Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 7 June 1924. Education: New York University. Studied acting with Vera Soloviova of Moscow Art Theatre. Military Service: U.S. Air Force, 1942–46. Career: Resided in Europe, 1946–48. Has worked as a machinist, as a clerk-typist, in a warehouse, and in art reproduction. Lecturer, YMYWHA Poetry Center, New York. Awards: Lamont Poetry Selection award 1962; Guggenheim fellowship, 1963; Shelley memorial award, 1975; American Academy in Rome fellowship, 1981; Lambda literary award, 1992. Address: 463 West Street, Apt. A323, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Stand Up, Friend, with Me. New York, Grove Press, 1963.
Variety Photoplays. New York, Grove Press, 1967.
Sweet Gwendolyn and the Countess. Gulfport, Florida, Konglomerati Press, 1977.
A Full Heart. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1977.
Stars in My Eyes. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1978.
New and Selected Poems from the Book of My Life. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1987.
Counting Myself Lucky, Selected Poems 1963–1992. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1992.
A Frieze for a Temple of Love. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1998.
Magic Words. New York, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998.
Village (as Bruce Elliot, with Neil Derrick). New York, Avon, 1982.
Editor and translator, Eskimo Songs and Stories, Collected by Knud Rasmussen on the Fifth Thule Expedition. New York, Delacorte Press, 1973.
Editor, A Geography of Poets: An Anthology of New Poetry. New York, Bantam, 1979.
Editor, Head of a Sad Angel: Stories 1953–1966, by Alfred Chester. Santa Rosa. California, Black Sparrow Press, 1990.
Editor, with G. Locklin and C. Stetler, A New Geography of Poets. Fayetteville, Arkansas, University of Arkansas Press, 1992.
Editor, Looking for Genet, Literary Essays & Reviews, by Alfred Chester. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1992.*
Manuscript Collection: Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark.
Critical Studies: Review by Robert Mazzocco, in New York Review of Books, 1967; Alone with America by Richard Howard, New York, Atheneum, 1969, London, Thames and Hudson, 1970, revised edition, Atheneum, 1980; "Poetry of Inclusion" by Warren D. Moessner, in American Book Review, 15(5), 1993–94; The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry by Robert K. Martin, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1998.
Edward Field comments:
I've begun to feel like a survivor from the time before universities took over American poetry. Poetry then belonged to what might be called a "bohemian" world of artists and social misfits and eccentrics. Each poet aimed for a quite distinctive voice, his own, and technique was a lonely, hard-won struggle, not the product of a workshop or M.F.A. program. But I believe that poetry will never be totally co-opted, since the tradition (could one say the Muse?) will bring it back to its genuine spirit.* * *
Edward Field writes poems for which the reader is honestly grateful. They are heartfelt. Straightforward and unadorned, they have little or no figurative language but are conversational and colloquial. The speaker may be humble, sad, funny (ribald, witty, wry), and self-deprecating. There also is unabashed sentimentality. At the same time Field manages to control and distance intensely personal material. He understates, he responds, he perceives. Finally, he joins, brings together. As he expresses those feelings of shame and frustration that characterized his childhood years, he opens the door to his private hell—"the terror and guilt / and self-loathing" he felt in his father's house.
Field's hopes for himself and the world are centered in the triumph of love, the gifts of affection and sexuality. The freedom to feel, to be natural and uninhibited—the freedom to be—these are his concerns. And so he attempts to bring people together, to overcome distances, to bring down barriers. By inviting the reader to share intimacies, by embracing the reader, Field resembles a Jewish Walt Whitman. It is in his emphasis on companionship and sexuality, on love above all, that he is most Whitmanesque.
Gentle, yearning, believing that "all men and women are my brothers and sisters now" ("Visiting Home"), Field writes confessional poetry. Because it is personal, it cannot help but be confessional. It is a poetry of skepticism, of cautious hope, of the sorrow of estrangement and alienation, of the search for one's way in the world. One must be one's own guru: "you have to trust to your heart / Which often needs more than one lifetime to make a man" ("Union City").
The courage of the heart is what Field's poetry is mostly about. He is not afraid to be himself, to reveal his weaknesses, his fears, his humiliations, as in "Unwanted":
His aliases tell his history: Dumbbell, Good-for-nothing Jewboy, Fieldinsky, Skinny, Fierce Face, Greaseball, Sissy.
Warning: This man is not dangerous, answers to any name Responds to love, don't call him or he will come.
