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April 9, 2020

Ransom Center Acquires Archive of Poet Frederick Seidel

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The papers of American poet Frederick Seidel  have been acquired by the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas research library announced.

The archive contains working drafts of 12 of Seidel’s major collections, handwritten poems and notes, as well as unfinished and unpublished poems. The circle of acquaintance represented in the archive is wide, and present is correspondence with Leonard Bernstein, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Hardwick, Anthony Hecht, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and others. Also in the archive pocket diaries, photographs, reviews and other documentation of this most singular poetic life.

“The Frederick Seidel Papers will shed light on this most elusive and private of poets,” said Stephen Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center. “The archive will allow researchers to probe the boundaries between the writer Frederick Seidel and the observing figure that inhabits this distinguished body of work. His very iconoclasm casts a bright light on the beautiful and the ugly in contemporary life, and he has left us a body of work that future readers will turn to better understand our time.”

Seidel’s poetry and persona have rankled and captivated readers for more than 50 years.

Born into a wealthy family in 1936, Seidel’s independent means have allowed him to refuse to do public readings or take teaching positions. He is both famous and infamous for writing poems that deal frankly with the trappings of wealth including his penchant for Ducati motorcycles, handmade Italian shoes and younger women.

After attending Harvard, and a stint in Paris with The Paris Review, Seidel settled in New York where he was a part of the glittering literary scene during the 1950s and 1960s.

Frederick Seidel, 2018. Photo by Mark Mahaney, Copyright Mark Mahaney. Used with permission.

In 1962, Seidel’s first book “Final Solutions” was selected by Louise Bogan, Stanley Kunitz and Robert Lowell for a poetry prize administered by the 92nd Street Y. But the judges’ decision was overturned when Seidel refused to make changes to the manuscript, which was deemed too controversial for publication. The national head of the YMHA/YWHA was concerned that some of Seidel’s poems were anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. The book was later published by Random House in 1963.

He did not publish another book for 17 years, but since the relaunch of his career with “Sunrise” in 1979, he has published 14 collections and two selections of his work. “Going Fast” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. His “Collected Poems, 1959-2009” was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2009.

The New York Times once dubbed Seidel “Laureate of the Louche.” And he started a poem entitled “Frederick Seidel” with the line: “I live a life of laziness and luxury.”

Seidel’s publisher Jonathan Galassi, commenting on the provocative nature of his work, said “he has made a private myth that is one of the great aesthetic constructions of our era, joyfully doffing his cap as he vrooms toward oblivion on one of the fiery motorcycles he extols but no longer rides.”

Galassi adds: “He is the last flâneur, a consummate artist whose work affords great joy.”

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