After U.S. 1 featured the late sculptor and Grounds For Sculpture founder Seward Johnson in its annual “In Memoriam” issue on January 6, one reader submitted his own recollections.
Writes Scott McVay: “Seward and Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, met in Key West a few years ago and became friends. Before that, in 2015, I wrote the attached poem, ‘Two Originals,’ out of the conviction that each of them were the wittiest and best communicators in their respective genres.”
McVay, a Skillman resident who has written poetry, a memoir, and articles for scientific publications, was founding executive director of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. His poem appears below.
Two Originals: Billy Collins & Seward Johnson, Jr.
In the morning paper, David Brooks asks
“What is the purpose of your life?”
What should we do to feel fulfilled and deep joy?
Ponder, please, the situation of Billy Collins,
newly annointed Poet Laureate of the United States,
sitting in the cockpit of an elegant office
assigned to the Laureate, noting that no cask of
dry wine is bestowed as is the custom in England,
enjoying a spectacular view of Congress,
yet feeling the ghosts of all prior laureates
who haunt the space, looking up at faces
of those who went before staring down at him
with expressions ranging from dim recognition
to disbelief. “There must be some mistake,”
Robert Penn Warren seemed to be saying.
“Surely not him,” Robert Frost seethed.
And Billy, witty Billy connects with everyone.
And think on, too, our challenger of the status quo,
the windy Academy whose left brain is very good
at putting down one who connected from the get-go
not just with immense Marilyn or tall Abe Lincoln,
the Sailor and the Nurse or the Awakening,
but vox populi – Please Touch.
Remember Stanley Kunitz, “Please touch me,
so I will know I’m alive.”
I know few who are as witty, whimsical or determined
And I see a cluster of artists, Grant Wood, Henri Matissse,
Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Edouard Manet, Gustave
Caillebotte, appear in the clouds where their faces,
formerly furrowed, are now smiling, hands clapping,
shouting Ole as our sculptor-magician holds a red cape
and another Academy bull runs bye.
All this, pronounced since 2003 when the esteemed Corcoran
blessed Seward and his works as critics recede to the margin
and just plain folks who populate the work, who love it and the man,
who conceived and made what he finds intriguing,
including naturally that 3D masterwork of Vincent’s room in Arles.
In their domains, I know none as witty and poignant as
Billy and Seward, Seward and Billy, who carry lights to light
our way and connect us to exploring stirrings all about.
U.S. 1 continues to welcome submissions from Princeton-area poets and fiction writers of poetry, short stories, and plays to be published throughout the year. Please include a brief biography with your work. To submit your poem, play, or story for consideration please email email@example.com.