Daniel Hoffman and Jack Foley


 

 

DANIEL HOFFMAN & JACK FOLEY: CALL & RESPONSE 1962 / 2011
 
 
1962
 
TWO POEMS ABOUT GÉRARD DE NERVAL
 

 


Gérard de Nerval was a 19th-century French poet, one of the early Symbolists. He was subject to fits of insanity and given “cures” by Dr. Blanche, who lived in Montmartre. During one of these fits, Nerval tied a blue ribbon to a lobster’s shell and walked with it as if it were a dog in the Bois de Boulogne. Asked why he did this, he answered, “Because it does not bark and because it knows the secrets of the sea.” Nerval committed suicide on a freezing night in January, 1855; his body was found at dawn the next day hanging by an apron string to the bar of a window.

The first of the poems, “Pot Aux Foux” (not “feu” but “foux”) was written by Daniel Hoffman and published in his book, A Little Geste and Other Poems (1960); the second, “The Lobster’s Testimony,” is by me and was written in 1962 in response to Hoffman’s poem.


 

POT AUX FOUX

 

Gérard de Nerval’s ribbon led

A large live lobster. Men, like geese

At their communion hissed, or fled,

Made hue, and cried, ‘Breach of the peace!’

 

Enjoined by irate hierarch

He pled non vult contendere

‘Because,’ he said, ‘it does not bark

And knows the secrets of the sea.’

 

Gérard they packed to Dr. Blanche

(Cold-water cures in a year, or less);

The lobster, after that dimanche

When Gendarme’s wife served bouillabaisse,

 

Lost interest in philosophy.

Now Nerval’s hung himself, who’ll heed

The lucubrations of the sea?

The tides, in bowls, resound, recede.

 

—Daniel Hoffman

 

 

 

THE LOBSTER’S TESTIMONY

 

Not even Dr. Blanche could tell

And poor Nerval would not confess:

Instead of making bouillabaisse

He tied a ribbon to my shell.

 

(He did it for the sake of art.)

Alas! How could the bourgeoisie

Have understood the sea or me:

They sent him packing to Monmartre!

 

And I,—the concierge was chosen

To serve me up as lobster stew:

While I turned red, Nerval turned blue.

Dead, dead as a fish and flesh quick-frozen,

 

They found him hanging presently—

Le bon Gérard, unmindful of

The calefaction of my love

Among the secrets of the sea.

 

—Jack Foley

 

 

 

 

2011: A CHARM AGAINST SCIATICA

 

Daniel Hoffman:Jack, I learn from Lee that you are still suffering.  Since your affliction is proof against the miracles of modern medicine, I thought to offer the most ancient of cures.  It is attached in the Attachment, and may it do now what it has done so well for at least a dozen centuries.
            All good wishes and my pagan prayers to you--and to your patient and faithful Adelle.
Dan

 

 

A CHARM AGAINST SCIATICA

 

(for Jack Foley)

 

To make vanish the Elf-shot

Wind around the body afflicted

Back to front with twine, red twine,

Once, twice, thrice, till nine

Times around, each time twisting

Twine a knot, a twist, a knot,

Then,. in a white cup

From which only a virgin has sipped,

Pour an ounce, an ounce, an ounce

Of single-malt, of Knockando,

Nine years in oaken cask,

And, as you slowly sip, you say,

Elf-shot, be drowned dead in the sea,

Elf-shot, be withered by the sun,

Be cooled, Elf-shot, by beams

From the cold moon when full,

May the Earth absorb all Elf-shot

As you sip nine times

For nine days, nine days, each day

Snip-snipping a knot, untwisting the twine,
Then the potion and the spell will kill,
Will kill, will kill all pain.

 

Jack Foley’s response. First a “straight” response, running Dan's end words backwards, then what I call a “writing between the lines.”

 

In the valley of Pain

You spend all day wondering what will kill

The terrible stings that intertwine

The full course of the day

And you groan at the least nine times

At the misery of the Elf-shot

That made you Painfully full

Of the marvelous beams

Stronger than the sun

Stronger than the sea

Stronger than anything you say

It is as if your body were in a cask

Of single-malt Knockando

And each ounce

That your direst enemy has sipped

From a milk-white cup

Ties you in a knot

Constantly twisting,

Once, twice, thrice, till nine

And you scream at the binding twine

(Red twine!), body afflicted,

“Vanish, Elf-shot, ah, vanish Elf-shot!”

 

Or—writing between the lines:

 

To make vanish the Elf-shot

In the valley of Pain

Wind around the body afflicted

You spend all day wondering what will kill

Back to front with twine, red twine,

The terrible stings that intertwine

Once, twice, thrice, till nine

The full course of the day

Times around, each time tying

And you groan at the least nine times

Twine in a knot, a knot, a knot,

At the misery of the Elf-shot

Then,. in a white cup

            That made you Painfully full

From which only a virgin has sipped,

Of the marvelous beams

Pour an ounce, an ounce, an ounce

            Stronger than the sun

Of single-malt, of Knockando,

Stronger than the sea

Nine years in oaken cask,

            Stronger than anything you say

And, as you slowly sip, you say,

            It is as if your body were in a cask

Elf-shot, be drowned dead in the sea,

            Of single-malt Knockando,

Elf-shot, be withered by the sun,

And each ounce

Be cooled, Elf-shot, by beams

            That your direst enemy has sipped

From the cold moon when full,

From a milk-white cup

May the Earth absorb all Elf-shot

            Ties you in a knot

As you sip nine times

            Constantly twisting,

For nine days, nine days, each day

            Once, twice, thrice, till nine

Snip-snipping a knot, a knot in the twine,

            And you scream at the binding twine

Then potion and the spell will kill,

            (Red twine!), body afflicted,

Will kill, will kill all pain.

            “Vanish, Elf-shot, ah, vanish Elf-shot!”





Copyright © 2012 Jack Foley and Daniel Hoffman


 

Daniel Hoffman was appointed the twenty-second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1973.

In 1954, he published his first collection of poetry, An Armada of Thirty Whales. This collection was chosen by W. H. Auden as part of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, and Auden commended it in his introduction as "providing a new direction for nature poetry in the post-Wordsworthian world." He has since published ten additional collections of poetry, a memoir, and seven volumes of criticism. Reviewing Beyond Silence in The New York Times Book Review in 2003, Eric McHenry found Hoffman a poet of remarkable consistency, "no less joyful or engaged at 80 than he was at 25."

Hoffman has taught at Columbia University, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania. He retired from the latter as Felix Schelling Professor of English Emeritus, and its Philomathean Society in 1996 published an anthology of poetry in honor of his efforts to bring contemporary poets to give readings in their halls. He is a chancellor emeritus of the Academy of American Poets.  From 1988 to 1999, he served as Poet in Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where he administered the American Poets' Corner.

 

 
Jack Foley is a widely-published San Francisco poet known for his "spoken-word performances" which involve choruses. His Cover to Cover radio show, can be heard online at Berkley Radio KPFA www.kpfa.org
"Jack Dancing"
by Leonard Breger