is one of my oldest and best friends, someone who has shared in many of
the most important experiences of my life, going back to New York in the
1950s: attending Joe Friedmans writing workshop, helping to publish
the literary magazine Venture, fighting various political battles together,
working for a time in the same p.r. agency, quaffing beers in the Cedar
Street bar with the women who later became our wivesand more, much
Now Robert, a novelist and playwright who switched to writing poetry in
his seventies, has published ALL THE DAYS, a memoir which, as he puts
it, scans poetically a life lived amid the tumult of much of the
last century. The 43-page book, handsomely published by Pudding
Magazine Press, is not just a personal summing-up but a wise, touching
commentary on youth and aging, life and death. This melding of private
and public thoughtsthe specific and the universal, if you willis
achieved through a lucid, masterful use of language and voice.
Robert begins ALL THE DAYS with a poem called Coeur de Lion, an affectionate
tribute to his father, who at eighteen joined the AEF and fought in France,
winning a combat medal for his exploits, which he proceeded to misplace
somewhere with the rest of his past. A successful salesman who could
sell you the shoes on your feet, he lived until he was 98, spending
his final years in a retirement home, surrounded by women who doted on
him and gave him treats. His seraglio pleased him, Robert
writes. He was king of the beasts.
about childhood follow, but the major part of the book deals with Roberts
experiences working in a Brooklyn machine-shop, a job this Yale graduate
took out of revolutionary zeal, a desire to lead his fellow workers out
of slavery. Roberts portraits of such blue-collar guys as
the welder Vinnie Caraluzzi and the Polish foreman Stash are brilliantly
rendered: unsentimental, vivid, deeply respectful.
Roberts working-class dalliance ended when management announced
that it would be moving the plant to North Carolina. Hearing this, a collective
howl, more like an off-key chorus went up. Bass, tenor, sopranoall
those guys united in one endeavor, to assemble a living.
Americas McCarthyite assault on the left-compounded by the
collapse of the Soviet Union--took its toll on Robert. I lost my
way in the light that failed, he confides in Howl, his poetic tribute
to Allen Ginsbergs famed cry of mid-century anguish. Thats
not to say, though, that Robert himself succumbed to hopelessness or nihilism.
On the contrary, even though he sees himself as Lear in the wilderness,
with no way back to my former throne, he still insists that rare
wines set aside taste better now and that, aided by the laughter
of old friends, he still continues to rage against the stupidities
of government gone mad.
ALL THE DAYS concludes with a few wise, touching poems dealing with mortality:
memories of the past mixing with gratitude for the gift of life.