FRANK SAMPERI.

I discovered Frank Samperi’s poetry completely by accident in the late 1970s, hanging around an all-night bookstore and trawling the poetry shelves for unfamiliar names. I opened a tall, thin book called The Prefiguration, found a table of contents with no page numbers, turned a couple of blank pages and found the title “Song Book,” turned a couple more blank pages and found:

On the night of my death
fires will lace
the shoreline
of some unknown beach—
and children
      in loose
          half-length
      blue gowns
will sing my dirge
as unknown vagrants
place my body
on a raft
     covered with lilies
     and seaweed—
and after they have
fastened down my body
with rope
     they (the vagrants)
and the children
will set
          the raft
     adrift

I was absolutely smitten. I’d never read anything like it, and I walked around the store muttering it until I knew the whole thing by heart. (They were used to me at the store, I played Jeopardy with them till dawn when I wasn’t pacing and muttering.) Then I bought it and took it home and read it, and came back and bought the companion volumes, Quadrifariam and Lumen Gloriae. I couldn’t believe no one had heard of this wonderful poet.
When I moved to New York a couple of years later, the first thing I did was look him up in the phone book, call him up, and ask if I could visit him in his Brooklyn apartment. He seemed bemused but invited me over. I had him sign my copies of his books and got him talking about the intellectual sources of his poetry, about how both Augustine and Aquinas were resolved in Dante and what their ideas meant to him (I still have the notes I scribbled: “Is society really concerned with unitive way or with way of differences? How is problem of persona solved? In Christianity (Dante) person is reward of reason. Boethius on Trinity: READ!”… and more obscurely: “regressive adhesiveness in Amer./ modern assumption of “earning”—/ won’t give to squirrel—/ true work lies in word/ Bonaventure/ Bruno”). His young daughter Claudia brought us snacks and was clearly both proud of and amused by her passionately intellectual poet father. I left feeling I’d made contact with an unknown great of our time.
Just now I googled him and discovered he died in 1991—he didn’t even make it to 60. And still nobody’s heard of him, but at least John Martone and Station Hill Press have put out Spiritual Necessity: Selected Poems of Frank Samperi (there’s a very nice review by Jack Foley). I recommend it to anyone who wants to expand their poetic horizons. And if Claudia comes across this post (not unlikely, since his name gets relatively few Google hits): your dad was a generous man and a superb poet. I wish he were still around.

Comments

  1. I admire you for your courage in just brazenly calling up arts figures and asking to meet with them. I just wrote a letter to a composer asking him for some information on one of the few pieces of his that hasn’t been written about extensively, and as I prepare to drop it in the mailbox later today I’m quite nervous I’ll just be wasting the great man’s time.

  2. What a peculiar, and peculiarly interesting LH post! Curious to have these tiny windows onto your life. I can’t make head or tail of your notes, but I suppose that’s half the pleasure of them. (Occasionally I find baffling notes of my own, and stare at them quite enjoyably.) Boethius on Trinity: explains Augustinianism in quite readable terms. I also admire your desire to get in touch with people who affect you; I am the same way, with mixed results. I got in touch with the architect of my old university campus, now in his 80s, to tell him how much I admired his work, and now we’re in talks to publish a paper I wrote on it. I think he was as delighted as I was. Is Jeopardy something more than a TV show?

  3. CC, why should you assume the great man is incapable of managing his own time? If he doesn’t have time to see you, he’ll tell you.

  4. “And then one day Pound said, ‘You have an obligation to visit the great men of your time.’ I didn’t realize it, but he was sending me on a grand tour. He said, I could make the list. I would make the list, and then if he could help me with any names and addresses, he would do so.
    The one address he offered me that I couldn’t use was Hemingway’s, the reason being that I was based in California, and it would have meant a trip all the way to Cuba for one visit, whereas with the European ones, you could do a string of them, and absorb the expenses as you went along.
    I was very fortunate. I contacted Georgie Yeats, Yeats’s widow. She had some manuscripts in plastic wrappers. You could handle them and you could try to read them and your fingerprints didn’t get on the paper. I’m on the fourth line of some poem. She hears me muttering; she snaps: ‘Oh, he never could spell.’ But she said it with such affection.
    She was a discovery. So were a lot of people I met It was Donald Davie who took me to meet her because he was at that time in Dublin, and I had a bit of correspondence with him. You see, you get these strange connections, and one leads to another.”
    HUGH KENNER: THE GRAND TOUR
    Interview by Harvey Blume
    http://www.bookwire.com/bbr/reviews/March2001/hugh_kenner_thegrandtour.htm

  5. Suspense is killing me: so, had he been set adrift into the sea after his death by all those children in blue uniforms? [which is, if you ask me, inflicting a cruel and unusual punishment on the innocent]?

  6. Perhaps we’d all better go round and see Don Hat before it’s too late (for us I mean – Hat’s living forever)

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