Warsh, Lewis (David)
WARSH, Lewis (David)
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 9 November 1944. Education: City College of New York, B.A. 1966, M.A. 1975. Family: Married Bernadette Mayer in 1975 (divorced 1985); two daughters and one son. Career: Teacher, St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery Poetry Project, New York, 1973–75 and 1992–94, Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado, 1978, New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire, 1979–80, Queens College, Queens, New York, 1984–86, and Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, New Jersey, 1987–88. Since 1984 adjunct associate professor, Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York. Editor, Angel Hair magazine and Angel Hair Books, New York, 1966–77, and Boston Eagle, 1972–74. Since 1977 editor and publisher, United Artists magazine and United Artists Books, New York. Awards: Poets Foundation award, 1972; Creative Artists Public Service grant, 1978; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1980; Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines Editor's Fellowship award, 1981; New York Foundation of the Arts award, 1988; Fund for Poetry grant, 1994. Address: 701 President Street, Brooklyn, New York 11215, U.S.A.
The Suicide Rates. Eugene, Oregon, Toad Press, 1967.
Highjacking. New York, Boke, 1968.
Moving through Air. New York, Angel Hair, 1968.
Chicago, with Tom Clark. New York, Angel Hair, 1969.
Two Poems. Windsor, Ontario, Orange Bear Reader, 1971.
Dreaming As One. New York, Corinth, 1971.
Long Distance. London, Ferry Press, 1971.
Today. New York, Adventures in Poetry, 1974.
Immediate Surrounding. Lancaster, Massachusetts, Other, 1974.
Blue Heaven. New York, Kulchur, 1978.
Hives. New York, United Artists, 1979.
Methods of Birth Control. College Park, Maryland, Sun and Moon, 1983.
The Corset. Detroit, In Camera, 1986.
Information from the Surface of Venus. New York, United Artists, 1987.
Avenue of Escape. New York, Long New Books, 1995.
Money under the Table. San Francisco, Trip Street Press, 1997.
Agnes and Sally. New York, Fiction Collective, 1984.
A Free Man. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1990.
Part of My History. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1972.
The Maharajah's Son (autobiography). New York, Angel Hair, 1977.
Editor, Another Smashed Pinecone, by Bernadette Mayer. Brooklyn, New York, United Artists Books, 1998.
Translator, Night of Loveless Nights, by Robert Desnos. New York, Ant's Forefoot, 1973.*
Manuscript Collections: New York University Library; San Diego State University Library.
In the last line of "Brothers Levernoch," Lewis Warsh writes, "People who are discontented shock me." The voice that speaks in his poems is almost always content. Although the poems are personal, or seem to be, they are not "confessional" in the usual sense of the term. Warsh is the calm and detached observer. Immediate autobiography, things remembered from long ago, newspaper reports, accounts of his family—all enter on equal footing. The most common events assert themselves as worthy of complete and careful attention. The writing itself is almost colorless. There is nothing flashy or stylish. The careless reader will miss the mastery.
Warsh seldom commits a generalization. One of the largest collections of his work, Blue Heaven (the title presumably taken from the song), opens with a poem about the pleasures and dangers of thinking:
Thoughts make men strangers
and create great moments of urgency,
as well as nervousness, when a thought
moves you to wake up and light a cigarette
and lie back on pillow, content
in thinking, in playing the thought through,
that's the only way for it to die!
To the extent that he thinks in his poetry, Warsh is willing to let his thought have this quality, as one of the media, along with perception, of existence. The danger of thought is that it can become so absorbing that one misses other important things—the cigarette, the pillow. After a certain point he is willing to let everything go to its proper death. In "Single File," he writes, "All my poems / no center / everything scattered / many voices trailing off / empty illusions / of emotions and thoughts / incredible pipe dreams / disappearing / beneath waves." To many poets this would be cause for despair, but to Warsh it is merely the way things are.
Inside these limits, in which irony is raised to a total sense of the world, he is capable of immense variety. He does not play endless variations on two or three successful themes or forms. He can be epigrammatic or tightly imagistic, but he is also effective in looser, anecdotal poems. He has written some strong prose poems, and some of his poems seem to cry out for a musical setting: "At times like this / we leave our fears behind and enter / a world / where what we see / doesn't exist, where words / dance out along the curb / like playful cubs / and the heart sings on / —to High Heavens—regardless."
There are no poems that can be called typical, a remarkable fact in a poet who might best be called a formalist. Though he does not work in conventional forms, his poems turn again and again on the recognition of formal connections. This can be seen perhaps most clearly in a poem like "Footnote," which is an exploration of the formal relationship between the Percy Shelley-Harriet Westbrook-Thomas Hogg circle and the Friedrich Nietzsche-Lou Salome-Paul Ree circle. An awareness of relationships of this kind, on both the most minute and on the grandest scales, generates the energy of his poetry. It is one of the truest kinds of intelligence, and the pleasure of reading Warsh's work is that he generously makes his intelligence available.