Columbia Daily Spectator
Columbia University, student Newspaper, 1963
English Professor Reviews 'Censored Review'
by Angus S. Fletcher, Assistant Professor of English
. . . The most accomplished poem here is the one that caused the most furor (underground furor, now erupted), Bearden's “The Desk is a Frozen Sea.” The verse is refined and ingenious, full of carefully controlled off-rimes and assonantic effects. A strict stanzaic form gives order to the whole. One simply accepts the idea of the poem, that the creative process, in this cosmic instance, is a pain narcissistic exertion. I remember thinking the same thing when, as a child, I came upon a cow that had died while her calf. also dead, was being born. They lay in the middle of a field, a tangle. I think there is truth in these occasional visions of birth pain. Whether poets should publish their visions is a question I leave to others. But in the case of this poem at least I can see that its seriousness could hardly be doubted. If the author thought, having written it, "that's pretty wild." he would only be manifesting the typical wonderment of poets, who are inspired authors. I would rather not describe this poem. Its tone may be wrong. If that is true, then let rhetoricians discuss it; but let us not censor poetry on account of its rhetorical failures. Or at least let us admit that we may be unconsciously invoking the concept of decorum . . .
THE DESK IS A FROZEN SEA
& HE STRAINS TO SING ABOUT TIME & AGE
ALAS HIS HEART WILL BREAK IN THREE
& A LINE TRICKLES OUT ONTO THE PAGE:
He dozes & dreams for miles
of white sea-ice, which he must limp across
needing badly to ease his bowels
knotted like frozen clods. So soon he squats
in an embarrassing wind
baring himself, & saying, “Let me shet.
O God, why do you make me whine
in pain for any birth?” The place he sits
is terrible ice, & coldly
cut by the thin wind which does not sing.
So straining and hurt at that pole
he makes one tortured turd which tears & hangs
bleeding into the blank snow.
It lives! It is strung with throbbing black veins!
He touches it & whimpers: “O
God, this horror twined with my own membrane
is shame! Pain with no defense!
I take from my pack my critical knife
& sever this experience,
of which I’ll never speak, if I survive!”
* * *