The Schwartzman Cycle

Arnold Henry Schwartzman (1922-2025), iconoclastic but prolific former poet laureate of the United States, left us with a robust oeuvre spanning some of America’s most turbulent social eras.  A troubled youth (and man)  whose life’s arc defies categorization or, indeed, understanding, Schwartzman can be best approached, if not comprehended, by an assiduous study of his works which are, indeed, the distillate of his personal journey.

From the 28 volumes of his collected work, the editors have selected landmark poems from each major period of his life, and have arranged them in a rigid chronology, thus forcing the reader to come to terms with the intersection of reality and AH’s search for meaning.  See if you can find, by surrender to the flow of AH’s poetic perceptions, the essence of an ultimately humble, and humbling, artist and human being.

Herewith, AH at his core, raw and unafraid.


Poems of Youth

PS 166

My mother is so pretty,

Her hair is silky black.

She walks with me to school each day

And then she walks me back.

[This short elegy was graded a 99% by Mrs. Pearl Zimmerman, AH’s third grade teacher.  Here we see the birth of his early period’s greatest strengths: rigorous meter, and affinity for the ABCB rhyming scheme.]


Middle School

Patricia Ginsberg held my hand

And the feeling was so good

That I left the dance and told my tale

All through the neighborhood.

But love is fickle, love is cruel,

That girl now dates another,

 And that which makes the matter worse

Is the other is my brother.

[Here, AH introduces the oft-used convention of an additional internal rhyme in the final line of his last stanza.  His growing perception of his unfortunate place in the cosmos is reflected in an accepting melancholy – a melancholy soon to be replaced by a darker perception driven by the realization that most of his pathos derives from the people he is supposed to love.]


High School

I took the train into the Village

And scored in a bar that would serve me.

But the smoke was thick as shower steam

And that dive did not deserve me.

In Tompkins Square I saw a Negro

Encased in smoke from his cigar

And thought, with all that smarting mist

He belonged back in that bar.

My subway car bore me back home

to Brooklyn’s quiet tree-lined streets.

But Brooklyn seemed like urban death;

The Village can’t be beat.

[Here, we see a growing sense of despair, a broadened range of experience and a corresponding growing dissonance, soon to morph into anger and then, rage.]


College Freshman Year

Class is classless,

College boring.

My friends and I, we all went whoring.

Girls are dirty

And girls are cheap

But we’re no good at scoring.

 Back to the dorm,

Back to the norm,

But I cannot quench my inner storm….

[Obviously a more mature theme, not surprisingly as AH matures and faces the sexual drive of his years clashing with the restricted norms of the pre-war college ethos.  How will AH resolve his growing frustration?  More importantly, will AH find a path to acceptable sexual expression?  We read on, into the disruptive decade that encompasses war, holocaust, a return to normalcy and, yet, for AH, a growing awareness of who he is – an unpleasant discovery to be sure.]


Poems of Early Maturity

 War in France:

 I hold Harry’s helmet in my hands

And feel the tactile stickiness of blood

And brains that ooze out

Of his still-ensconced head.

Sarge told me I should put it back,

Lie it next to Harry’s body so

He could be buried all together

So to speak (does that matter in the circumstances, he took his chances!)?

But I carried it in my over-burdened back-pack

Across half of France until

I let it rest, uncovered,

Under a plane tree on a straight, picturesque road

Unpocked with shell craters

Somewhere near the German border.

“Fuckin’ crazy college kid,” Sarge said,

“You can never tell what they’re going to do next.”

[This work speaks for itself.  Violence has unleashed AH from the fetters of rhyme, meter and fixed structure, allowing his sardonic, morbid psyche to roam free across the landscape of an evil world gone mad.  This will lead him inexorably into the rage in which he, and his poetry, periodically dwell, and at times wallow, as he searches for meaning in a world devoid of meaning even for the competent, let alone for AH.]


Stateside again:


Piss shit.

Shit piss

New York

Not so



Alleys smell like


And up-reek




Pissing and shitting.

Shitting and pissing.

New York at night.

I love it.

[Ala Ginsberg, here fully liberated and with heightened perception, AH for the first time, at least on the written page, acknowledges his affinity for the dark tawdry underbelly of his world as experienced by his fellow Village poets, artists and deviants.  That affinity risks consuming and destroying him but, as the sainted Whitman before him rallied from the horrors of war, AH instead converted that heightened sensitivity to a vast poetic legacy, chronicling his struggle to stay afloat in that world, and not to sink irretrievably beneath its seductive surface.  We rejoice with him as he loves the night!]


