Frederick Seidel: Odd Man Out

I came across a poem by Frederick Seidel entitled “House Master.” It’s in the latest New Yorker. The poem, which is unavailable online, caught my interest, so I dug around to learn more about Mr. Seidel. He has a bit of a reputation for writing about uncomfortable topics from unpleasant perspectives. For instance, in The New Yorker poem, he writes of his youth:

It was good sport to refer
To one’s inferiors as N.O.C.D. (not our class, dear).
Biddies still cleaned the student rooms.
I had a living room with a fireplace that worked.
Finley was the Master of Eliot House, my House.

His poems, I am learning, can take on voices that make the reader uncomfortable, and this, perhaps, is a strength. There’s a wonderful line from The Paris Review interview with Seidel in regards to the writing process:

I will say that learning how to write has to do in part with learning how to accede to yourself and your object, instead of writing what you think you ought to write, or what at that point in time the world thinks poetry is about. Or what you think you ought to be about. The moment comes, if it ever comes, when you have enough strength to give way, to give in to being who you are, to give in to your themes. Giving in to your obsessions, giving in to the things that you will be writing about over and over. And sometimes the things you’ll be writing about over and over are things that some people don’t find very nice.

Here is a poem by Seidel called “The Owl You Heard.”

The owl you heard hooting
In the middle of the night wasn’t me.
It was an owl.
Or maybe you were
So asleep you didn’t even hear it.
The sprinklers on their timer, programmed to come on
At such a strangely late hour in life
For watering a garden,
Refreshed your sleep four thousand miles away by
Hissing sweetly,
Deepening the smell of green in Eden.
You heard the summer chirr of insects.
You heard a sky of stars.
You didn’t know it, fast asleep at dawn in Paris.
You didn’t hear a thing.
You heard me calling.
I am no longer human.
Click the image to hear Seidel read the poem.


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