James Schuyler

Selected by Stephen Emerson

Nothing was ever more astute than William Carlos Williams’s “A poem is a machine made of words.” (If it sounds cold or technocratic, think of the machine as a music box or a bicycle.) Schuyler’s little machine is more intricate than it looks. When the poet is Schuyler, and when we’re in “The Payne Whitney Poems,” questions like “Is this the moment?” and “Need I persist?” may be all playful footwork – or they may be The Big Question, and fraught. The comforts of the changed sheets are sadly ironic, but also real. He wins the last lines with the ones that precede. He can still make a poem – presto, just like that. In pale hues, the poem looks like a small triumph. But it’s a large one. And Schuyler gave it to us.

—Stephen Emerson


Is this the moment?
No, not yet.
When is the moment?
Perhaps there is none.
Need I persist?
This morning I
changed bedding.
At lunch I watched
someone shake out
the cloth, fold and
stow it in a side-
board. Then, the
cigarette moment.
Now, this moment
flowers out of me
down the pen and

I’m glad I have
fresh linen.


Selected Poems by James Schuyler

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James Schuyler (1923-91) received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for The Morning of the Poem in 1981.

Stephen Emerson edited A Manual for Cleaning Women, the selected stories of Lucia Berlin. His own books include Neighbors (stories, Tombouctou) and The Wife (short novel, Longriver Books). His work has appeared in New Directions in Poetry and Prose, Rolling Stock, Hambone, and The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Emerson worked as an editor for many years and, later, toiled in what Elmore Leonard called “the advertising game.” He has also been a tobacco picker, car mechanic, road striper, librarian, and voiceover artist. He is now writing new stories steadily, but slowly.

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