Monday, January 21, 2008

"A philosophizing deaf castrato"

The world of Stanford’s imagination—that “unknown country where my dreams jump and shout”—found its fullest expression in the work for which he is best known, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. Like the lost text of some esoteric faith, many people have heard of it, but few have laid eyes on a copy. The Battlefield is a single poem, almost entirely unpunctuated, more than 500 pages long in its first edition, and until its reprinting in 2000 almost impossible to find. Borrowing the author’s first and middle names, Francis Gildart, the dreamy, rebellious child narrator (“knight of the levees and / rivers and ships keeper of tears and virgins and horses with lucky markings”), will be familiar (by voice if not by name) to readers of Stanford’s early poems, as will much of The Battlefield’s levee-camp cast of characters, to which Stanford adds, among many others, Count Hugo Pantagruel, the world’s smallest man; a blind astronomer; the tragically costive Rufus Abraham; Vico, a philosophizing deaf castrato; and Sylvester the Black Angel, whose lynching young Francis yearns to avenge. Christ and the apostles drop in for a while. So does Hank Williams. He’s drunk. Sonny Liston weeps alone in a short-order café. When he falls asleep, Francis kisses the back of his neck.

—Ben Ehrenreich, "The Long Goodbye"

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