Poems 1959-2009

Frederick Seidel

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

528 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

These are the collected poems of a master whose work includes many of the most compelling, savage, and tender poems in the language. Frederick Seidel is, in the words of the critic Adam Kirsch, "the best American poet writing today."


Praise for Poems 1959-2009

"Many poets have been acquainted with the night; some have been intimate with it; and a handful have been so haunted and intoxicated by the darker side of existence that it can be hard to pick them out from the murk that surrounds them. As Poems 1959-2009 demonstrates, Frederick Seidel has spent the last half-century being that darkest and strangest sort of poet. He is, it's widely agreed, one of poetry's few truly scary characters. This is a reputation of which he's plainly aware and by which he's obviously amused, at least to judge from the nervy title of his 2006 book, Ooga-Booga. This perception also colors the praise his collections typically receive—to pick one example from many, Calvin Bedient admiringly describes him as 'the most frightening American poet ever,' which is a bit like calling someone 'history's most bloodthirsty clockmaker.' What is it about Seidel that bothers and excites everyone so much? The simplest answer is that he's an exhilarating and unsettling writer who is very good at saying things that can seem rather bad . . . Seidel is published by a major house and has enjoyed long, smart, immensely positive write-ups in at least three general-interest magazines—a grim fate for which most poets would happily sacrifice their children and possibly even their cats. Of course, none of this has much to do with Seidel's actual work, which has only gotten better as he's gotten older, regardless of who or what has been paying attention to him . . . [A] combination of barbarity and grace is one of Seidel's most remarkable technical achievements: he's like a violinist who pauses from bowing expertly through Paganini's Caprice No. 24 to smash his instrument against the wall . . . When people claim to be 'shocked' by Seidel's work, it's not the actual content that disturbs them—if you've seen 28 Weeks Later, you've seen worse—but rather these strange juxtapositions of artful and dreadful. This is probably the reason he reminds some readers of Philip Larkin, with whom he otherwise has little in common. The anger that often motivates Larkin's rapid shifts in diction and tone becomes in Seidel a rage that can destabilize the poem entirely. If anything, Seidel, born in 1936, has become less mellow as he's aged. A sampling of lines from the new poems gathered here under the title 'Evening Man:' 'I make her oink' (in reference to sex); 'My face had been sliced off / And lay there on the ground like a washcloth'; 'And the angel of the Lord came to Mary and said: / You have cancer. / Mary could not think how. / No man had been with her.' This is grim stuff, even when meant to be amusing. But what prevents Seidel's work from being simply grotesque or decadent—what makes it, in fact, anything but grotesque or decadent—is his connection to the larger political universe. Adam Kirsch has observed that 'among contemporary poets, it is Seidel's social interest that is really unusual.' This is exactly right, and the nature of Seidel's social interest makes his work interesting in ways that the work of his closest peer, Sylvia Plath, often is not. Seidel and Plath are our most talented devotees of psychic violence, but whereas Plath co-opts the outside world to make her own obsessions burn hotter ('my skin, / Bright as a Nazi lampshade'), Seidel occupies a more ambiguous territory. He's as likely to be possessed by events as to possess them ('Rank as the odor in urine / Of asparagus from the night before, / This is empire waking drunk, and remembering in the dark'). To be fair, Plath died young; no one knows how her work may have changed. Still, if the Plath we know is Lady Lazarus, the figure Seidel resembles most is the sin-eater, that old, odd and possibly apocryphal participant in folk funerals in Scotland and Wales. In the late 17th century, the Englishman John Aubrey described sin-eating like so: 'When the Corps was brought out of the house, and layd on the Biere, a Loafe of Breade was brought out, and delivered to the Sinne-eater over the Corps . . . in consideration whereof he tooke upon him (ipso facto) all of the Sinnes of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from walking after they were dead.' In Aubrey's telling, the sin-eaters were poor people at society's margin, in particular 'a long, leane, ugly, lamentable poor raskal' who lived alone, presumably surrounded by the many sins he had spent a lifetime taking on. Frederick Seidel isn't poor, but it's not hard to imagine him in that cottage at nightfall, looking half longingly, half contemptuously at the lights of the village while preparing for his lonely supper."—David Orr, The New York Times Book Review