Bombs over Levittown:

I saw my parents

In a split level ranch

(Cost 14-9) in Levittown so

I dropped a small nuclear device

In my mind

In my dreams

In my sincerest wish

On their fucking heads.

I left my testicles on a beach in Normandy but

The good news is,

I will never inflict this on my children.

Duckie duckie cute little duckie in the bath leads to

Duck and cover.

Duck and cover that, daddy-O.


Poems of the Academia

[After a decade as a founder of the New York School of Angry Poetry at his basement home at 33 Bleeker, AH embarked on a brief storied career as a professor at several Universities, for which see below.  As can be seen from this last poem, he had fully exploded the genre of modern poetry as then known, foretelling rap, putting Creeley in his place, and making trash of Ogden Nash.  Where else could such a restless genius go?]



Hail to Yale, says

This CCNY graduate.

How smart of you

To promote a son of the streets to tend your ivory tower.

Education is erudition in the classical sense,

Ares in a helmet,

Prometheus with his guts ripped out by birds each morning.

I tend your tender psyche,

O ye scions of America,

And raise your boola boola

To the halcyon halls of the houses

Of Morgan,

Of Merrill,

Of noble Smith and gentle Barney

So you can go short on Plato

And make a derivative out of Spinoza,

The only Jew in the counting house of excommunication.



I have been captured, stolen, seduced

To greater architecture,

Better endowment

(slightly older!).

The arched stadium, its steep concrete steps

Leave me breathless as I run up them. 

I am preceded and followed by runners, rowers, lacrosse boys with nets;

I reach the stars in my head as my blood floods my heart.

The river runs Crimson

With the heart-beat of America,

The cradle of Presidents,

The erudition conviction.

I asked not

but was simply told.


Iowa State

Oh what cruel literary fate

Has cast me in rows of corn

While being told I am in heaven?

Tenure was so dear,

The bread of my affliction,

The promise mixed with leaven.

To be hired and admired

And published in my time

Has brought me near full circle:

I have fallen into rhyme.


The History of the American Dream (1963 [?]-1994 {excerpted})

 [AH wandered the American academy seeking a curriculum that could augment his austere inherent critique of an American society mired in the quests for money and power, training its best and brightest in the classics before promoting them to the design of derivative securities.  Having finally achieved tenure at Iowa, AH failed to appear on campus for the Spring semester in 1963.  Thus began a three-decade exile of which little is known of his life.  AH re-emerged, in excellent health albeit rail thin, married to a former Catholic nun from Erie, Pennsylvania, living back in Brooklyn, New York and supporting himself as a writer of Hallmark Greeting Cards.  His specialty was in the condolence arena. But then his former publisher, having once told AH that poetry was no longer a publishable enterprise for a major house, recanted upon reading the fourteen-volume poetic saga we now know as The History of the American Dream.  Excerpts below illustrate the classic recurrent memes relating to death, renewal, faith, repression and patriotism.]


Canto 186

Standing on a hilltop

In Dubuque Iowa in a snowstorm

I knew how my forebears felt,

Gazing over vast prairies,

Sensing snow-crowned peaks without seeing them,

Waiting waiting waiting for

America to come to them, to mount them,

To o’er-top them

And flow their pollution from sea to tarnished sea.

I am America

Without barbaric yawp.

I lost it somewhere West of Keokuk.


Canto 447

 My dead parents speak to me of their resurrection.

They are within me

And promise me

An end to pain.

As a child, I believed all they told me.

As a new adult, I disbelieved all they promised me.

As a survivor, last in the waiting line to oblivion

I chose to hear their loving call.

I am coming

I am coming

I am here….

 [Although AH never had any children, he and his wife Anne Marie adopted a young Russian orphan in the Winter of 1993, shortly after the fall of the USSR.  It is widely believed that AH’s love for young Alexi led to a brightening of his world view, and was the catalyst for his return to public life.  Witness the following two brief cantos:]

 Canto 1976

 I have heard your smile

In my heart at night.

It echoes in the chambers of my hope.

I have smelled the sweetness of your hope at dawn

And now I understand.


Canto 2001

Love is the skin of a child,

Pink with the flesh of the morning.

Love are the hairs on his crown

That frill with the breeze at the dawning.

Your odyssey from your tundra of pain

Has renewed my desire to rise again.


