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"Photoheliograph" Typescript and Commentary

[Lady Iya Abdy, the dedicatee of "Photoheliograph," was a friend of Manuel Ortiz, a young Spanish painter with whom Caresse was having an affair. In a passage for November 7, 1927, in Shadows of the Sun, Crosby records meeting her among a group of painters. He called her "The Lady of the Music Shop (Lady A)" and added: "she is strange and she wears strange hats from Reboux and I liked her."]


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Reproduced with the Permission of Special Collections,
Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Geoffrey Wolff (1976)

… [D. H.] Lawrence writes of Harry’s "whims, and fumblings, and effort, and nonsense, and echoes from other poets, these all go to make up the living chaos of a little book of real poetry."

The chaos is there, sure enough, both on the surface and below it, but "Photoheliograph" tries to blow away the mists in a concentrated graphic expression:

[Wolff quotes the poem in its entirety.]

This black sun was no invention of Harry’s, but the alchemist’s Sol niger, prime matter, the unconscious in its unworked, base state. The black sun is at its nadir, hidden, and all is night. In the Rig-Veda the sun during its night crossing is at its most magical and portentous. It must and shall be resurrected, as Harry knew he should persist again, in and like the sun, beyond his own sun-fall. Here again, paradox and ambiguity: the sun that gave sea, soil and life also stared down without pity at its creations and withered them, dried them out, burnt them. Or failed to shine, winking while life failed. Where the sun is, there also find the death principle, the chaos that reigned before light dispelled it, the chaos that Harry’s life and work replicated in miniature.

From Geoffrey Wolff, Black Sun: The Brief Life and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby (New York: Random House, 1976), 197-198.

Cary Nelson (1989)

A series of Harry Crosby’s ecstatic, obsessional, sometimes misogynist books – with poems ranging from Whitmanesque chants to tirades to concrete poems – were published posthumously in 1931. Very nearly a poet of one infinitely variable figure, Crosby was driven to record all the changes he could ring on images of the sun: "red burning tomb," "sunflakes falling in the sea," "humanity in the forest of the sun." "Photoheliograph," a concrete poem, presents his vision at its most economical. It consists of ten lines that each repeat the word "black" (in black ink, of course) five times. In the fifth line, however, the word "SUN" burns in capital letters, at the heart of the matter of language. … In other poems and prose poems, the sun is not only the object of but also the provocation for verbal transformations: "I Take the word Sun which burns permanently in my brain. It has accuracy and alacrity. It is monomaniac in its intensity. It is a continual flash of insight. It is the marriage of Invulnerability with Yes, of the Red Wolf with the Gold Bumblebee, of Madness with Ra. 2) Birdileaves, Goldabbits, Fingertoes, Auroramor, Barbarifire, Parabolaw, Lovegown, Nombrilomane." As with [Eugene] Jolas’s sound poems, the power of the language to disassemble and recombine its parts only manifests itself in each of these local changes. One never reaches the original (and originating) sound whose absence is marked by its haunting echo through all the poem’s substitutions.

From Cary Nelson, Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945 (Madison: U Wisconsin P, 1989), 175.

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