"Long regarded as a kind of elegant cult figure in poetry circles, Seidel has a reputation that precedes him into every room: decadent, name-dropper, sexual dalliant, Ducati enthusiast, son of privilege. This runs counter to the man himself. He doesn't do poetry readings and has, for the most part, shunned interviews. There is no doubt that Seidel is one of the best poets alive today, and now, with the release of Poems: 1959-2009, his collected works can be taken at their measure: They are haughty, funny and terrifying, with plenty of delicious contention throughout . . . Poems lines up his collections in reverse chronological order; Seidel has turned the telescope around, forcing us to peer back at the very beginning. In 1963's Final Solutions, it's startling how already practiced the young poet is at feeling old. Starting with the memories of his childhood bedroom decorations, Seidel moves from the upper-floored apartments of moneyed New York to the wards of Bellevue; he touches down on a black judge, a widower whose bathroom 'cradles him like a wife' and an 'old man's dream, terminated by a heart attack.' There is a careful weight to the whole business and a fondness for combining rhyme schemes and free verse, and it should come as no surprise that Robert Lowell was one of Seidel's early champions."—George Ducker, Los Angeles Times

"Frederick Seidel, for fifty years and across ten collections, has been writing our most serious, beautiful, and essential poems, poems that are shocking in their art and astonishing in their truth, and that remind us, in their forms, why poetry was once a vital part of cultural life (and not, as Keillor seems to have it, a respite from it). This week, Seidel's collected Poems 1959-2009 appears, 500 pages of astonishments that renew the cultural definition of what a poem is: a thing that wakes us, shakes us, moves us, and pays equal attention to the details of living and the art of poetry . . . Poems 1959-2009 allows all of us to go back to Seidel's beginnings, on his terms. This book of cunning art is itself a cunning thing: Seidel has organized his collected works backwards. Whereas one typically reads through a collected poems in the order that the collections first appeared, Seidel has ordered his from the most recent work to the most distant. Thus we begin by reading his new poems, those of the limited edition chapbook Evening Man, and march steadily backwards to Seidel's first collection, Final Solutions. The effect of such inversion is an inversion of expectations: great poets' early poems tend, when compared with those of the more mature writers they must become, to suffer by comparison. In Seidel's case, what one notices as one reads towards his beginnings is how much of his present sensibility and capacity were already alive in his early work, and how dedicatedly he has tuned and challenged that sensibility as he has continued to surpass himself."—Wyatt Mason, Harper's

"Reading Seidel's work in the new collected Poems underscores how genuinely spiritual a writer he is, and how important Jewishness is to his moral vocabulary, his understanding of God and sin . . . One of the best powerful and challenging writers we have."—Adam Kirsch, Nextbook

Praise for Frederick Seidel

"One of the world's most inspired and unusual poets . . . His poems are a triumph of cosmic awe in the face of earthly terror." —Hillel Italie, USA Today

"Among the two or three finest poets writing in English."—Alex Halberstadt, New York magazine

"He radiates heat. It is apparent that he has asked himself frightful questions and has not dodged the implications of their equally frightful answers . . . A master of metaphor."—Louise Bogan, The New Yorker

"In American poetry today there is no one with Frederick Seidel's sheer ambition, comprehensive sense of our times, sophistication, nerve and skill . . . One of the most vital and important poets we have."—Lawrence Joseph, The Nation

"The excellent table manners combined with a savage display of appetite: this is what everyone notices in Seidel. Yet he wouldn't be so special or powerful a poet of what's cruel, corrupt, and horrifying had he not also lately shown himself to be a great poet of innocence."—Benjamin Kunkel, Harper's

"Frederick Seidel, the dashing 73-year-old poet, has made an elegant subject out of himself these past 50 years, accessories very much included: Ducati bikes, the Carlyle Hotel, Diane Von Furstenberg. But beware—at the edges of the sumptuous comfort of Seidel's poems are both an excoriating loneliness and a pitiless eye. This book should cement a growing consensus that there are few poets writing in English as talented as he."—Zach Baron, The Village Voice

