Biography of Carl Rakosi
Carl Rakosi (November 6, 1903 – June 25, 2004) was the last surviving member of the original group of poets who were given the rubric Objectivist. He was still publishing and performing his poetry well into his 90s.
Rakosi was born in Berlin and lived there and in Hungary until 1910, when he moved to the United States to live with his father and stepmother. His father was a jeweler and watchmaker in Chicago and later in Gary, Indiana. The family lived in semi-poverty but contrived to send him to the University of Chicago and then to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. During his time studying at the university level, he started writing poetry. On graduating, he worked for a time as a social worker, then returned to college to study psychology. At this time, he changed his name to Callman Rawley because he felt he stood a better chance of being employed if he had a more American-sounding name. After a spell as a psychologist and teacher, he returned to social work for the rest of his working life.
At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Rakosi edited the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. His own poetry at this stage was influenced by W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and E. E. Cummings. He also started reading William Carlos Williams and T. S. Eliot. By 1925, he was publishing poems in The Little Review and Nation.
Carl Rakosi Poems
In What Sense I Am I
In what sense I am I a minor observer
The City (1925)
Under this Luxemburg of heaven, upright capstan, small eagles. . . . is the port of N.Y. . . . .
Time to Kill
a man and his dog what fun chasing twigs into the water! young girls bicycle by in pairs and plaid shorts a wind so soft one's whole back tingles with cilia a gentle lake the sun boils at the center, radiates the zone for man and lays a healing pad across his nape an airplane small and flat as a paper model roars behind the Virgilian scene an old man tips his straw hat down to shade his eyes, pulls up his fishline and moves on to a new spot the poor small wood louse crawls along the bark ridge for his life
We speak of mankind. Why not wavekind? Barrel-chested military water rushes in a mass to break the shore earth into stonekind. Pphlooph pphlooph the waves grope indistinctly for the shore. As delicate as a butterfly along a cheek a boat with white and orange sail appears. A small boy in a life-belt sits in front and looks ahead with all his might. His father steers, attached like a shaft to his son's safety and the sail's management. A sunfish thrown back by a fisherman lies drowned and pitching. The eyes are white in death. This is the raw data. A mystery translates it into feeling and perception; then imagination; finally the hard inevitable quartz figure of will and language. Thus a squirrel tail flying from a handlebar unmistakably establishes its passing rider as a male unbowed in a chipper plume.
The ants came to investigate the dead bull snake, nibbled at the viscera and hurried off with full mouths waving wild antenae. Moths alighted, beetles swarmed, flies buzzed in the stomach. Three crows tugged and tore and flew off to their oak tree with the skin. In every house men, women and children were chewing beef. Who was it said "The wonder of the world is its comprehensibility"?
The Old Man Drew the Line
The old man drew the line for his son, the executive: "I don't want you spending money on me! (not as long as there are fathers)", the line ageless as the independence of time. Musters tears and overflows the inner ear, yet does not matter. It can not cure frailty. I seek him who will seek me out and will believe what I do not believe (that is my frailty). "Sit down here with us," he says, "You don't have to impress anyone. Here is my hand. Your age is of no significance." Ah! I move closer to his mouth and look into his eyes. I do not avert mine, there is no reason to, or retreat into a kindly smile. Ah, companero, you were born on the wrong day when God was paradoxical. You'll have to find yourself an old dog.
The Old Codger's Lament
Who can say now, "When I was young, the country was very beautiful? Oaks and willows grew along the rivers and there were many herbs and flowering bushes. The forests were so dense the deer slipped through the cottonwoods and maples unseen." Who would listen? Who will carry even the vicarious tone of that time? In the old days age was honored. Today it's whim, the whelp without habitat. Who will now admit that he is either old or young or knows anything? All that went out with the forests.
After the jostling on canal streets and the orchids blowing in the window I work in cut glass and majolica and hear the plectrum of the angels. My thoughts keep dwelling on the littoral where china clocks tick in the cold shells and the weeds slide in the equinox. The night is cold for love, a chamber for the chorus and the antistrophe of the sealight.
