Songs of Himself

Poems 1959–2009
Frederick Seidel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40, 509 pp.

I should declare an interest, as parliamentarians used to say. Years ago in New York City, I was introduced to Frederick Seidel by our mutual friend Richard Poirier. Some time after, Seidel invited me to join a small dinner party he was planning to give at Elio’s. I had never heard of that restaurant, but it turned out to be a fashionable, high-toned place on New York’s Upper East Side. It was crowded that night, but one table was ostentatiously empty, held sacrosanct, immune to ordinary customers. It was a corner table, and the wall above it was adorned with a framed, enlarged frontispiece of Seidel’s first book of poems, Final Solutions. I forget most of the detail, the company, the conversation, but I recall that we were not shown a menu, nor was our host given a wine list; we ate and drank according to the maître d’s recommendations. It may be my fantasy that we were told of truffles flown in that morning from Italy. At the end of the meal, no bill that I could see was tendered. I assume that an account was sent every month or so, which Seidel answered with a check. We dispersed in several taxis. I have not returned Seidel’s hospitality, so I owe him a meal that I am not sure I can afford.

Now we have a large offering of his poems, his several books gathered in one, the poems printed in the reverse order of their first publication. The chronological order is: Final Solutions (1963), Sunrise...

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About the Author

Denis Donoghue holds the Henry James Chair in English and American Letters at New York University. His most recent book is Irish Essays (2011).