOLINAS POEMS. Saroyan’s prose books include GENESIS ANGELS: THE SAGA OF LEW WELCH AND THE BEAT GENERATION; LAST RITES, a book about the death of his father, the playwright and short story writer William Saroyan; TRIO: PORTRAIT OF AN INTIMATE FRIENDSHIP; THE ROMANTIC; a memoir, FRIENDS IN THE WORLD: THE EDUCATION OF A WRITER; and the true crime Literary Guild selection RANCHO MIRAGE: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY OF MANNERS, MADNESS AND MURDER. Selected essays, STARTING OUT IN THE SIXTIES, appeared in 2001, and ARTISTS IN TROUBLE: NEW STORIES in early 2002. In 2007 several previous collections of his poetry were reissued together as COMPLETE MINIMAL POEMS. He has six titles available now on kindle and nook. http://www.aramsaroyan.com/