"Frederick Seidel is a ghoul, and he has produced this nascent century's finest collection of English poems."—Michael Robbins, Chicago Review

"In the desert of contemporary American poetry, Frederick Seidel's work awaits the weary reader like an oasis."—James Lasdun, The Guardian (UK)

"Here is the new kind of visionary, the person who really wants to change the world fast, the person who believes in something."—Adam Phillips, Raritan

"Profoundly beautiful . . . The writer willing to say the unsayable."—Philip Connors, n+1

"The best verse out of the United States since whenever."—Joe Fiorito, The Toronto Star

"A triumphant outsider in American poetry . . . He takes risks utterly unthinkable, even as merely mutinous provocation, in an academic workshop."—Ernest Hilbert, Contemporary Poetry Review

"The most frightening American poet ever—phallus-man, hangman of political barbarism—Seidel is the poet the twentieth century deserved."—Calvin Bedient, Boston Review

Table of Contents
In the Mirror
Portia Dew
A Song for Cole Porter
"Sii romantico, Seidel, tanto per cambiare"
Bipolar November
Miami in the Arctic Circle
Ode to Spring
I Own Nothing
I'm Here This
Mr. Delicious
Darkening in the Dark
The Death of Anton Webern
Weirdly Warm Day in January
Pain Management
Do You Doha?
In a Previous Life
Evening Man
My Poetry
Poem by the Bridge at Ten-Shin

Kill Poem
From Nijinsky's Diary
On Being Debonair
Homage to Pessoa
For Holly Andersen
A Red Flower
Dick and Fred
New Year's Day, 2004
The Italian Girl
The Big Golconda Diamond
What Are Movies For?
The Owl You Heard
E-mail from an Owl
White Butterflies
The Castle in the Mountains
A Fresh Stick of Chewing Gum
Dante's Beatrice
At a Factory in Italy
France for Boys
Grandson Born Dead
East Hampton Airport
A White Tiger
To Die For
Climbing Everest
Organized Religion
Mother Nature
Broadway Melody
Love Song
Breast Cancer
Casanova Getting Older
Il Duce
I Am Siam
The Big Jet
The Black-Eyed Virgins
Song: "The Swollen River Overthrows Its Banks"
Drinking in the Daytime
The Bush Administration
The Death of the Shah

The Cosmos Poems (2000)
1. Into the Emptiness
2. Mirror Full of Stars
3. Who the Universe Is
4. Universes
5. Black Stovepipe Hat
6. The Childhood Sunlight
7. Beyond the Event Horizon
8. Blue and Pink
9. Galaxies
10. Feminists in Space
11. This New Planetarium
12. Invisible Dark Matter
13. A Twittering Ball
14. The Star
15. Special Relativity
16. Take Me to Infinity
17. Poem
18. Supersymmetry
19. Everything
20. Happiness
21. The Eleven Dimensions
22. The Royal Palm
23. Faint Galaxy
24. Edward Witten
25. The Birth of the Universe
26. Starlight
27. Quantum Mechanics
28. It Is the Morning of the Universe
29. Forever
30. Forever
31. Forever
32. The Last Remaining Angel
33. In the Green Mountains

Life on Earth (2001)
34. Bali
35. French Polynesia
36. The Opposite of a Dark Dungeon
37. Star Bright
38. Goodness
39. Joan of Arc
40. Doctor Love
41. Fever
42. Blood
43. Holly Andersen
44. At New York Hospital
45. Drinks at the Carlyle
46. Chiquita Gregory
47. To Start at End
48. We Have Ignition
49. Eternity
50. The Master Jeweler Joel Rosenthal
51. In Spite of Everything
52. Springtime
53. Summer
54. Fall Snowfall
55. Christmas
56. Cosmopolitans at the Paradise
57. Sex
58. Song
59. The Seal
60. Her Song
61. Green Dress, 1999
62. Letter to the Editors of Vogue
63. James Baldwin in Paris
64. St. Louis, Missouri
65. Hamlet
66. Frederick Seidel

