The Rich, Ouija Boards, and Other Things I Don't Understand

Photo: [Ouija Board] by ~!'s / RyanWhen Frederick Seidel drops a name, it tends to land with the kind of thump that gets a room's attention. Like Neal Cassady's hammer in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, it never happens by accident.

In many ways Seidel is the kind of human being for whom I could work up an unhealthy dislike. For one thing, he's rich; worse yet, he was born that way, and for another thing . . . well, frankly, there isn’t another thing.

He’s just rich, and as such, he is blessed with fabulous things. fabulous friends, and fabulous amounts of free time in which to write. I am green to the gills with envy.

It has always seemed to me that a poet who lives off the interest from a trust fund is not playing fair and should be kicked out of the game. I'm not saying poets need to starve in unheated garrets to be authentic, but I am saying that occasionally wondering how one is going to pay the rent does a body good. That sort of thing connects a poet to something meaty and, I think, necessary. In everyday worries, we take a swim in the shallows of that black lake of dread that poetry seeks to ferry readers across. In short, money-angst connects poets to this world and the people in it.

I mean that connection literally. Seidel’s fellow trustfunder, James Merrill (as in the Wall St. brokerage behemoth, Merrill Lynch) claimed he wrote his Divine Comedies partly by taking dictation from spirits on the Other Side via a Ouija board. Look, I would transcribe the scratchings and squeaks of the rats in the walls if the poem was good enough, but Merrill's Ouija board poetry reeks of the nonchalance of someone with nothing at all at stake. That the results of Merrill’s spirit-channeling are widely considered masterpieces, does not change the fact that his was a dilettante’s move, the kind of cavalier, topsiders-without-socks offhandedness that a poet who knows the toast always lands jelly-side-down (and who doesn't have downstairs staff to clean it up) just wouldn't think of.

Book Jacket: Poems: 1959 - 2009 / Frederick SeidelWhile Seidel does not, as far as I know, compose atop a Ouija board, a certain distanced tone, that I can only describe as aristocratic, permeates his work, even when he is at his most rancidly caustic, as in his poem, "Home." Add a sort of bored noblesse oblige, to the A-list names he drops, the swanky locales, and the luxury brands casually, but pointedly, scattered about, and you might think you would have an insufferable body of work. And, like me, you would be wrong. Despite my class jealousies, I couldn't help myself.  On the page, he is charming and wicked and knows exactly what it all means.

Fitzgerald was right. The very rich are different than you and me, and they live on an alien planet with its own special kind of dread.  Poems 1959 - 2009 / Frederick Seidel

Photo: [Ouija Board] by ~1's / Ryan