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Scully, James (Joseph)

SCULLY, James (Joseph)


Nationality: American. Born: New Haven, Connecticut, 23 February 1937. Education: Southern Connecticut State College, New Haven, 1955–57; University of Connecticut, Storrs, B.A. 1959 (Phi Beta Kappa), Ph.D. 1964. Family: Married Arlene Steeves in 1960; two sons (one deceased) and one daughter. Career: Instructor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1963–64; teacher, Hartford Street Academy, Connecticut, 1968; associate professor, 1964–75, professor, 1973–92, and since 1992 professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. General editor, "Art on the Line" series, Curbstone Press, Willimantic, Connecticut, 1980–85. Awards: National Defense fellowship, 1959–62; Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, 1962; Lamont Poetry Selection award, 1967; Contributors' prize (Far Point), 1969; Jennie Tane award (Massachusetts Review), 1971; Guggenheim fellowship, 1973; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1976, 1990; Islands and Continents award, for translation, 1980; Bookbuilders of Boston award, for bookcover design, 1983. Address: 39 Dashiell Hammett, #301, San Francisco, California 94108, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

The Marches. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1967.

Communications, with Grandin Conover. Amherst, Massachusetts Review, 1970.

Avenue of the Americas. Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1971.

Santiago Poems. Willimantic, Connecticut, Curbstone Press, 1975.

Scrap Book. Willimantic, Connecticut, Ziesing Brothers, 1977.

May Day. Corvallis, Oregon, Minnesota Review Press, 1980.

Apollo Helmet. Willimantic, Connecticut, Curbstone Press, 1983.

Raging Beauty: Selected Poems. Washington D.C., Azul Press, 1994.

Other

Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. Seattle, Washington, Bay Press, 1988.

Editor, Modern Poetics. New York, McGraw Hill, 1965; as Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, London, Collins, 1966.

Editor, and translator with Arlene Scully, Poetry and Militancy in Latin America, by Roque Dalton. Willimantic, Connecticut, Curbstone Press, 1981.

Translator, with C. John Herington, Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus. New York and London, Oxford University Press, 1975.

Translator, with Maria A. Proser, Quechua Peoples Poetry, edited by Jesús Lara. Willimantic, Connecticut, Curbstone Press, 1977.

Translator, with Maria A. Proser and Arlene Scully, De Repente/All of a Sudden, by Teresa de Jesús. Willimantic, Connecticut, Curbstone Press, 1979.

*  *  *

The poems in James Scully's The Marches are meditative, dense as the persistence of the past in the present,

			as if,
rockbound, this were the kingdom come,
 
and the hunched fields were crystal-clear
Jerusalem, and life was judged
vibration in the summer air.

Connecticut, northern France, Slovenia's Lake Bled, Venice, Gibraltar, Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire—wherever, "you could almost hear / lost gods breathing in the earth." Another noise is time passing: "pink-pale clouds march / as far as the mind can reach, wilting, / central Jersey spread under like spilt milk."

Avenue of the Americas is a far less scattered book, focused by loss. A child is dead at six months; a brilliant and extravagant friend is dead. Rapacious grief runs through the poems. Scully's language is less measured than before, more various—discursive, argumentative, and lyrical all in the same few lines. Organizing themes are Edenic America, friendship and family, the failure of art to console and its power to instruct, the spiritual collapse of American political life in the 1960s. The rocklike past of The Marches is transmogrified by history, by evolution, and seems to be spending itself as fast as the present:

Even the beautiful are too
heartsick for beauty,
astronauts will never make it to the stars
but burn up.

The book includes translations from Joseph Brodsky, whose political themes underscore Scully's own.

Occasionally so ambitious that they fail of their own philosophical weight, Scully's later poems have the urgency and personal risk of letters to a beloved friend. (One group of poems in Avenue of the Americas was evidently written as a series of such letters.) But the poems are not confessional, and the poet does not set himself up in them as a representative man. They move toward the wider life that is their persistent obsession by a manifest sense that language, perhaps more than history or evolution, is our shared life: "Maybe that's what poetry is, one of the species / claiming grandeur. / It's that helpless."

—William Matthews

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