Poems of Celebrity

[AH, Anne Marie and Alexi moved summers to the hills overlooking Santa Barbara, California, where the family flourished, spending time tending a small vineyard while AH continued to produce about two volumes a year of less angry poetry, much of it epic history of famous vintners and matadors.  These longer works lend themselves to neither excerpting nor close textual analysis, but brought continued recognition for their crisp execution and poetic freedom.  The editors have selected five characterizations of different persons whose lives were chronicled during this period from Alexi’s second birthday until his defection to the Syrian defense force in 2014, where he disappeared into the growing civil war that marred much of that turbulent era.  These poetic biographies were the last affirmative works of AH’s career; after the loss of Alexi and the suicide of his wife, AH returned to his darker spirit—but, more of that later.  For now, we give you five vignettes from poetic works of the decade beginning in 1995.]


Leopold Ludwig Schmidt [lines 103-106]

The sun had shriveled the skin of the grape,

But for Schmidt, he did not care.

The wine that year was intense and cloying

But for him, an allegory for the world.


Ramon Cabrera [lines 386-389]

The bull gored into him, through him.

“My cape and my sword shall protect me,”

He thought.

Were it only so….


Josie the Body [lines 1-6]

I have come to the valley to grow my grapes.

I have used my body across the screens of Maria

And some have thought, a whore!

They did not know.

It was for the harvest

And now in this day I have come home.


Pedro [lines 599-600]

I sank the shaft deep into his neck

And I cried for his pain; it was mine.


Lance Lewiston [lines 67-70]

My father planted these vines.

Their roots are deep into the earth.

Their roots are also deep into my soul.

They speak to me of my worth.



Years of Rage

[Although named Poet Laureate of the United States in 2020 in recognition of his prior works, AH never functioned in that role after his sole official appearance at the inauguration the following January, where his unfortunately brief homage understandably caused embarrassment and consternation, and in a rare moment of agreement within both major political parties.  Your editors feel compelled to set it forth below, particularly since after AH was escorted from the stage he never published another poem during his remaining years.  Not that he ceased to write; AH dutifully texted the Library of Congress each day, noting the number of poems he had written the prior day and their respective titles, followed by a description of his particular manner of destroying all of them that morning.  His sardonic wit never left AH, however; he kept numerous canines at his retreat at Three Mile Island, and often observed: “The dog ate my poetry.”]

A Plague on Both Your Houses

The pachyderm packed his package.

The donkey moved his ass.

They came together on some windblown steppes,

Shook hands and said some sass.

I must set the stage for this moment

For reasons I don’t comprehend.

So forgive my brevity, I intend no levity,

This poem has got to end.

[Repeat final two lines three more times with increasing intensity]



Last Years

[After AH’s resignation he fled once again from public view.  Friends and enemies both lost track of him.  His brownstone in Park Slope was maintained, snow cleared, mail retrieved, the small front yard kept clipped and fertilized, but the curtains remained perpetually drawn and it was never clear if, or when, AH had again taken up residence.  The poet seemingly abandoned poetry altogether until his final couple of years when, in failing health and memory, AH’s agent facilitated his removal to the Jewish Home for the Aged in Queens, New York.  AH met his God there on the 8th day of August, 2025 in his 102nd year.  Schwartzman left a sizeable estate but no will, surviving family or known heirs.  His fortune escheated to the benefit of the Treasurer of the State of New York, and was spent as part of the operational budget; in the year of escheat, the State rebuilt some beaches ravaged by global warming, erected a statute to the memory of Frank Sinatra for singing “New York, New York,” and fixed numerous leaks in the Alfred E Smith State Office Building in Albany, so at least we know that AH’s riches were applied, in part, for benevolent purposes.  His brownstone was found in the same pristine condition as the day he last resided there; his butler each morning had renewed his toothbrush with a fresh dollop of Crest toothpaste, said to be AH’s favorite.  Alexi’s room was similarly preserved, as Alexi had left it the day he defected through Turkey to the radical insurgents (who by 2025 had become the duly elected democratic government of greater Caliphatestan); the black ISIS flag still draped ominously over the pilled green chenille coverlet. 

AH’s private personal notebook from his four years at the Home was delivered to his publishing house, and the publisher reported it contained but a single poetic fragment, much edited as if AH were attempting to sum up his entire life, its success and failure, its beauty and ugliness, in a single verse.  That verse was published on a black-bordered page of The New Yorker, without comment save for a simple title above it: Last Poem for Us All.  AH remains in death as he was in life, enigmatic to no end,  a true poetic genius, the Picasso of Poesy, ill-understood by all Americans, by his friends and—by himself.]


Last Poem for All of Us

Mary had a little am

… ? …

Its fleece was white and


it was sure to go!





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