Monday, May 18, 2009

Forgetting poets; or the evanescence of memorials

A facebook friend, Christina M. Brooks, recently posted photographs of a park by the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. This park memorializes Hart Crane's poetry in sturdier fashion than a book or a broadside; the artist Gene Kangas used metal and other substantial stuff to fix Crane's words in the world. Other photos of the park, put artfully next to a bridge, can be accessed here.

I wrote my dissertation on Hart Crane in the mid-late 1980s, long since left to the scrap heap of my own academic history. I still remember the first scrap of Crane I read in a Norton, probably from "Cape Hatteras." An amazing piece of over-writing it was, and I adored it. I wept at the end of all the biographies that had been published at the time. (John Emil Vincent recently read me the penultimate paragraph of a biography I'd missed, so lachrymose in its allusions to sharks' teeth and muscular bodies, death by water, that it was horribly funny.) I dragged my boyfriend of the time to Brooklyn to walk over the Bridge a couple of times; later, we drove to Garrettsville, Ohio, where Crane was born, to find him.

Not 10 feet from the Garrettsville police station there's a raised plaque that reads, "Hart Crane, internationally renowned poet, was born in Garrettsville." Or something. I walked the 10 feet and entered the station, asked where I could find Crane's family house. No one knew. In fact, no one had heard of Hart Crane. But the plaque, I muttered. We crossed the street, went down the stairs into a hardware store, where no one had heard of Crane. After all, you had to cross the street to see the plaque. We went down Main Street, where no one had heard of Crane. But someone said she thought she knew who had: Crazy Annie, whom we would find at the very back of another store.

Sure enough, Crazy Annie had heard of Crane. His was the big white house on the corner down the street, she told us. A man of the cloth opened the door to that house, looked at us askance, and said this was the house Clarence Crane grew up in, not his son; the white house was now a rectory for the church. We could find the house we wanted next door. He pointed to an old greenish house in need of repair, paint, rehab. That house was home to some urban hillbillies, a couple with kids; the house actually was under repair, but the repairs seemed more like disrepairs than anything. The woman who lived there said she had seen a ghost once, coming down the stairs in a large skirt. Turn of the century ghost, she thought, who fled when the vacuum cleaner was turned on. Smart ghost, I remember thinking, must have been Crane's grandmother. The woman said her husband had lost his job, had started to drink, was turning into Crane, or so she feared. A couple people a year found them looking for Crane (imagine how many people gave up who did not find Crazy Annie!)

Hart Crane was clearly not welcome in his home town, even in his own death. The historical society's brochure seemed to have nothing about him either, though Joseph Smith made an appearance for some reason I've forgotten. While the plaque next to the police station memorialized him, that plaque required an audience, one it did not have. How to think about memorials after realizing that they, too, can be insubstantial, forgotten even as they last--physically--across time? My facebook friend, Christina Brooks, took photos of the Gene Kangas pieces, pointing out where they needed repair. Would repairs repair the forgetting that is accorded many of the best American poets? Or is forgetting a stronger thing than permanence itself? Rhetorical question, that. Oh, and the Hart Crane park in Cleveland lacks a parking lot. Case closed.


Runechris said...

Thanks.. I'm happy my photos stimulated this blog.It is what I hoped for..
I think that is the one thing I came away from seeing the Hart Crane Park and also recently participating in a memorial reading for Daniel Thompson ( their poet Laureate) in Cleveland. That memorials aren't enough.. Because even the poets didn't know where they were.. and ordinary people didn't care. Example: the people who live in Garrettsville. They didn't even know a famous poet had lived there.
How do we keep or bring into the consciousness American Poets and their history? What Do wee need to do?

Runechris said...

Thanks.. this is what I hoped for. That my photos would stimulate a discussion or cause people to want to do something. Or just take notice.

It's sad when even the Poets don't even know where these memorials are. No fault of theirs really. Had I not been told by someone, word of mouth, I would still be ignorant of them... the Hart Crane Park.. or where the d. a. Levy grave or the Daniel Thompson Memorial.

But why? Are poets and poetry so peripheral to society? That makes me wonder.

Anyway .. thank you for this.

John B. Burroughs said...

Very well said!

Anonymous said...

Jasper John’s paintings for Hart Crane are just incredible. So moving. Have you seen them? XO