I don’t know why someone doesn’t hire me to do poetry referrals. I feel I have done my bit to turn up poets you might have otherwise missed from your life, and deserve a little recognition. Of course, I have not done this alone. The donors to the Book Fair have certainly provided a great deal of material ripe for review.
Exhibit A this time around is an obscure but not entirely forgotten poet named Gerald Lynton Kaufman. One of his other books is held by the Newberry, but that mighty collection does not include (so far) this one, published by the Beechhurst Press in 1948. I see that he thanks the Saturday Review, in whose pages many of the works collected here were first published. I am impressed: I had not thought the Saturday Review was that far advanced.
The book is Geo-Metric Verse: Poetry Forms in Mathematics Written Mostly For Fanatics. It is Concrete Poetry, a phrase I understand did not exist yet in 1948, in which the shape of the poem has something to do with the meaning of the words. Some of Professor Kaufman’s verses are geometrical, achieving nearly three-dimensional form. Others are for simpler, less arithmetical minds like my own, as in the verse about (and in the shape of) Zero: “This verse is short/Its only thought/Is nothing more than simply naught.” He adds, as an editorial note, “This point of view is nothing new;/ It’s hardly worth so much ado.”
The book is, simply, a tour de force, a combination of drawing and poetics calling for brevity and wit, carried off with some skill. Which makes it completely different from our other book of the day.
This is an imitation suede volume entitled simply “Poems”. The author, who has signed the book, had this collection published in Racine, Wisconsin , where she was a schoolteacher. I know this because she has included a business card which urges you to vote for her for the Board of education. One’s eyes are drawn to her hat, which I do not know how to describe, other than to say that it accurately reflects her verse.
This is no less than Elisabeth Alice Coy Hood. Her poems run longer than Professor Kaufman’s, so as much as I would like to give the whole of her full flavor, I must restrict myself to a few excerpts, such as this quatrain from her tribute to Lake Michigan:
“The lake is always beautiful,
What e’er may be her mood,
If you love her very, very much,
She’s easily understood.”
Many poets have felt that way, I’m sure. But how many have put it just like that?
Elisabeth is also given to religion and philosophy. I think her admonition to people to center themselves in the present and not worry about the future should be calligraphed on parchment and given to all high school graduates. Serve ‘em right for being so young. At one point in the poem she reminds us
“Next things may be better,
They also may be worse,
So let’s not worry about them,
Nor our troubles nurse.”
This poem is none the worse for coming right after a poem called “Promise”, which tells you what’s coming next is bound to be better. I would have printed them the other way around, but I suppose that would have constituted worrying about what comes next.
This being 1942, there are also patriotic poems. There’s one little story poem which begins promisingly:
“A solider in the army went forth both blithe and gay,
To serve his beloved country in his own very best way.
He was only a simple private, whose given name was Rex,
He toiled and labored kindly, he never would tease or vex.”
You’ll be happy to know the rest of the poem lives up to the promise, and that Rex winds up being very heroic in words that even almost rhyme.
There’s good clean fun in both collections, and I’m not sure why Professor Kaufman’s sells at around $45, while Alice’s poems, which are longer, are only $3.99 on Amazon. I haven’t decided how to price these copies for the Book Fair. With poetry, it’s so hard to decide how much is owed.