Through his unassuming honesty he touches the reader with prose poetry. Field's humor is effective and genuinely funny. Laughter—as device and response—enables him to avoid falling into the slough of self-pity. Laughter is a great leveler; not surprisingly, Field's bawdiness serves a democratic function. It reminds us that we all eat, excrete, copulate: "As the smile is to the face / the hard-on is to the body" ("Chopped Meat").
In Variety Photoplays Field uses humor to offset maudlin sentiment as he discovers in old movies the familiar and universal themes—frustrated love, alienation, loneliness, prejudice, force of circumstance. His three Frankenstein poems are especially admirable: "He is pursued by the ignorant villagers, / Who think he is evil and dangerous because he is ugly and makes ugly noises." Finally the majority—the real beast—succeeds in creating a monster worse than the Baron: "He was out to pay them back / to throw the lie of brotherly love / in their white Christian teeth." The poem arrives at a moment of triumph:
So he set out on his new career
his previous one being the victim,
the good man who suffers.
Now no longer the hunted by the hunter
he was in charge of his destiny.
Cinema creates and shapes the fairy tales of American culture. The gothic motifs, the soap opera, the happily-ever-after quality that deceives the audience and often the actors—all are treated by Field with wry clarity and sad-eyed humor. If there is nostalgia, a sharp realization of the brevity of youth and fame ("Whatever Happened to May Caspar"), there is also the poet's unique parable Sweet Gwendolyn and the Countess. This poem depicts the victimization of innocence and beauty by power and aggression. Field implies that as long as innocence refuses to see and participate in the real world, refuses to be active rather than passive, it will not only continue to be victimized but also actually be contributing to its own subjugation and demise.
A Full Heart has clear moments of joy, of exuberance. This collection is more genuinely happy, for there are the fulfillment of love and the quickening of life that accompanies it. No longer the outsider, Field has been invited to the party. When love is lost, he can console himself for his having had it. Field begins with a celebration of New York—"I live in a beautiful place, a city / … this is a people paradise." Nothing is too little or ugly to praise: "Thank God for dogs, cats, sparrows, and roaches."
A Full Heart shows how Field goes forward and how sometimes this first requires going backward. In "Pasternak: In Memoriam" Field stresses personal fulfillment as opposed to heroism:
You were right:
This real person in my arms
is who I want
not the moment of passion on the barricades
not the dream of the ideal
love in a perfect world.
Survive in this world
love as you can
and go on with your work.
This is what the poet has come to learn. In such poems as "Both My Grandmothers" and "Visiting Home" he deals with the need for roots, for a sense of origin. His Jewishness—tradition and culture more than a particularized system of belief—helps him to realize his identity in a shifting and arbitrary world. If, in the second of these poems, he acknowledges the severe difficulties visited upon him by his father, he can also say, "thank God I am my mother's son too / for what she gave me / is what I survived by." Suffering and love are wedded in this world and in Field's. He is a poet whose heart is "full," and in sharing he fills the reader's heart as well.
In New and Selected Poems from the Book of My Life Field includes a generous sampling from "The Crier," an unpublished collection. While these pieces carry lament, there is also acceptance both of how things are and of one's own contributions to having made them this way. "Mirror Songs" concludes with "And what has also to be faced / is if youth was a waste / it wasn't fate's but my own doing." Here is the cry of confrontation with the ghosts of lost opportunities, the anxieties, guilt and shame from the past, with the hard fact of mortality looming ever larger. "This is an entirely different thing than life prepares you for, / nor are there any instructions for what's ahead" ("Over Fifty"). Here, too, are acknowledgment and integration. In "Triad" man's interior woman appears, the anima that makes one whole and potent, able to struggle and to love, as if "only by a female principle can men unite … or fight." In "Narcissus" Field sees and dramatizes in the myth one's need to care for the inner child we all carry. Thus, the youth and the poet (one tortured by his beauty, the other by his homeliness) together read
Unwanted Forever, the message in the sybilline waters:
No feeding, no caresses, will ever comfort the pain
or calm those giant fears of a child
who still needs more love than anyone can give
and who will never grow up
or learn anything more,
but, as the magic pool showed me, is mine
and mine to care for.
Just as Field's vulnerability is always apparent, so too is his lifelong struggle to liberate himself. He succeeds, achieving self-acceptance and expressing gratitude for the gifts of life, especially the gift of poetry, whose "gentle bondage" gave to him the necessary outlet when, as in "To Poetry,"
had flung me down—I was drowning in my feelings—
when unsought words came like tears, a gift of healing,
and like a rescuer you were there.
It is gratitude most of all that plays over all these painful, funny, and open expressions of the heart:
Whatever time is left to offer homage,
there's one important thing I have learned:
No better way than accept your gentle bondage—
my least effort devoted to your service
has been a thousand fold returned.