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Foreword to The Sterile Honeycomb
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Foreword to The Sterile Honeycomb

by Arthur Axelrod

It's very hard to think of Arthur gone. His cranky, dependable humor had become a real part of my own life, and I think I depended on him as much as he did on me. When one's older, so to speak, the young tend to rush past, and if they stop, it's to check out what one's got that might be of use, and then to be off again. That fact is certainly human, but I'm moved also by those with whom one can share some certain recognition of the human place—and realize it is both particular and common to all.

In that sense, I'll talk to Arthur as long as I live, which has an obvious human limit also. It isn't that I, or other friends relating, didn't know the pain and confusion and intensity of Arthur's feeling of isolation, or that we wanted to leave him in it god knows. He took me off that hook many times by that same humor which relieved me in other dilemmas of my own. Despite what seemed at times his insistent demands on his friends to respond, he had a very specific perception and generosity, which let them go about their own lives. He was extraordinarily tough, humanly brilliant by any measure I'm aware of, and if he exhausted people, no doubt they were there to be exhausted.

My first meeting with Arthur must have been in Ed Budowski's Student Bookstore on Main Street across from the university. In 1966 that bookstore was a center for a lot of people, particularly for the poets local or visiting. Ed told me that Arthur was even at that time an habitué, first brought by his parents, but subsequently arriving on his own to check out the new books and to meet the divers

Arthur Axelrod, The Sterile Honeycomb (Buffalo, N.Y.: privately printed, 1975).


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visitors. I was impressed and intimidated often by his encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary poetry—or call it simply poetry , because his range of information even at that early age wasn't limited simply to what was topical or in style. No doubt at first I must have felt him some quirky, diminutive kid, reveling in poets the same way one might in football stars or opera singers. But the more we talked, the more I learned that his commitment and clarity were facts of his life, not tokens of a time in it. The first poems of his own that he showed me (some of which will be found here necessarily, whether or no he himself would have included them) were characteristically young man poems, concerned with all the old young problems in an expectedly usual way. Underlying, however, was a kind of texture, a movement, of the words which no one 'learns' arbitrarily—a gift, in short, as actual in Arthur's experience of words and his use of them as it is in any other poet one might name. So the thing said , in those early poems, was one thing, common as the age sixteen, but the apprehension of an almost tactile sinuosity, a substantive feel for the conjunction of this word and that—this grace was unequivocally particular.

I might have said then, he didn't write like me—which was paradoxically a pleasure. I didn't want disciples, and he was poorly equipped to be one, thankfully. Our meeting ground in this respect could be Denise Levertov—we both thought she was terrific—but we'd then disagree as to Allen Ginsberg's The Fall of America , which I wanted to praise sans exception and which Arthur wanted to toss out as too blowsy and rambling. Thus we'd argue, usefully, and Arthur never gave nor expected quarter. I in turn learned a lot about my own assumptions.

A few weeks before his death he asked me if I'd do a prefatory note for a collection of poems he had in mind to put together. My answer was certainly yes, in no way equivocal—I thought he counted, and as a friend, I was pleased to be of that use. One sad fear he had was that what he did didn't matter, that it would be not only forgotten, but never really considered—and, humanly, we must many of us have known that lonely feeling. The poems here collected will many times return to it. Finally, it isn't to the point that we may fail one another—but that we never even know we've lived in the same world together can't be accepted. Arthur's life was short, often bleak, often isolated—but also with guts, with heart, with intelligence and response, with places of inexplicable grace and clear beauty. He loved it, he hated it, he lived it. These poems were his resource.


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Foreword to The Sterile Honeycomb
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