Up stand six yellow jonquils in a glass/ the stems dark green, paling as they descend into the water/ seen through a thicket of baby's breath, "a tall herb bearing numerous small, fragrant white flowers." I have seen snow-drops larger. I bent my face down. To my delight they were convoluted like a rose. They had no smell, their white the grain of Biblical dust, which like the orchid itself is as common as hayseed. Their stems were thin and woody but as tightly compacted as a tree trunk, greenish rubbings showing in spots through the brown; wiry, forked twigs so close, they made an impassable bush which from a distance looked like mist. I could barely escape from that wood of particulars ... the jonquils whose air within was irradiated topaz, silent as in an ear, the stems leaning lightly against the glass, trisecting its inner circle in the water, crossed like reverent hands (ah, the imagination! Benedicite. Enter monks. Oops, sorry! Trespassing on Japanese space. Exit monks and all their lore from grace). I was moved by all this and murmured to my eyes, "Oh, Master!" and became engrossed again in that wood of particulars until I found myself out of character, singing "Tell me why you've settled here." "Because my element is near." and reflecting, "The eye of man cares. Yes!" But a familiar voice broke into the wood, a shade of mockery in it, and in her smile a fore-knowledge of something playful, something forbidden, something make-believe something saucy, something delicious about to pull me off guard: "Do you want to be my Cupid-o?" In fairness to her it must be said that her freckles are always friendly and that the anticipation of a prank makes them radiate across her face the way dandelions sprout in a field after a summer shower. "What makes you so fresh, my Wife of Bath? What makes you so silly, o bright hen?" "That's for you to find out, old shoe, old shoe. That's for you to find out if you can." "Oh yeah!" (a mock chase and capture). "Commit her into jonquil's custody. She'll see a phallus in the pistil. Let her work it off there." But I was now myself under this stringent force which ended, as real pastorals in time must, in bed, with the great eye of man, rolling.
Eastern Sea, 100 fathoms, green sand, pebbles, broken shells. Off Suno Saki, 60 fathoms, gray sand, pebbles, bubbles rising. Plasma-bearer and slow- motion benthos! The fishery vessel Ion drops anchor here collecting plankton smears and fauna. Plasma-bearer, visible sea purge, sponge and kelpleaf. Halicystus the Sea Bottle resembles emeralds and is the largest cell in the world. Young sea horse Hippocampus twenty minutes old, nobody has ever seen this marine freak blink. It radiates on terminal vertebra a comb of twenty upright spines and curls its rocky tail. Saltflush lobster bull encrusted swims backwards from the rock.
Am I the only one watching my neighbour's frolicksome goat, Ginger, tied to a pecan tree? All morning it has been examining an empty bushel basket and has lifted one leg delicately like a circus horse as if to roll it, but whether to do that or to butt it with its small horns, that is the question. Not of great moment, no signing of the Charter, but like air music, quickest of the elements. Towards which I leaped! In form its own grace, appearing, as it passed in retrospect, classical. The real goat stayed, imperturbable, the body solid as a four-square loom and delivered me from abstraction. His coloring, greyish-soft shades, their dark and light passing into each other as in an antique rubbing. I now found myself sitting so near, my shade, as in the Inferno, sensed his, but he gave no sign of my presence, even when I stroked him and my heart leaped at the gentle fleece, too fine for a hard life. He continued nibbling on a dry bush. I would not have believed unconcern could bolster the man in me and be so enduring. Sic transit, not caring whether it is recognized, The Divine (from another age). He was poking into the underbush now and reached across my head for the small spiny twigs. At that the phase changed and a sensuous trembling hung in the air, as when a bee is about to descend on blossoming clover, and I felt myself being pulled as by a line from the invisible other side to enter goathood, deeper than sight.
Associations with a View from the House
What can be compared to the living eye? Its East is flowering honeysuckle and its North dogwood bushes. What can be compared to light in which leaves darken after rain, fierce green? like Rousseau's jungle: any minute the tiger head will poke through the foliage peering at experience. Who is like man sitting in the cell of referents, whose eye has never seen a jungle, yet looks in? It is the great eye, source of security. Praised be thou, as the Jews say, who have engraved clarity and delivered us to the mind where you must reign severe as quiddity of bone forever and ever without bias or mercy, attrition or mystery.
Testing on Steel and Glass
"If you open the brain from whence sprang Solomon and Aristotle and separate the lips in the fissure of Sylvius
Eastern Sea, 100 fathoms,
green sand, pebbles,
Off Suno Saki, 60 fathoms,
gray sand, pebbles,