Area Code 212 (2002)
67. I Do
68. The Bathroom Door
69. Downtown
70. The Serpent
71. Getaway
72. Nothing Will
73. pH
74. Venus
75. Nigra Sum
76. Rain in Hell
77. Dido with Dildo
78. January
79. February
80. In Cap Ferrat
81. March
82. Easter
83. April
84. May
85. Venus Wants Jesus
86. MV Agusta Rally, Cascina Costa, Italy
87. June
88. June Allyson and Mae West
89. July
90. Hugh Jeremy Chisholm
91. August
92. September
93. The Tenth Month
94. Fall
95. October
96. November
97. God Exploding
98. The War of the Worlds
99. December
100. One Hundred

For a New Planetarium
The Night Sky
The Stars Above the Empty Quarter
Contents Under Pressure

New York
At Gracie Mansion
The Pierre Hotel, New York,
Hotel Carlyle, New York
Das Kapital
Mood Indigo
Dune Road, Southampton

In Memoriam
The Great Depression

Paris & Tahiti
The Ballad of La Palette
Anyone with the Wish
The Resumption of Nuclear Testing in the South Pacific

A Gallop to Farewell
A Vampire in the Age of AIDS
Another Muse
Red Guards of Love
Yankee Doodle
Ovid, Metamorphoses X, 298-518
Heart Art
The Infinite
True Story
Hot Night, Lightning
The Storm
Little Song
Eisenhower Years


A Pretty Girl

Going Fast
Going Fast

MY TOKYO (1993)
To the Muse
From a High Floor
The Hour
Hair in a Net
The Complete Works of Anton Webern
The Ritz, Paris
The Empress Rialto
Lorraine Motel, Memphis
The New Woman
The Former Governor of California
Life After Death
Burkina Faso
Pol Pot
The Lighting of the Candles
The Lover
The Death of Meta Burden in an Avalanche
The Second Coming
My Tokyo

Our Gods
The New Cosmology
A Row of Federal Houses
That Fall
A Dimpled Cloud
The Blue-Eyed Doe
On Wings of Song
The Final Hour
Jane Canfield (1897-1984)
The Little White Dog
Early Sunday Morning in the Cher
The Last Poem in the Book

SUNRISE (1980)
Death Valley
The Trip
The Room and the Cloud
The Soul Mate
"Not to Be Born Is Obviously Best of All"
To Robert Lowell and Osip Mandelstam
Men and Woman
Pressed Duck
What One Must Contend With
Homage to Cicero
Descent into the Underworld
A Beautiful Day Outside
Years Have Passed
The Girl in the Mirror
De Sade
The New Frontier
November 24, 1963
Freedom Bombs for Vietnam (1967)
Robert Kennedy
The Drill
The Future
Wanting to Live in Harlem
The Last Entries in Mayakovsky's Notebook
Hart Crane Near the End

Wanting to Live in Harlem
A Widower
The Coalman
A Negro Judge
The Heart Attack
Dayley Island
Thanksgiving Day
A Year Abroad
"The Beast Is in Chains"
Americans in Rome
The Walk There
To My Friend Anne Hutchinson
After the Party
The Sickness

Index of Titles
Index of First Lines

Reviews from Goodreads




  • Seidel at the Samovar Part 2

    Ta-Nehisi Coates reads the poetry of Frederick Seidel at the FSG Reading Series at the Russian Samovar.

  • Seidel at the Samovar Part 1

    FSG editor Lorin Stein reads the poetry of Frederick Seidel at FSG Readings Series at the Russian Samovar.



  • Frederick Seidel

  • Frederick Seidel's books of poetry include Final Solutions; Sunrise, winner of the Lamont Prize and the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award; These Days; My Tokyo; Going Fast; Area Code 212; Life on Earth; and The Cosmos Poems. He received the 2002 PEN/Voelker Award for Poetry.

  • Frederick Seidel © Nancy Crampton