Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society


Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society


Article excerpt

"To Max Jacob" and "Max Jacob at St-Benoît"

Max Jacob (1876-1944) was a French Jewish poet and painter, close companion in the early days of Cubism to Picasso, Apollinaire, and Derain. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1915 (with Picasso as his improbable godfather), and spent his last years in close connection to the Benedictine monastery of St. Benoít-sur-Loire. He was arrested by the Nazis in 1944, and died of pneumonia in the concentration camp of Drancy outside of Paris. He was lucky; his name was on the list for the next transport to Auschwitz.


The title comes from Max Beckmann's triptych in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The poem splices quotations from the Italian poet Guido Guinizelli (12407-1274) and from Beckmann (1884-1950). I have translated from Guinizelli's "Al cor gentil rempaira sempre Amore"; the lines from Beckmann are adapted from remarks recorded in Max Beckmnann's Triptychs by Charles S. Kessler (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970).

"Mud" smashes up and incorporates lines from Wilfred Owen and David Jones, as John Walker does in his great sequence of paintings inspired by World War I.

"From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine"

Anne Verveine is an imaginary French poet. She was born in 1965 in the village of Magagnosc in the Alpes Maritimes, and attended the lycée in Grasse. She never studied in a university. She lived obscurely in Paris, avoiding literary society and working as a typographer and designer for a small publisher of art books. She published a few poems in provincial journals, but no book of her own work. She was last seen hitchhiking in Uzbekistan in August 2000; is presumed kidnapped or dead. Her sister found these poems in notebooks in the poet's small apartment in Paris after her disappearance. I translate them.

"A Kosmos" is an elegy for the poet and nonfiction writer Deborah Tall.


''Earthworks": the poem commemorates Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City with Calvert Vaux. Olmsted was also the first Executive Secretary of the Sanitary Commission, the civilian organization founded to succor and retrieve the wounded from the battlefields of the Civil War. The Commission later became the Red Cross. I have drawn on many works for this poem. Among Olmsted's writings, I read Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852); Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom (1861); The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveller's Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States. …

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