A Brief Survey

Curated by Adam Schwerner and Michael Heller


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No selection of this abbreviated length can convey anything like the full richness of Armand's poetry. The Tablets themselves, despite the controlling presence of the Scholar-Translator, have such an immense variousness of tone, subject and content, that they bear comparison only with the inclusive polyvocal epics of Pound and Zukofsky. Likewise, the shorter poems move from direct statement to the raw edge of traduction-translation, to the workings of chance and uncertainty, as in the marvelous pantoums which break the poet's voice into a thousand shards of glass each catching simultaneously a reflection from a word or phrase. More than anything, the key to Armand's work is its diction, tonally and lexically so accurate and finally so moving. For a poet who took the self's structures as the scrap lumber of language, and so takes himself apart in every poem, word choice, its voicings and intonings, are almost the only tracery of personality. High intelligence, humor, crudity, spiritual depth, these come from a place of great activity and search, one that is constantly centering and decentering itself. Speaking of the poet, of himself, Armand writes, "He does not know the necessary identity of a voice or many voices. They speak him in a way he later discovers. The locus appears later." Such words also apply to his readers who embark on his poems as on mysterious adventures. Never mind that the locus takes its time in appearing when so many discoveries of richnesses are at hand.

- Michael Heller

from The Tablets:

Tablet I
(from Márton Koppány's Institute of Broken and Reduced Languages)

Tablet VIII
Tablet XVIII

from Selected Shorter Poems:
"the courthouse"
"where he boat passes"
"the work"
"the will"
"sounds of the river nararjana"
"the way up is the way down"

from Seaweed:
"buildings and grounds"

from Sounds of the river Naranjana:

"the waves are the practice of the ocean"
"the brotherhood and the sensations of happiness"


The pieces of my father's poetic legacy included in this compilation naturally only hint at what he was. He was a Buddhist, a Jew (Though that somewhat subterranean.), a musician (He studied jazz clarinet with Lenny Tristano.), a professor, a tennis player, a baseball lover (The Yankees.). He was a wonderful father. But, he was, more than anything else, a person who was always filled with the possibility of possibilities. He was forever reinventing himself in his work, his studies and in and with his relationships.

His creative process was filled with reinvention. He was forever pursuing new information and becoming excited by it. As an example, during the last few years of his life he was fascinated with the new physics. There were always a few physics books with their spines bent open resting on a side table or toilet tank in his apartment. Quarks and fractals. Chaos theory. This new science describing these tiny unpredictable, hidden, alien and somehow funny particles intrigued him and I think there is a feeling about them not unlike the feeling that comes through in the Tablets with their unpredictability, their quality of otherness and humor.

He was a wonderful performer. "what pleasure" my dad wrote over and over in Tablet VIII and in a performance of this tablet he would throw this phrase out at the audience. What a wonderful thing it was to be there in the audience to catch the words as he threw them at us. He was made to perform. His whole body became his instrument. It was not just his head that engaged the work. It was his whole body and everything he knew. For him performing was great pleasure. Although it was sometimes embarrassing for my brother and me to be in the audience (The curses, the sex, the intimacy.), I still have the feeling that it was during these performances that I saw a part of my father that was the happiest. I wish I had attended more of his readings.

One of my favorite of his performances was outside the poetry reading. He loved to embarrass my brother and me. We were in the neighborhood A&P on Staten Island (Why Staten Island? He had a teaching job that let him have the time he needed for life and work.) moving through the aisles of soap and cereal and at one point he dropped his pants and began a Monty Python-like walk down the aisle. There he was just the underpants and the silly walk and ridiculous face in front of his two teen-age sons. What pleasure.

Well anyway, all there is to say is that he was fun, and funny and smart, and was always growing and was the best dad one could hope for.

- Adam Schwerner

Copyright © 2004 by Adam Schwerner and Michael Heller

Sources and Credits:

The Tablets by Armand Schwerner
The National Poetry Foundation
University of Maine, Orono, Maine, 04469-5752
Copyright © 1999, Estate of Armand Schwerner

Selected Shorter Poems by Armand Schwerner
Junction Press
P.O. Box 40537 / San Diego, CA 92164
Copyright © 1999 by Armand Schwerner

Michael Heller, Conservator of the Literary Estate of Armand Schwerner;
Sylvester Pollet, Associate Editor, National Poetry Foundation;
and Mark Weiss, Publisher, Junction Press.